Any parent can only imagine the horror of their child being kidnapped. Now multiply that by over 300. Then, add the fear of knowing that your child is in the hands of a volatile terrorist group, the frustration of seeing how your government fails in its duties to protect their people, and the impotence of not being able to speak up for fear of retribution against your child.
On April 14, men dressed in military uniforms abducted over 200 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in northeastern Nigeria. Given the number of attacks by jihadists at many schools in the state Borno, the girls initially believed that the unexpected visitors had come to take them to a safe place. Instead it was islamist group Boko Haram that later claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.
The group’s name is a Hausa phrase, which translates, as “Western education is sinful.” The terrorist organization seeks to establish a “pure” Islamic state ruled by sharia law, and to stop what it deems “Westernization.” Educating girls goes against their ideals. Boko Haram has been fighting an insurgency in northern Nigeria for the past five years and is responsible for thousands of deaths. This year alone, more than 1,500 people have been killed in the violence.
The girls kidnapped were between the age of 15 and 18, while 53 escaped, more than 276 are still being held captive. There have been unconfirmed reports that some of them had been forced to marry their captors or were taken to neighboring Chad and Cameroon and sold as brides for $12. As former British prime minister Gordon Brown, who is now United Nations special envoy on education observed, the girls’ desperate families do not know “whether they’re about to be murdered or used as sex slaves”.
Last Monday militants from Boko Haram kidnapped eight more girls from a Nigerian village. The abductions came hours after Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau was seen on a widely-circulated video vowing to continue kidnapping the daughters of Christians, forcing them to convert to Islam, and selling them into slavery. “I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah,” said the man claiming to be Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in the video.
Nigeria is a Federal Constitutional Democracy and the most populous country in Africa. Its economy (GDP) in 2014 became the largest in Africa, and the world’s 26th largest. Nigeria is expected to become one of the world’s top 20 economies by 2050 and is considered to be an Emerging market by the World Bank. Additionally, Nigeria is one of three countries that have just announced their endorsement of a Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, an initiative by the British government, which has been signed by more than three-quarters of UN member states.
It has been three weeks after the girls were seized, and there is mounting anger in Nigeria about the government’s failure to locate and rescue them. Two days after the kidnappings, the Nigerian military said that the girls were free, which turned out to be untrue. For three weeks, President Goodluck Jonathan said nothing and has yet to visit the region. When he finally began speaking about the abductions, he criticized the parents for not cooperating with the police and not sharing information. He has said his government is doing all it can to rescue the girls, however, his wife, first lady Patience Jonathan, has been accused by activists of ordering the detention of protest leaders who were calling for more action from authorities to rescue the teenagers. It was reported that she called some of the mothers to meet with her and told them to be quiet, as they were bringing shame and embarrassment to Nigeria.
It is believed that the Nigerian schoolgirls are still alive – and could be rescued. On Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that U.S. intelligence officials would head to Nigeria to help with the search of the abducted girls. The Nigerian government needs to step up to the plate, take advantage of the help being offered, and bring the girls to safety. Soon.