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In keeping with my pledge to Amnesty International that I would use my blog to bring people to the Amnesty International website, I have prepared a post on the abductions of over 200 girls from a boarding school in Nigeria. I devoted a few evenings to researching this dreadful situation and I present it here to you in hopefully an unbiased and thorough way that places the abductions in the context of an extremist group trying to gain worldwide exposure and the amazing response gained through social media.
During the night of 14th April 2014, Nigerian militants abducted 223 girls, after 53 of the initial 276 girls who were abducted managed to escape. The girls are aged 16 to 18 years and were boarding at a school in Chibok in north-eastern Borno state. The armed militia arrived in dozens of vehicles, abducted the girls and then burnt the school buildings.
Boko Haram was founded in 2002 and initially focused on opposing Western education – Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden” in the local Hausa language. They launched military operations in 2009 to create an Islamic state in Nigeria. Since then thousands have been killed, mostly in north-eastern Nigeria. Attacks have also been made on police and UN headquarters in the capital, Abuja. It’s estimated that three million people have been affected by Boko Haram and it was declared a terrorist group by the USA in 2013.
Boko Haram has admitted to capturing the girls, saying they should not have been in school and should get married instead. In a video, group leader Abubakar Shekau threatened to “sell” the students as slaves. Another Boko Haram video was released on Monday that purportedly shows some of the kidnapped girls in Muslim headdresses (black and gray hijabs) reciting the Quran. The video was shot in a nondescript bush area and showed about 120 girls. In the footage Shekau declares that the girls have converted to Islam and that he is willing to exchange the schoolgirls for Boko Haram prisoners. It’s clear that Boko Haram is glad to have the attention of the world’s press and is using it to their own advantage.
A Nigerian lawyer started the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOurGirls 1 week after the abductions and it was 2 weeks later before the Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan make his first public comments since the abduction, saying his government is seeking assistance from the US and other world powers to tackle Nigeria’s “security challenge”. After tweets by famous women such as Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama, over 1 million tweets with that hashtag have been made, including Pakistani activist Malala Yousafza.
The Nigerian government have been criticized for not doing anything about the abductions and for misreporting information. Amnesty International claims that it was told by credible sources that the Nigerian military had more than four hours’ warning of the raid by Boko Haram militants. But an inability to muster troops, due to poor resources and a reported fear of engaging with the often better-equipped armed groups, meant that reinforcements were not deployed to Chibok that night. The small contingent of security forces based in the town, 17 army personnel as well as local police, attempted to repel the Boko Haram assault but were overpowered and forced to retreat. One soldier reportedly died.
France, Britain, Israel and USA are sending small teams. British satellites and advanced tracking capabilities also will be used, and China has promised to provide any intelligence gathered by its satellite network, the Nigerian government said. This is an indication of the power of social media and international condemnation to influence the decision making process. Conversely the situation in the Central African Republic is dire but little is said or done about it.
Amnesty’s research indicates that at least 2,000 people have been killed in the conflict in Nigeria this year alone. In a separate incident on 5 May, at least eight girls were abducted by gunmen in the Warabe and Wala communities in north-eastern Nigeria. There have been similar abductions on a smaller scale, mainly of women and girls, in the last two years.