Boko Haram is still alive and well in the north of Nigeria. The terrorist group is famous for kidnapping around 276 girls from the Chibok schools in April of this year. Although most of the international press has moved on, they have continued their reign of terror.
Last week, 97 people, mostly men and boys, were kidnapped from a fishing village on the shores of Lake Chad. Around 23 women and girls were also taken. The boys are often conscripted into fighting whereas the girls are often sold as sex slaves, and turned into ‘wives.’
It was the neighboring government force of Chad that came to the rescue. After the assault on the fishing village, which left a number of resisters dead, Boko Haram loaded their captives into speed boats and made their way for neighboring Chad.
Chad, which has long suffered political violence, remains one of the poorest nations in the world. However, their security teams were on guard when they noted a bus full of Nigerians making their way along the lake. When they stopped them for a routine check, they noticed the buses were led by Boko Haram militants, and soon the rescue was in action.
Although a number of hostages still on speedboats noticed the stop, and took off upon seeing Chadian security troops entering the buses, the security forces were able to rescue 85 kidnapped persons.
Boko Haram’s war in the north has been strategic in disarming both police and local infrastructure. The destruction of cell phone towers is a common feature of their attack. Because of this, often there is no warning from nearby villages that Boko Haram will be descending soon.
One girl, who escaped the Chibok abduction, told CNN about the moment she realized Boko Haram was coming for her, “We would rather die than go…We ran into the bush. We ran and we ran.”
Others receive calls from nearby villagers warning that a convoy of trucks and motorcycles are coming for them. They often have only a small window of time to run into the nearby bush and hide amongst other villagers.
The situation on the Chibok girls is still shaky, although surveillance planes in the north of Nigeria have spotted some hopeful evidence. A group of 40 girls in one field, and another 70 nearby indicate that this might be the spot where the abducted girls are being held.
The remote area and lack of infrastructure means carrying out an immediate ‘rescue’ mission would be risky, both for the lives of the girls and the soldiers on the ground. Rather, it seems Boko Haram is trying to use them as pawns, promising to exchange some of the girls for Boko Haram prisoners that have been captured by Nigeria.
The President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, has nixed this plan stating that swapping prisoners for innocent victims was not a practice the government engaged in.
However, if these girls are high-value hostages, there is a probable chance that they are not being harmed. A report in the Washington Street Journal points out that:
“A wave of intermediaries acting on their own has tried to negotiate the girls’ release, Mr. Abati said, adding that the president has neither authorized nor discouraged those efforts.
Several of those intermediaries have said Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, has ordered his fighters to treat the girls as valuable hostages — not sex slaves — one senior Nigerian security adviser said.
“He gave a directive that anybody found touching any of the girls should be killed immediately,” the adviser said. “If true, it is cheering.”
The fight against those in Boko Haram will be a long standing issue for Nigeria. However, with neighboring governments on alert, and more attention on them than before, there is some hope that multi-lateral cooperation can bring down this terrorist organization.