On March 21, 2018 – nearly all of the 110 abducted Dapchi schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants last month have been freed thanks to successful negotiations and intelligence strategies. Reports suggest at least five girls died during the abduction and one Christian girl who refused to convert to Islam is still held captive. Even though the initial government response has been heavily criticized by various Human Rights watchdogs, the freeing of the girls turned out to be a rare victory for Nigeria’s president, Muhammadu Buhari. Information Minister Lai Mohammad explains in a BBC interview that the freeing of the schoolgirls was part of ongoing negotiations about an amnesty in return for a ceasefire.
Global human rights watchdog, Amnesty International heavily criticized the Nigerian army for failing to act on warnings given hours before Boko Haram militants abducted the schoolgirls. They argue that Nigeria has not learned from Chibok abductions in 2014, where 276 schoolgirls had been abducted even though there were warnings beforehand. Amnesty International’s Nigeria Director, Osai Ojigho said, “Evidence available to Amnesty International suggests that there are insufficient troops deployed in the area and that an absence of patrols and the failure to respond to warnings and engage with Boko Haram contributed to this tragedy.”
Yet, the return of the schoolgirls was a rare victory for Buhari and its ending is in sharp contrast to the kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls in 2014. While some could escape, many of them remain in captivity. On February 19, armed Boko Haram militants stormed the Government Girls Science Technical College in Dapchi, pretending to be soldiers and abducted 110 students. The Nigerian government’s initial response was according to The Guardian, “chaotic, contradictory and tardy,” however, they changed their efforts to find the victims over following weeks. With help of drones and satellite imagery that was provided by Western governments, the Intelligence agencies and the army could block the routes which the kidnappers were trying to use to escape across the border into Chad. The kidnappers were cut off from the bases of other Islamist militant group factions in the Sambisa forest.
A security official in Abuja explains “we were able to create an environment where the dialogue was able to resolve the situation quickly from a group that ran out of options.” The government might be optimistic that this success story of the release of the schoolgirls eventually leads to a ceasefire. However, this aim stands in stark contrast to the core objective of the militant group which is to fight the government to create an Islamic state. One objective of Boko Haram is to prevent children receiving a “Western-style education.” According to Information Minister Lai Mohammed, there has not been any ransom paid and there was no prisoner exchange. Some skeptics, however, suspect that the Nigerian government might be offering a ransom to release the girls or exchanging Boko Haram commanders that are still be held by the Nigerian government.
According to Amnesty International there are not enough troops to fight Boko Haram, and to secure every village, town or school in north-east Nigeria. To bring peace to Nigeria it should shift its focus from increasing troops towards rebuilding the state in those regions where it has failed. For a long time, Islamist militant groups could successfully exploit the shortcomings of the Nigerian government in both a material and moral sense. Due to the lack of economic, social and political opportunities, people are vulnerable to joining those sects. The Guardian rightly recommends that the international community should increase its support and especially focus on effective grassroots schemes for economic development. Another important aspect is to provide long-term rehabilitation for victims of all sorts and systematic de-radicalization programmes, which are not in place yet.
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