John Campbell

Africa in Transition

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

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Shekau’s Latest Video and the Kidnapped Nigerian School Girls

by John Campbell
May 13, 2014

People carry a banner with an image of Boko Haram leader?Abubakar?Shekau?as they protest for the release of the abducted secondary school girls in the remote village of Chibok, along a road in Lagos May 12, 2014. (Akintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters) People carry a banner with an image of Boko Haram leader?Abubakar?Shekau?as they protest for the release of the abducted secondary school girls in the remote village of Chibok, along a road in Lagos May 12, 2014. (Akintunde Akinleye/Courtesy Reuters)

Shekau’s latest video has generated international excitement, not least because it raises the hope (I would say chimera) for a negotiated release of the kidnapped school girls. Shekau has once again shown himself a master at manipulating public opinion, both domestic and international. I leave for a later blog post consideration of the possibility of negotiations.

Here, suffice it to say that meeting Shekau’s requirement for the release of all Boko Haram adherents–female and male–in exchange for some, though not all, of the kidnapped girls would amount to a humiliating capitulation by the Nigerian government and materially increase Boko Haram’s resources for its war against the state. State acceptance of Shekau’s terms would also probably set off a round of additional kidnappings by other strains of Boko Haram not necessarily under Shekau’s authority. Yet Shekau’s video is bound to increase the pressure on the government in Abuja to make just such a capitulation.

Weeks after the kidnapping took place, there remain a host of unknowns. Here, I want to consider some of the questions that this latest video may answer.

The video should put to rest the notion that has been articulated by First Lady Patience Jonathan and others that the kidnapping was somehow a hoax perpetrated by President Goodluck Jonathan’s political rivals looking toward the national elections in 2015.

There had been speculation that the school girls had been divided into smaller groups and that some had already been “sold” as wives to militants and transported out of Nigeria. While that may have been the fate of some, the video shows that a large number of the school girls have been kept together in a single group.

The religious allegiances of the school girls has been a matter of speculation. Because Chibok, the location of the school from which the girls were kidnapped, is a Christian town, some have assumed that most of them were Christians. However, the school girls were gathered from many schools in the region to sit for examinations; many likely were not from Chibok. The region as a whole is predominately Muslim.

Shekau says that many of the Christian girls have been “converted” to Islam while in captivity. Such conversions may well have been made with a literal or metaphorical knife to their throat, forced conversions to Islam are an old song in northern Nigeria. Shekau has said that in the event of a deal with the government, he will return only Christian school girls, not those who were already Muslim or who have been “converted.”

The video shows the girls uniformly dressed in full hijabs. The provision of such dress for a large number of girls would seem to indicate that Shekau draws on a developed logistical and support framework. So, too, does the feeding and sheltering of so many people in the bush.

Questions remain. Weeks after the kidnapping took place, there is still no authoritative number of victims. Nor is there a directory of their photographs. Some parents state that their daughters are shown in the video, others that their daughters are absent. The video sheds no light as to where Boko Haram is holding the school girls. That may remain a mystery. The United States is now flying surveillance aircraft over northern Nigeria. But, the territory to be covered may be as large as all of New England. Looking for up to three hundred girls may be like searching for a needle in a haystack.

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  • Posted by Anonymous

    The Nigerian government under a clueless and inept Jonathan presidency has no pragmatic solution to the safe recovery of the abducted girls byond acceding to the terrorists offer to swap the girls for detainees. Whether that would amount to a capitulation or encourage future kidnappings and abductions is totally irrelevant. Too easily Nigerians forget that the biological mother of the country’s finance minister, the presidents own putative father, and the biological son of the president’s political godfather, Rdwin Clark, all from the south – were kidnapped & re-purchased secretly by the govetnment from the kidnappers. The question of escalating kidnaps does not therefore arise as that reality has been on ground more on the south than in northern Nigeria.

  • Posted by Charles Emejulu

    This is a hard decision moment for Nigeria.

    There is the easy path, you negotiate then maintain the status quo and make the current security situation in the country worst.
    And there is the hard path, which will set the country on a different trajectory and witness the birth of a new nation.

    Thomas Jefferson though in a very different context, once said “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants”.
    The question president Goodluck Jonathan should be asking himself, is what will George Washington do in similar circumstance?

  • Posted by Olusiji Akindiose

    It is so much the easiest trend to blame GEJ. THIS IS THE OPPORTUNITY FOR SOME TO SAY UNCOUTH THINGS. YET, WE MUST LOOK AT BOKO HARAM AS A PROBLEM CAUSED BY SOME PAST RULERS WHO NEVER PLANNED WELL TO CARE FOR THE ALMANJIRI OR THE DOWNTRODDEN. WHAT DOES LIFE WORTH TO ANYONE WHO FEELS NOBODY CARES? DESPONDENCY, READINESS TO DO ANYTHING. EDUCATION LIBERATES . IT IS THE BRIGHT LIGHT WHICH SHATTERS DARKNESS OR IGNORANCE. HOW MUCH EDUCATION HAD THE LEADERS IN THE NORTH AVAILED THE YOUTHS IN THE NORTH? HOW MUCH SOCIO-ECONOMIC ENGINEERING HAVE THEY ORCHESTRATED SINCE THE FIRST REPUBLIC ? THEY DELIBERATELY MADE EDUCATION TO BE AS SCARCE TO THE MASSES AS WATER IN THE STONY DESERT .SHOULD THEY HAVE WAITED FOR GEJ TO REORDER THE LIVES OF THE ALMANJIRA BY COMING TO BUILD SCHOOLS FOR THEM TEN DECADES AFTER THE AMALGAMATION OF THE NORTHERN AND SOUTHERN PROTECTORATES OF NIGERIA, NOTABLY MORE THAN FIVE DECADES AFTER NIGERIA BECAME INDEPENDENT.?
    LET THE NORTHERN ELDERS AND SOME OPPOSITION POLITICIANS BE HONEST AND PATRIOTIC ENOUGH TO ACCEPT THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF CAUSING THIS LEVEL OF DESPERATION IN SOME HUMAN BEINGS WHO NOW PARADE AS BOKO HARAM. THE RELIGIOUS VEIL MUST BE REMOVED FROM THE BOKO HARAM INSURGENCY. TELL ME IF THEIR BOMB IN JOS OR AT NYANYAN COULD PRESERVE MUSLIMS ONLY TO KILL NON -MUSLIMS ? THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN STOPPING GEJ FROM CONTESTING BY THE PROMOTION AND SPONSORSHIP OF INSURGENCY CAN BE ADVISED TO RETRACE AND STOP THEIR ACTS, OR ELSE HISTORY WOULD CERTAINLY PASS AN UGLY VERDICT ON THEM BECAUSE EVENTUALLY, THEY SHALL BE EXPOSED . WE PRAY FOR THE PRESERVATION AND THE SUPERNATURAL RELEASE OF THE ABDUCTED GIRLS AND MANY OTHERS WHO ARE LANGUISHING IN THE HELLISH ENCLAVE OF BOKO HARAM INSURGENTS.

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