UPDATE, March 23, 4:55 p.m.: As of Wednesday, March 21, Boko Haram reportedly had freed most of the girls kidnapped from Dapchi, but the news followed on the heels of a damning report from Amnesty International that raised questions about area security failing to act on advance warnings of the attack. “The Nigerian authorities must investigate the inexcusable security lapses that allowed this abduction to take place without any tangible attempt to prevent it,” said Amnesty International Nigeria Director Osai Ojigho.
Members of Nigeria’s Bring Back Our Girls movement are vowing to continue the push to free girls who remain in Boko Haram’s captivity amid news of another abduction of schoolgirls and increasing terror by the extremist group.
Despite military and territorial gains against the terrorist group, Boko Haram has continued to unleash despair with the latest kidnapping of more than 100 schoolgirls in the northeast Nigerian town of Dapchi, believed to be the largest mass abduction since the 2014 notorious Chibok kidnappings. At least three aid workers died on March 1 in another Boko Haram attack in Borno’s border town of Rann.
“This is the time everybody is fatigued and yet we can’t afford to be fatigued,” Ayo Obe, a human rights lawyer and member of the Bring Back Our Girls movement, told around ten fellow activists gathered at a roundabout in Lagos on March 3 as part of the group’s weekly sit-ins. That has roughly been the number in attendance in recent months, compared to the dozens that gathered during the heyday of the campaign in 2014.
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“The job of Bring Back Our Girls is to be here as a witness. As long as we are sitting here, Nigerians know that this problem has not been solved.”
The February 19 attack on the Government Girls Science and Technology College in Dapchi has left the government with the task of rescuing another set of girls on top of an ongoing campaign to free the more than 100 girls that remain in captivity since the 2014 abduction.
At first, government authorities claimed many of the girls had escaped and no one had been kidnapped. But a week later, government authorities admitted 110 girls had been taken by the Islamist extremists.
President Muhammadu Buhari said the Nigerian government was determined to ensure the release of the girls from the Islamist militants and to return them to their families, according to the Agence France-Presse (AFP).
But Obe thinks the government has not been proactive enough.
“I just feel that it’s reaction, reaction, reaction,” she told Rewire.News. “Are you going to continue fueling and empowering them to do more and to do worse? Because that’s definitely the way it seems.”
When the Bring Back Our Girls campaign started four years ago, 219 girls were missing following the incident in Chibok. About 105 girls have since been released after negotiations with Boko Haram led by the Nigerian government and mediated by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Swiss government, according to reports. Three girls rescued by the Nigerian army also returned home. But more than 100 girls remain in Boko Haram custody.
“Now with 112 Chibok girls still unaccounted for and 110 Dapchi girls, we are suddenly dealing with 222 missing girls again,” Obe told Rewire.News. “That’s three more than when we started. So we are back to sub-zero.”
Activists feel that the current administration hasn’t learned anything from the 2014 kidnapping under the previous government, even though it rode to power partly on the promise to end the Boko Haram crisis.
“It’s unfortunate because the abduction and everything that has happened afterwards just seem like a replay of the 2014 incident,” Tunji Olanrewaju, a humanitarian worker who has worked in Nigeria’s northeast, told Rewire.News.
“Yobe (where the Dapchi kinapping happened), Borno, and Adamawa are the frontline states where it is most dangerous for girls to seek education. It’s going to be a setback to a whole lot of things. People have started withdrawing their children from public schools, especially the girl schools. So these are the challenges we are going to continue to deal with.”
Aid Workers at “High Risk”
At least one aid worker was critically injured and another three were killed by Boko Haram’s attack in Rann, where 80,000 people depend on emergency aid and medical care. That attack on the evening of March 1 also left eight soldiers dead.
The aid workers killed were Nigerians working with International Organization for Migration and UNICEF.
“It’s a bloody setback,” Olanrewaju said. “The confidence aid workers had going to Rann is because there’s a battalion of soldiers there. If with 500 soldiers, aid workers can still be abducted and killed in that fashion, then it means there’s no kind of assurance that you would give to an aid worker to go out there. It’s high-risk right now.”
A day after the attack, aid agencies announced suspension of operations. Samantha Newport, a UN spokesperson in Abuja, told AFP that operations were temporarily suspended for one week. Doctors Without Borders announced it had withdrawn 22 staff and suspended medical supplies. It would return “as soon as conditions allow.”
At least 20,000 people have died since 2009 when Boko Haram, which is opposed to Western-style education, began its rebellion to impose its own version of Sharia in Nigeria.
Activists like Olanrewaju are calling for a new approach to end the conflict.
“Let’s look at the numbers. If negotiation can produce 103 girls and military solutions only gave four. It just says you are not winning militarily. It means we have to deploy whatever means of engagement to win. Because unless there’s a cessation of hostilities, there’s no way development can happen.
“Right now it looks like an industry. Like an economy some people want to keep running. I think the government needs to show more sense of urgency to end this crisis.”