by Audrey Legrand
Nearly 300 girls aged 16 to 18 were kidnapped from their beds the night of April 14 from the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School, a boarding school in the northeastern Borno State of Nigeria.
Their captors, armed men in uniforms who first identified themselves as government soldiers to the frightened girls, revealed their true identities after gathering the girls outside of the school and setting fire to their room, according to a 16-year-old girl who managed to escape the abductors.
“They cried ‘Allahu Akhbar’ (God is great), and we knew,” she told the Associated Press via telephone, as was later reported by the Washington Post.
The armed men were not, in fact, government soldiers, but members of the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram. The group, whose name figuratively translates to “Western civilization is sinful,” emerged from a Nigerian ultraconservative Muslim group in 2002 and became a jihadist organization in 2009 by then-leader Mohammed Yusuf.
Since the day of the kidnappings, news sites report that 276 girls are still missing, at least two girls have died from snakebite, and about 50 have escaped.
On May 4, AP reported that the extremists kidnapped 11 more girls, aged 12 to 15, from the northeastern villages of Warabe and Wala. The next day, a Boko Haram member identifying himself as the current leader of the group, Abubakar Shekau, released a video obtained by the AFP News stating that the group planned to sell the girls, presumably into sexual slavery.
“God instructed me to sell them. They are his properties and I will carry out his instructions,” Shekau said in the video.
AP reported that it wasn’t certain whether the video had been filmed before or after earlier reports that numerous captors had been forcibly married to members of the group, for a nominal bride price of $12.
The Nigerian government, headed by President Goodluck Jonathan, has been globally criticized for their slow reaction to the kidnappings. Amnesty International, a London-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the global exposure and prevention of human rights violations, reported on May 9, nearly a month after the kidnappings, that the country’s security forces had knowledge of the attack four hours before it occurred.
According to sources interviewed by the nonprofit and reported by ABC News, local civilian patrols in a neighboring village set off a chain of alarm calls when they witnessed unidentified armed men on motorbikes heading in the direction of Chibok. While officials warned the 15 soldiers guarding the local government area of the impending attack, no mutual aid was sent and the extremists ambushed them before making their way to the school.
“The fact that Nigerian security forces knew about Boko Haram’s impending raid, but failed to take the immediate action needed to stop it amounts to a gross dereliction of Nigeria’s duty to protect citizens, who remain sitting ducks for such attacks,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International Africa’s director of research and advocacy, in a press statement.
Since the nonprofit’s report was made public, the United States and the United Kingdom have revealed that the Nigerian government’s neglect to act quickly goes further, as President Jonathan refused both countries’ initial and immediate offers for aid in the first few days after the abductions.
The United Kingdom first stated their willingness to assist via a press release on April 15, the day after the attacks, and a formal offer of aid on April 18. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that the American embassy and staff agencies were in touch with Nigeria “from day one” of the crisis, as reported by the Washington Post.
Yet it was only May 6 and 7 that President Jonathan accepted help from the U.K., U.S., France, and China. According to the U.S. Defense and State Departments, there are at least 26 U.S. officials assigned to the situation, including 18 military personnel, four State Department officials, and three F.B.I. officials, as reported by ABC News. The United States military later confirmed that they are using Predator drones to try and locate the abducted girls.
The attacks have prompted a strong global social media campaign, with the Twitter hashtag “#BringBackOurGirls” being used by First Lady Michelle Obama, among many others. The phrase was first spoken by Oby Ezekwesili, vice president of the World Bank for Africa, in a speech April 23 where she called the Nigerian government to action. The campaign led to physical protests both in Nigeria and globally, which in turn pressured President Jonathan to react to the attacks after weeks of silence.
Boko Haram released a second video on May 12, this one revealing over 100 of the kidnapped girls kneeling in an undisclosed location, dressed in full veils and chanting, and Shekau appearing and offering to trade the girls for the group’s prisoners. Officials say that President Jonathan has ruled out negotiations for their release, as reported by the BBC.
Two days later, residents in three northern Nigerian villages repelled an attack by suspected Boko Haram fighters. An eyewitness told the BBC that about 200 of the militants had been killed in the fighting in Borno State, and that the residents had formed a vigilante group in the wake of their government’s insufficient support.
The fight came exactly a year after President Jonathan declared the northeastern region in a state of emergency via state radio and television networks, and promised to send more troops to Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states to fight Boko Haram and other insurgents.
“It would appear that there is a systematic effort by insurgents and terrorists to destabilize the Nigerian state,” Jonathan said in the statement, as reported by the Associated Press.
On May 17, the Daily Post Nigeria reported that 10 Chinese workers were kidnapped in Kuzuri Village in Gwoza State by armed men suspected of belonging to Boko Haram. The same day, news outlets reported that French President François Hollande hosted a summit in Paris for West African leaders to meet and agree on a global and regional action plan.
Leaders from Benin, Cameroon, Niger, and Chad joined Presidents Hollande and Jonathan and representatives from the United States, United Kingdom, and European Union. The West African leaders pledged to share intelligence and coordinate action against Boko Haram.
Cameroon President Paul Biya said “we are here to declare war on Boko Haram,” as reported by the BBC.
President Jonathan canceled a trip to visit Chibok on May 16, which prompted outrage from the kidnapped girls’ families and led many to believe the decision was driven by safety concerns. Dr. Doyin Okupe, the president’s senior special assistant, dismissed that hypothesis as a “misconception,” and confirmed May 17 that President Jonathan will plan another visit sometime in the future, as reported by Sky News.
“The president will visit Chibok and we will get them released,” Okupe said.
On May 20, the BBC and other news outlets reported at least 118 people killed in twin bombings occurring in the Nigerian city of Jos, although the death toll is now at more than 200. Responsibility for the attack points toward Boko Haram. The group last attacked Jos two years ago when they bombed several churches to allegedly start clashes between Muslims and Christians in the city, according to the BBC. The next day, the militants burned nearly all of the homes in nearby Chikongudo, stole food and killed nearly 25 people.
On May 27, the Nigerian government revealed that they knew where the Chibok girls were being held, but hesitated to use force for fear of harming the girls. Nigerian Air Marshal Alex Badeh, Nigeria’s chief of defense staff, was quoted telling a group of visitors in his office that they were working to get the girls back.
“We can’t kill our girls in the name of trying to get them back,” he said, as reported by the Washington Post.
The same day, news outlets reported that Boko Haram had killed 31 Nigerian security personnel, in the military base in Buni Yadi, in the northeastern Yobe state. A resident of the town said that the militants, in a strange change, called out to people on the street not to run away, as they had only come for the security forces, according to Reuters.
On May 29, it was reported that four of the Chibok girls who had been kidnapped had escaped Boko Haram. While early reports stated that the girls had been set free after becoming ill, an unidentified senior in Borno state told Reuters that the girls had fled after the initial 50 or so had escaped. They have since been reunited with their families.
Over 160 girls remain captive of Boko Haram at the time of the Millennial’s printing.