BY EMMA COOPER ’20
Boko Haram kidnapped over 100 Nigerian schoolgirls from the Government Girls Science Technical College in Dapchi, Yobe State on Monday, Feb. 19.
Following the attack, the state government of Yobe released conflicting statements about the status of the girls. Initially, the government announced that about 50 girls were missing, even though parents reported over 100 girls unaccounted for. Later, the government stated that the army had rescued dozens of girls. The next day the government retracted its statement and said that the there was no credible information to suggest the girls were taken by Boko Haram.
However, on Wed. Feb. 21, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari officially acknowledged the crisis in a Twitter statement: “The entire country stands as one with the families, and with the government and people of Yobe State. This is a national disaster. We are sorry that it happened; we share your pain. Let me assure that our gallant armed forces will locate and safely return all the missing girls.”
Boko Haram is a militant separatist group that operates largely out of northern Nigeria, and is also present in Niger, Chad and northern Cameroon, according to CNN. The name Boko Haram is most commonly translated as “Western Education is Forbidden.” Members of the organization promote a version of Islam under which Muslims are forbidden to take part in activities associated with Western society.
The abduction in Yobe calls to mind the Chibok kidnapping that occurred four years ago. In April 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from Government Secondary School in Chibok, Borno State. The abduction and the government’s consequential response inspired Nigerian activists to launch a global campaign for the victims’ return, characterized by the signature phrase “Bring Back Our Girls.”
According to the Bring Back Our Girls website, the movement “is a demand by Nigerians for good governance from our officials.” The campaign calls for a “Nigerian Spring,” which demands more governmental responsibility and increased transparency from officials. “Not only must the government fulfill their duties as protectors of the nation and bring back our girls, they must also begin to take the matter of national security seriously and tackle all the issues that make it easy for a group of men to take up arms and terrorize a nation.”
In the past four years, many of the Chibok schoolgirls managed to escape or were rescued, but over 100 of them are still missing, according to the BBC. Schoolgirls who were formerly held captive reported that many of their classmates were forcibly married to Boko Haram soldiers and some had children with the soldiers, making it difficult for them to leave, as they may not be welcomed back by their community, according to The New York Times. Several girls are believed to have died during childbirth or killed in military raids.
Kay Klo ’20, an anthropology major, expressed concern over the lack of meaningful support from the United States following the Chibok kidnapping and the recent abduction in Yobe. “In my opinion, no one really cares about the girls because the government doesn’t benefit from the fight,” she said. “I haven’t read or seen any news on the United States trying to help the girls, only the viral memes and tweets and [those are] almost useless. I have not heard people at Mount Holyoke talk about the issue.”
Malyun Hassan ’20, an international relations major, appreciates the spotlight the Bring Back Our Girls campaign has brought to this situation, but wishes international public attention could be extended to include other problems in Nigeria. “The Bring Back Our Girls campaign definitely brought awareness to the kidnapping of women that happens in the northeastern part of Nigeria,” she said. “However, across this part of Nigeria, both boys and girls, women and men are rounded up, abducted or murdered, as well as used for other purposes.”
Holly Hanson, a professor in the Africana studies department said, that while the violence of Boko Haram is disturbing, it is important to remember that the militants are people as well. “The actions of Boko Haram are unacceptable … [but] underneath the violence which characterizes [them] is a logic of young adults aspiring to be moral men,” she said. “They object to blatant corruption, social class inequality and the extreme lack of economic opportunity in northern Nigeria in comparison with the south.”
According to Hanson, joining Boko Haram can seem an attractive prospect for young men in northern Nigeria who are fed up with corruption in the government, and are faced with almost universal unemployment and diminished marriage prospects.
According to Hanson, “demonization of Boko Haram, and the consequent tolerance of excessive, extra-judicial countermeasures [by the government], fuels the movement.” In order to break the cycle of extremism, she suggests “people have to accord dignity and respect as human beings to those whose actions we condemn” — a feat that she acknowledges can be extremely difficult to accomplish.