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.