On this, the third anniversary of the mass abduction of the Chibok girls that outraged the world, Nigerian government officials say they are negotiating the release of the nearly 200 girls who remain captive. But repeated pledges throughout the ordeal that the girls will be found have yet to be kept and the hopes of the families and the world are further dwindling.
The government under the command of former president Goodluck Jonathan did not take action immediately after the April 14, 2014 incident when 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped from their boarding school by Boko Haram insurgents. The government suffered a heavy backlash for handling the situation poorly. In May 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in and he pledged to tackle the Boko Haram insurgency and bring the girls back.
That, too, has not happened even though Buhari is in a much better position that Jonathan was. When Jonathan was president, Boko Haram held no fewer than 14 local government areas in the northeast, then it split last year with one faction moving away from the group’s established leader Abubakar Shekau over his failure to adhere to guidance from Daesh (the self-proclaimed IS) to which Boko Haram pledged allegiance in 2015. Daesh named Al-Barnawi as the new leader, however, that was simply a name change. Boko Haram was weakened but Buhari did not avail himself of the opportunity. In December 2016, he declared that Boko Haram had been crushed and driven from its last forest hideout. That should have been the time to go for the kill. But Buhari has been unable to take that final step. This crisis is not just about the Chibok girls. Since the group began its attacks in 2009, an estimated 20,000 people have died in Nigeria. Boko Haram’s seven-year uprising as it tries to carve out an Islamic state, one in which girls will not be educated because of the perverted idea that it is un-Islamic, has driven 2.6 million from their homes, with millions facing starvation.
A timeline of the kidnappings shows that if Nigerians are going to depend on their government, the girls in total will never be freed. As many as 50 girls escaped almost immediately, but after that, it has been a drip-drip of reappearances. One girl found here, another there, and 21 released in a deal brokered by Switzerland and the International Red Cross. That’s it. Three years down the line, roughly 197 of the girls are yet to be found. At this rate, unless Abuja hits it lucky, there will never be a full return.
In a recent statement the UN said it best: it was shocked that most of the girls have still not been found, and that as more and more time passes, there is a risk that the fate of the remaining girls will be forgotten.
It is a fair assumption that even if the government manages to get the girls, not all will be found. Reportedly, some of the girls have died in captivity. The insurgents also claim that some were killed in airstrikes. Nineteen parents of Chibok girls have since died, never to see their daughters again.
Buhari waves a big card: Boko Haram has repeatedly demanded the release of some of its members in prison in exchange for the girls’ freedom. Buhari, though, has refused the offer. Yet it surely is time to take this course of action. If Buhari’s claims are true of the demise of Boko Haram, then the government can withstand a few of its members being freed in return for the girls.