8 May 2017

Nigeria: Chibok Girls Freed, Boko Haram Undefeated

opinion

82 of the Chibok schoolgirls seized three years ago have just been released. It's reason for jubilation, says Thomas Mösch who detects nonethless a jarring note.

More than a half of the some 270 schoolgirls who were kidnapped in Chibok three years ago are now at liberty. The release of the 82 Chibok girls on Saturday was a joyous occasion and a great success for the government of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari. According to the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, there are now just 113 Chibok girls who are still missing.

In securing the release of the girls, Buhari did not want to rely on military might. Instead, he sought assistance from the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Swiss government. Freedom for the girls was evidently so important to him that he was even prepared to negotiate with terrorists to achieve it. He also let Boko Haram claim a victory of their own at the negotiations. The group secured the release of several of their fighters in exchange for the girls.

This is the point at which the jubilation at the girls' release starts to jar. The negotiations and the agreements that were undertaken show that Boko Haram is far from being defeated, despite claims to this effect by the Nigerian military. The section of Boko Haram which is holding the girls captive is evidently quite capable of keeping them shielded from any attempts to liberate them by the Nigerian military.

Chibok girls are valuable

The circumstances that accompanied their release also showed the fame they have achieved through media coverage can be both a blessing and a curse. Whereas the fate of several hundred other kidnapped women and girls attracted little or no interest, the Chibok girls were considered so important that neither the terrorists nor the government wanted to endanger their lives. For the kidnappers, the Chibok girls were a sort of insurance policy. Nobody in the Nigerian military was going to launch an attack on a base or a camp in which Chibok girls could lose their lives. Representatives of the Nigerian government and the military have openly admitted as much. On the other hand, this high-profile status could be a curse for the girls, at least for the 21 who were released under a similar deal last October. They were not allowed to return to their villages because the government feared that terrorists could kidnap the now famous girls for a second time.

However, the chances of a Chibok girl being used as a suicide bomber would appear to be rather small. It may sound cynical, but they were too valuable to be expended in this manner. Hundreds of other kidnapped girls do not have this sort of protection.

Causes of terror persist

What does the future hold for this conflict? Could the avenues for negotiation - which evidently exist - be used to conclude a deal which would end the insurgency? The military have evidently done as much as they can. They have retaken territory once occupied by Boko Haram, but that hasn't stopped the group from delivering selective attacks and spreading insecurity throughout the region.

It is now more important than ever to tackle the root causes of terrorism. That includes the appalling poverty, even by Nigerian standards, in the northeast of the country. The international community can help by openly supporting the few public figures in Nigeria who are campaigning sincerely for poverty reduction and educational reform.

Political pressure is also needed. The excessive force used against Boko Haram by the police and military in the early years of the group's existence fostered its radicalization. President Buhari has promised that under his leadership the security forces will be compelled to respect human rights. Progress has been made in this regard but the brutal crackdown on the Shi'ite minority at the end of 2015, which has yet to be fully investigated, shows that Buhari and his administration still have along way to go. The same applies to the struggle against corruption in which Buhari is seriously interested. But reports about the embezzlement of funds earmarked for aid for victims of Boko Haram underscore that this, too, will be an arduous journey.

Nigeria

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