Rescuing Boko Haram's schoolgirl victims: Samuel Oyewole comments on Nigeria's inability so far to free the abducted girls and its inadequate crisis management strategy.

AuthorOyewole, Samuel

The Islamist Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria has emerged as a source of much international security concern in recent times. In the last six years it has been responsible for a series of terrorist attacks and atrocities in Nigeria and its neighbours in the Lake Chad region. The group became globally unpopular following the abduction of 276 schoolgirls from a secondary school in the north-eastern Nigerian town of Chibok on 14 April 2014. The response of the Nigerian government and its international partners has been criticised for its failure to rescue the abducted girls over the last eighteen months.


The fate of the 276 students abducted by Boko Haram from the government secondary school in Chibok, north-eastern Nigeria, on 14 April 2014 has generated worldwide attention over the last 18 months. The Nigerian government has responded to this challenge with a military offensive against the insurgents in the hope of rescuing the girls. Negotiations have taken place with the insurgents in an attempt to secure release of the hostages. Several actors in the international community have supported these initiatives. But despite all efforts, 219 of the Chibok schoolgirls are yet to be recovered from Boko Haram.

Boko Haram is estimated to have killed more than 20,000 people since 2009 and to have abducted no fewer than 2000 people since 2011. More than 1.5 million people have been displaced in north-eastern Nigeria, while hundreds of thousands of Nigerians are refugees across the Lake Chad region. Several infrastructures and private properties have been destroyed. These crises have brought the education system in the region virtually to a halt. As of 2013, Boko Haram was estimated to have done $15.6 million-worth of damage in destroying more than 200 schools in Yobe state alone.

The United States has labelled the Boko Haram leadership as international terrorists, while Spain has commenced an investigation into crimes against humanity committed by the group. Following the lead of the Nigerian government in 2013, Australia, Britain, Canada, Turkey, the European Union, the UN Security Council and the United States have proscribed Boko Haram and Ansaru (its breakaway faction) as international terrorist organisations.

The term Boko Haram is translated as 'Western education is forbidden'. The official name of the movement is Jama'atu Ahlis Suna Lidda'awati Wal Jihad (People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet's Teachings and Jihad). Boko Haram emerged in Nigeria in 2002 under the leadership of Sheik Yusuf Mohammed, who died in police custody in 2009. The group adopted a terroristic strategy from 2010 under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau, who declared his commitment to a global jihad and loyalty to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

The objective of the Boko Haram insurgency is to create an Islamic state in Nigeria and beyond. Prominent in the insurgent group's tactical array are assaults, assassinations, bombings, hostage-takings and attacks against infrastructure facilities. Primary targets are security agencies, government offices, schools, media houses, places of worship (churches and mosques) and religious figures, foreign nationals and the border communities. This campaign of terror has spread across the Lake Chad region, from Nigeria to Cameroon, Chad and Niger.

From 2013 Boko Haram has seized a swathe of territory in north-eastern Nigeria, amounting to about 52,000 square kilometres by February 2015, in which it operates a self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate. In March 2015 Boko Haram declared its loyalty to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and renamed its caliphate in Nigeria as the Islamic State in West Africa. Between February and May 2015 the insurgents lost the territory under their control to a sweeping campaign mounted by Nigerian troops and the combined forces of Lake Chad region states. (1)

Boko Haram is committed to discouraging enrolment in...

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