Why Finding 300 Nigerian Schoolgirls Is So Very, Very Difficult
The world isn’t just aware of the plight of three hundred girls kidnapped from their boarding school in Nigeria now. It has become, finally, invested. Globally, people are demanding that the Nigerian government do more to find the 276 girls still missing, while a hashtag, #BringBackOurGirls, unites the web behind their cause.
The world is eager to see the girls, stolen away in the night three weeks ago, returned. But part of the reason why the girls remain abducted lies in just how the government has waged its war against the terrorists who carried out the kidnapping over the last half a decade. And the terrorists who hold them captive remain an unpredictable factor, leaving even experts unsure just how to bring about their freedom from the men determined to prevent them from gaining an education.
Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram, on Monday appeared in a video taking credit for the kidnapping of the girls from the Government Girls Secondary School in the town of Chibok, located in Nigeria’s northeast Borno state. In the message, Shekau threatened to sell the girls he had kidnapped, saying “God instructed me to sell them, they are his properties and I will carry out his instructions.”
The Nigerian military is facing criticism for how it has handled the kidnapping since the first hours after the girls were taken. Once they realized that the students were missing, family members went searching in the Sambisa Forest, one of the hideouts of Boko Haram. When told that they were near where the abductors had set up camp, the searchers returned to Chibok, according to the Associated Press, and appealed to the soldiers present to join them into the forest. The soldiers refused. The next day, Nigerian media reported that the military had managed to free the majority of the girls taken. Nigeria’s defense ministry was forced to withdraw that claim only a day later.
“The operation is going on and we will continue to deploy more troops,” Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade told the Associated Press. That was now two weeks ago.
Complicating matters further, since the Boko Haram uprising commenced in 2009-2010 as an institution the group has mutated to the point that negotiation to secure the girls’ release will be difficult at best. Lesley Anne Warner, Africa analyst at the CNA Corporation, told ThinkProgress in a phone interview that since Nigeria first took up the fight against Boko Haram, the government’s strategy against them has resulted in very little credibility in terms of being able to deliver the improvement in governance or service delivery needed to address Boko Haram’s grievances. “And so the group over the course of the years has become more and more radical and it’s actually not possible to negotiate with the leaders of Boko Haram right now,” she said, describing instances where efforts on the part of moderates in the group to negotiate were met with either denial of their membership in the group or public beheadings carried out by Boko Haram leadership.