On April 2014, in the northeastern Nigerian village of Chibok, Boko Haram militants abducted 276 girls; seven months later, more than 200 remain in captivity. Boko Haram leader Abubaker Shekau recently released a video mocking any attempts at a rescue. With regards to the girls, he stated: “[w]e have married them off … [t]hey are all in their marital homes.”
Even after all the international outcry and support for the girls when the kidnapping occurred, and Nigeria’s president vows to rescue the girls, why are they still in captivity?
Boko Haram is a powerful religious sect in the north of the country that has claimed thousands of lives over the years in its violent campaign to create a religious state. Bombings, shootings and kidnappings have become common events, and the group is estimated to control an area of northeast Nigeria the size of Rhode Island.
An important reason the girls have not been rescued is due to Nigeria’s failure to effectively counter Boko Haram from a military/policing standpoint. The military has a bad track record when it comes to fighting the militant group. A day after the abduction, they claimed to have rescued the girls, but later had to retract that claim. Then, in May 2014, they released a statement saying they knew where the girls were being held, but would not use force to rescue them. And in a tragic incident early last month, several Nigerian troops were killed by their own air-strikes aimed at Boko Haram hideouts.
Distrust of the Nigerian military from the civil society also contributes to the continued failure in dealing with Boko Haram. In Nigeria, many civilians consider the Nigerian military to be as bad as Boko Haram when it comes to human rights violations, even in the face of the continued reign of terror that is perpetrated in the north of the country by the terrorist organization. In order to capture key Boko Haram leaders and to cut off funding sources that might weaken the militant group, it would be essential for the government to win the support and trust of communities in that part of the country. Many of these communities feel abandoned by the central government, terrorized by Boko Haram, and yet they still do not trust the military—which makes gaining any traction in the fight against the group extremely difficult.
This poor record on human rights of the Nigerian military also hinders international efforts to lend a hand in the fight. Because of the poor human rights record of the Nigerian military, other countries, including the United States, are hesitant about cooperating more in their efforts to rescue the girls. The US and other countries are concerned about how much they can cooperate because they do not want to be associated with the kind of abuses that have already been documented in connection with the Nigerian military.
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women and a United Nations Under-Secretary-General has said that, “[o]ur world must not forget these adolescent girls…. [t]he world must come together and make every possible effort to rescue these girls and bring their captors to justice. We cannot and must not move on with this humanitarian tragedy still unresolved.” This is a statement with which everyone can agree; and the parties involved, including the Nigerian government, its military, and other nations must make more of an effort to ensure that the girls are returned home soon. We must not forget these girls.