“BY ALLAH, I WILL SELL THEM IN THE MARKET”, says Abubakar Shekau (leader of Nigerian insurgent group Boko Haram) of hundreds of abducted Nigerian schoolgirls. “Allah has instructed me to sell them. They are his property and I will follow his instructions.”
What the bejesus is going awry with Nigeria that leads to this kind of despicable, fuckwit behaviour?
A bit about Nigeria
Here is it – in West Africa. With around 174 million people, it has Africa’s highest population. It’s economy is the largest in Africa, mostly because of oil reserves, and predicted to be one of the world’s top 20 economies by 2050. It is home to more than 500 ethnic groups and is roughly divided in half in terms of religion – Christian in the Central and Southern regions, and Muslim in the North and South-West. It is also a country with a huge wealth divide, with poverty in the North in stark contrast to the more developed Southern states.
During the colonial era it came under British rule. In 1960 Nigeria sought and won it’s independence but attempts at democracy were repeatedly hindered by alleged inbalance and corruption within the political processes and resultant military coups.
These days, it operates as a Federal Republic as per the US. The current President is Dr Goodluck Jonathan (yep that’s his name, his wife’s name is Patience Jonathan – brilliant), who was elected in 2010 and has held office through the 2011 elections. He can be distinguished by his bowler hat and his strange button loopy things.
Nigeria has a booming film industry known as Nollywood. With an industry worth US$5.1 billion, it is the second largest producer of movies in the world.
In 2002, in response to the ‘Westernization’ of Nigeria, an extereme Islamist group called Boko Haram was founded. In local Hausa language, the name “Boka Haram” translates to “Wester Education is Forbidden”. The group’s earlier years were spent preaching their anti-Western message but in 2009, things turned seriously nasty when the group raided police stations and government buildings in northern cities. Ensuing clashes saw hundreds of people killed.
Their headquarters were raided and many children of poor NIgerian families were found there, being trained to carry the Islamist message. The leader was arrested and was later found dead in custody. The military declared victory over the insurgents. Meantime, Boka Harem were re-organising themselves under a new and even more violent leader – Mr Nasty Cockhead Abubakar Shekau, and shit started to get real. Lead by him, Boka Harem have killed some 2,000 people.
On Christmas Eve 2010, 80 people were killed when a church was bombed. This was the first of many deadly, Boka Haram planned attacks.
In May 2013 Boka Haram captured their first slaves – women and girls, abducted in response to the arrest of Boka Haram wives and children.
Today, the group is scarily powerful. It operates like a guerrilla movement, but has ground forces and an arsenal like a National army. Hundreds of its fighters have marched into villages, backed by pick-up trucks and armoured vehicles mounted with machine guns. The stuff of nightmares.
School Girl Abduction
On April the 14th, 2014, Boka Haram gunmen (“too many to count”) rolled up to a girl’s boarding school in the town of Chibok (North Eastern Nigeria) in the early hours of the morning. They shot guards (who were in placed following warnings of an attack on Chibok), looted the school for food and equipment and then made off with (reportedly) 270-276 students who were there to sit for exams. This number is vague as no one really knows how many students were in the school for exams at the time and it is unclear how many escaped and got back to their homes.
58 girls reportedly escaped when the truck they were in broke down. 2 of them report that they “ran and ran, so fast”, after saying “We should go! Me, I am coming down. They can shoot me if they want but I don’t know what they are going to do with me otherwise.”
On the 5th of May, Boka Haram released a chilling video of Shekau proudly declaring responsibility, saying, “…Western education should end…Girls, you should go and get married.”
A day or so later, 11 more girls were kidnapped from their homes in other North-Eastern villages.
Where are the girls now?
There are all sorts of rumours flying around about what has happened to the girls, arising from eye-witness reports from villagers, including:
– Some of the girls have been married off to Boka Haram members, others sold to neighboring countries as brides for as little as $12.50.
– The insurgents would have broken up into small groups and dispersed, taking a few girls per group and hiding out in the Sambisa Forest, their main hide out near the Camaroon border.
– Two of the girls have died from snakebites while another 11 are ill.
There are parallels made with Uganda, where militant insurgents under Joseph Kony specialised in abducting young people and recruiting them into their rebel forces as soldiers or sex slaves. In Uganda, some are released, others escape, while others are held for their whole lives.
Oh my goodness, I’m having a hug-your-children moment, all sort of mixed up with a sick dread about where those poor girls are and how terrified they must be. Add to that a gratitude, I’m a pathetic wimp moment – I’m feeling a little miffed about going out in the Tasmanian cold to take the children to tennis. Meantime, there are mothers in Nigeria who don’t know where their daughters are or what is happening to them. Nights can be cold in Nigeria.
What is being done to find them?
Well this story has only in the last week hit the global media and questions are now being asked as to what Goodluck Jonathan and his government are doing to find the girls. It seems they have been slow to react and a bit unsure as to how to react at all. The Nigerian public are outraged by the abductions and by the slow response. They are protesting against the government, saying they are not trying hard enough and citing examples such as not searching obvious areas such as the insurgent’s stronghold in the Sambisa Forest. There are calls for Jonathan to stand down prior to the next elections.
Meantime, the Jonathan administration doesn’t appear to be doing itself any favours in the popularity stakes. First lady Patience Jonathan lost all patience with a mother of one of the missing girls and threatened her with arrest for trying to overthrow her husband’s government. Empathy at its best. Not.
The US and Britain have both offered to join the search after Jonathan called for international help. The US pledge was given after the second round of abductions. They will deploy in non-military law enforcement personnel and an intelligence assessment of Boka Haram (already named a terrorist organisation by the UN because of affiliations with al Quaeda).
The apparent ineptitude of the Nigerian government has sparked a massive international wave of protest and awareness raising on Social media. #BringBackOurGirls is going viral all over twitter and facebook. #PullYourFingerOutGoodluck would be appropriate too, get around it.
What can we the people do?
Well first up, we should care. And I know you do. These girls are aged from 8 to 16. We have daughters or nieces or God children that age. Just imagine.
Also, terrorism isn’t a problem isolated to Africa and Afghanistan and scary, unknown far away places. It’s Bali, it’s London, it’s New York. This is our problem.
This is going to keep happening if something is not done about it. More young girls will disappear into the night, into untold terror.
So just read about it, talk about it, don’t sweep it into the too-hard-to-take basket.
I’m not a prayer person but I’m praying for these girls. Please keep them safe, bring them home. Please.