John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Abubakar Shekau Claims Boko Haram Kidnapped the Nigerian School Girls

by John Campbell
May 5, 2014

Schoolgirls take part in a protest demanding the release of abducted secondary school girls from the remote village of Chibok, in Lagos, May 5, 2014. (Akintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters)


In a video sent to Agence France Press, Boko Haram warlord Abubakar Shekau claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of up to three hundred school girls from a boarding school in northeast Nigeria. Up to now, there has been silence as to which group perpetrated the deed. 

In a CNN translation of the video, Shekau says: “I abducted your girls, I will sell them in the market, by Allah. There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women.” No outsider has actually seen Abubakar Shekau in person since 2009. While there must be uncertainty that this latest video is Shekau’s. Preliminary evidence indicates that it is.

Shekau has previously said repeatedly that Western education is a sin and that women should get married. In Shekau’s terms, any woman seeking education is an “infidel,” even if she is Muslim. In earlier videos he has also said that “infidel” women may be sold in the markets. The kidnapping victims from the boarding school included both Muslims and Christians.

Rumors have circulated that the kidnappers were selling the girls for a bride price equivalent to U.S. $12. According to the Nigerian media, anxiety has been high among the girls’ families that this could be their fate.

Shekau’s video places additional pressure on the Nigerian government in the week that Nigeria hosts the World Economic Forum. It is deeply embarrassing for the Jonathan administration. That might also account for the timing of Shekau’s video.

The Jonathan administration continues to be feckless. On May 4, President Goodluck Jonathan promised the girls would soon be free but he also acknowledged that he did not know where they were. There have been small marches in Lagos, Abuja, and Kano, and among the Nigerian expat communities in New York, Los Angeles, and London protesting the government’s seeming inactivity. Jonathan’s wife, Patience, had an organizer of the Abuja protest arrested, though she apparently lacks any legal authority to do so.

There has been a state of emergency in place in the three northern states most affected by Boko Haram since May 2013. At the time President Jonathan acknowledged he had lost control of entire swathes of northeastern Nigeria. The security forces have proven remarkably ineffective in securing territory or people within the areas under the state of emergency. Attacks and massacres continue to be carried out by Boko Haram with seeming impunity. Indeed the security forces have been credibly accused of severe human rights against Nigerians in the north.

President Jonathan has appealed for international assistance, though in terms that are imprecise. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is quoted in the Nigerian media as saying that “we will do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and hold the perpetrators to justice.” A senior State Department official is quoted in the media as saying that the secretary was referring to security, communications, and intelligence assistance. He also said that the United States is not yet involved in the search for the kidnap victims. He went on to say that a U.S. team would visit Nigeria in the coming week for “consultations.”

Any U.S. assistance therefore, will likely be limited and not imminent.

Post a Comment 2 Comments

  • Posted by Jim Sanders

    Lately, John Campbell’s blog posts seem more remarkable for what they leave unsaid, than for any conclusions he makes explicit. Having observed that the Nigerian government has lost control over most of its northeast; that the military is ineffective; that Boko Haram operates anywhere with impunity; that there is essentially no improvement in the lives of millions of impoverished Nigerians; that corruption remains at high levels; and that politics continues to trump governance; one wonders when, if ever, he will draw a line under it all and perform the addition.

    With respect to Boko Haram’s recent kidnapping horror, one can only hope that the foreign policy commentariat will start to see that before better policies can be developed, the usual categories of civil society, security assistance, and international cooperation, need to be put aside until far more is learned about the ordinary lives of Nigerians. Whether the foreign policy establishment is capable of such a gear shift is open to question.

  • Posted by Ty Butler

    I enjoyed the article and appreciate the high standards that Mr. Campbell has in vetting the information contained within. There has been too much misinformation readily seized upon by other outlets.

    I am curious about the author’s speculation concerning the timing of the video release though. It seems to me that while Shekau has claimed responsibility for the abduction in Nigeria, the style of operation is not characteristic of Boko Haram only endeavors of the past. That is to say I was left a bit wanting for analysis on what role Ansaru might have had in the operation, particularly given the Cameroonian connection which is Ansaru’s preferred territory for the keeping of hostages.

    I would also think that their relationship with Boko Haram and the movement to transport the girls across the Cameroonian border may also have something to do with the timing of Shekau’s video release. Ansaru has cooperated with Boko Haram to negotiate with the Nigerian government (often times utilizing the Cameroonian government as well) in the past and shared ransom revenues.

    Given the recent falling out of the different factions, this operation is particularly wanting for analysis since I would be curious to understand its implications regarding the existing internal Boko Haram / Ansaru rifts, especially since the scale would seem to indicate cooperation between all three primary leaders.

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