23 July 2014

Nigeria: 100 Days As Captives of Boko Haram

Photo: Screenshot/Premium Times
Missing Nigerian Girls

Three months ago, the northern Nigerian town of Chibok made headline news when Boko Haram abducted nearly 300 schoolgirls. The kidnapping has plunged the government of President Jonathan into crisis.

In the night of 14-15 April, 2014, several trucks were parked in front of the government secondary school in Chibok, Borno State. Members of the terrorist sect Boko Haram forced their way into the school dormitories and abducted almost 300 girls.

Later the state governor claimed that 129 girls had been abducted, of whom 52 were able to make good their escape. Asabe Aliyu Kwarmbula, the director of the school, insisted that a far greater number of girls had been kidnapped. The girls were between 12 - 18 years old and to this day their whereabouts remain a mystery.

"I have been suffering since day one when the kidnapping happened. From that day on, nothing makes sense to me any more. Were someone now to threaten me with a gun, it would not matter to me," the mother of one of the kidnapped girls told DW. "Even if I die, I don't care."

On the track of Boko Haram

In late May, Lieutenant General Alex Badeh of the Nigerian army told journalists that they knew where the girls were but gave no further details.

On Tuesday President Jonathan met relatives of the kidnapped schoolgirls for the first time

There was initial speculation that the girls could have been taken by Boko Haram to neighboring Cameroon.

There were also indications that the girls were being kept hidden in the forest area along the Zambezi River in northeastern Nigeria. But this information apparently led nowhere. Jibo Ibrahim, a civil society activist from the capital Abuja, said he was disappointed.

"The government says they don't want to use military force in order not to kill the girls, but if a military intervention is not an option, then there should be a dialogue with these people [Boko Haram]," Ibrahim urged. "Or does the government think that the girls will be able to survive forever under these conditions?"

#Bring Back Our Girls

Jibo Ibrahim is an activist with the #BringBackOurGirls' campaign. A few days after the girls were kidnapped, the story made headlines triggering outrage across the globe. Among those supporting the #BringBackOurGirls' campaign was United States' First Lady Michelle Obama and the young Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai. In Nigeria's capital Abuja and in Kano, the largest city in the mainly Muslim north, thousands demonstrated for the girls' release. The protests gained in momentum as days passed.

"The truth is that the parents of the Chibok girls have received much more comfort from other sources than from our government. This has to change," wrote Oby Ezekwesili on Tuesday (22.7.2014) on Twitter. Ezekwesili is a former Nigerian minister of education and a leading figure in the campaign #BringBackOurGirls.

Her criticism came just at the right time. For the first time - and on on the same day - President Goodluck Jonathan met 150 relatives of the girls in Abuja. Also present were the 57 girls who were able to escape from the clutches of their kidnappers. A meeting with the president had been postponed several times .

Lack of information

Many relatives and observers have critized the way the government has been handling the crisis. Despite an immense military presence and a state of emergency in three northern states, kidnappings and robberies continue unabated.

Just recently (16.07.2014) the German head of a training center was kidnapped in the northern town of Gombi. A rescue atttempt by security forces was unsuccessful. "The army is unable to do anything" Abubakar Dangiwa Umar, himself a former army officer, told DW. "It is not only lacking in weaponry but also in motivation."

President Jonathan has come under heavy criticism for the way he has been handling the kidnapping crisis

Local media have also reported that army generals have been supplying Boko Haram with information and ammunition. The army has dismissed these claims as groundless, but the population's confidence in their armed forces continues to decline.

Like many Nigerians, Abubakar calls on the government to establish dialogue with Boko Haram. "Neither foreign forces nor the Nigerian army have any answer to this problem. I think dialogue is now the only way," he said.

But the government is reluctant to engage in any such dialogue, especially after Boko Haram's leader Abubakar Shekau called for a swap of prisoners in a video message. He said he would release the girls only in exchange for imprisoned members of Boko Haram. President Jonathan has said this is out of the question.

While the government is being forced to confront its own inability to secure the release of the girls, it also faces a huge, broader security crisis. Boko Haram continues to terrorize and massacre Nigerians. An attack on the town of Damboa in the northeast on Tuesday caused 15,000 people to flee.

Author Stefanie Duckstein /ael

Editor Susan Houlton

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