The news: It's now been two weeks since 234 girls from a Nigerian boarding school were kidnapped by armed terrorists. With every passing minute, it's getting harder and harder for the Nigerian military to find these girls and bring them back home.
On April 16 hundreds of schoolgirls between 16 and 18 years old disappeared from the town of Chibok, Nigeria. At the time, it was believed that the terrorist group Boko Haram drove the girls into Sambisa Forest, a known criminal stronghold. But new reports indicate that the missing girls may have been transported further out than expected, even outside the country.
"Some of them have been taken across Lake Chad and some have been ferried across the border into parts of Cameroon," said Pogo Bitrus, a Chibok community leader. Locals in the area reported that many of the girls had been married off to the insurgents in mass ceremonies, while others were sold off as cooks or sex slaves. "It's a medieval kind of slavery," Bitrus added.
For the family and friends of these missing girls, this news is another sign of the continuing incompetency of the Nigerian military, which has not been able to rescue a single hostage.
Image Credit: BBC
A botched investigation: From the very beginning, the rescue operation has been riddled with errors. First, the Nigerian government could not even provide an accurate number for the missing girls; the school and the girls' families had to work together to figure out how many had been kidnapped. Then the military announced that it had rescued all but eight of the girls, a claim which it immediately retracted the next day. A few dozen girls have been able to escape, but without help from the government.
The situation has become so frustrating that family members and town residents have taken to riding out to Sambisa on their motorcycles, combing through the forest to find a trace of the missing students. "It's alarming that more than a week after these girls were abducted, there are not any concrete steps to get them back," said Human Rights Watch's Nigeria researcher Mausi Segun.
Why this matters: Critics of the rescue operation say that this is not an isolated incident, and had the government been able to fight Boko Haram more effectively, this all could have been avoided. The insurgent group, whose name means "western education is forbidden," has raided schools in the past, but never to this extent. In the past few months, the al-Qaeda affiliate has become more brazen: On the same day as the girls' kidnapping, Boko Haram claimed responsibility for a bombing that killed 75 in Abuja.
Since last year, Nigeria has been under a state of emergency, which has given the government permission to engage in illegal searches, torture and extrajudicial killings. But analysts believe that instead of stamping out violence, Nigeria's martial law may have emboldened Boko Haram to step up its activity. In any case, it's become unfortunately clear that this rescue operation is far from effective — and the window of opportunity to find these girls is closing very quickly.