Two weeks ago, 270 Nigerian girls were kidnapped from a boarding school in the country’s northernmost state of Borno. The schoolgirls were captured during a predawn raid on April 15 in the town of Chibok by members of Boko Haram, an al Qaeda-linked militant group, recently designated as a terrorist organization by the Obama administration.
The group, whose name means “Western education is sinful,” believes the Nigerian government has been corrupted by Western ways. In an effort to return the country to the pre-colonial days of Muslim rule, the group has terrorized the country over the past four-plus years, targeting schools in many of its killing sprees, and attacking churches, military checkpoints, highways, the UN building, and, recently, a bus station in the capital city of Abuja.
Local human rights defenders fear the stolen schoolgirls are being forced to marry their Boko Haram abductors. Halite Aliyu, of the Borno-Yobe People’s Forum, told the Associated Press that the more than 200 girls who were kidnapped two weeks ago had been sold to the fighters for $12. Aliyu said the information given about the mass weddings was coming from villagers in the Sambisa Forest, on Nigeria’s border with Cameroon where Boko Haram was known to have a number of hideouts.
It is not possible to verify the reports.
At the same time, the Boko Haram network was reportedly negotiating over the students’ fate and demanding an unspecified ransom for their release, a Borno state civic leader told The Associated Press. The abductors have also claimed that two of the girls have died from snake bites.
Though the abduction happened weeks ago, international press coverage of the missing girls has shot up in recent days after Nigerians criticized the foreign media’s initial silence on the issue and launched the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has vowed to rescue the girls, but two weeks after the kidnapping, many of the victim’s parents are losing faith in the government’s efforts, especially as reports have emerged that many of them have since been married off to the Boko Haram militants.
“Nigeria has one of the best armed forces” on the continent, says Kyari Mohammed, a professor of security studies at Modibbo Adama University of Technology in northern Nigeria, “but they are not trained for asymmetric warfare.” The militants disguise themselves easily amongst their fellow Nigerians in Borno, and often escape to bordering countries or hideouts in the dense northern forests.
The Nigerian military doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to stemming attacks by the Islamist militants. Jonathan has promised to defeat Boko Haram, but the insurgency has become bloodier than ever over the past few months. One reason for that, Ubani says, is that the military does not coordinate with security forces in the countries that border Borno state—including Chad, Cameroon, and Niger—where Boko Haram members have been known to hide out. And the Nigerian military’s expenditures are not tracked, Mohammed explains, so even though the country spends about $6 billion a year on its military, it is hard to determine how much of that money goes toward fighting Boko Haram and how it’s used.
Human rights advocates contend the military is not only ineffectual, but that Nigerian security forces’ response to the insurgency, including the indiscriminate killing of northern Muslim men, is worsening Boko Haram violence. The terrorist group has killed some 5,000 Nigerian men, women, and children since it emerged in 2009. In the the first few months of 2014, it has already killed 1,500 people. Boko Haram has abducted school children before, but this time the scale is unprecedented.
Excerpt sources: Nigeria’s Kidnapped Girls Sold into Marriage | Al Jazeera