It’s been three weeks since members of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, dressed in Nigerian military uniforms, stormed an all-girls secondary school and kidnapped nearly 300 students, disappearing into a nearby forested area.
For three weeks the world has watched, outraged at the lack of response from other nations and the boldness of Boko Haram, the group also responsible for a massive explosion that killed 75 in the capital city Abuja the same day as the mass kidnapping.
The search effort, however, has yielded very little information. Progress is slow. Mothers and fathers, pooling their resources to aid in the search of their daughters, gather daily to offer pleas to the kidnappers and the government — the indolent effort of President Goodluck Jonathan riddled with confusion and rumors of apathy.
(For three weeks President Jonathan has remained virtually silent, only speaking to criticize parents for not cooperating with police. First Lady Patience Johnson was also said to support the theory that the kidnapping was fabricated. “Patience Jonathan, who is the first lady, called some of the mothers to her, to meet with her, and she basically told them that they really need to be quiet and they were really bringing shame and embarrassment to Nigeria,” said Nicole Lee, from the TransAfrica Forum. “That’s certainly a problem.”)
With news that the militant group has kidnapped eight more girls, vowing to marry them off for a dowry of $12, the frustration has reached unbearable levels — Nigerians are demanding the government enact an effectual strategy to combat Boko Haram’s terrorism and protect their citizens. International outrage has sparked the White House to send a U.S. team to the country to help in the search for the missing. Mothers and daughters, internationally, are mobilizing to bring awareness to the degradation of women and girls who are trafficked for sex and sold worldwide.
But with the search and awareness of the mass abduction intensifying, outside nations are questioning Boko Haram’s motives, beginnings and identity in order to understand how kidnapping 276 girls could possibly be beneficial to them.
Here are some things we know about Boko Haram:
– Boko Haram, also known as The Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad, is an Islamist militant organization based in northeast Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger. They were founded in 2002 by Mohammed Yusuf (pictured above) and take the Hausa name of Boko Haram, which roughly translates to “Western education is sinful.” In short, the group aims to stop westernization and impose a stricter enforcement Sharia law.
– The group strongly opposes the education of women. Founder Mohammed Yusuf did, however, set up a religious complex for many poor Muslim families to send their children to impose Islamic law and denounce Western education.
– According to CNN: “They actually originated as a group called the Nigerian Taliban, which kind of explains where they’re coming from,” said CNN’s national security analyst Peter Bergen. “They are aiming to impose Taliban-style rule on much of Nigeria, particularly in the north where they are based.”
– The group regards the Nigerian state as being run by non-believers, even though the country had a Muslim president.
– The U.S. believes Boko Haram may be forging ties with al-Qaeda-linked groups in Africa, but the group denies this.
– The group has wrecked havoc on a large swath of the country for a long period of time, kidnapping, shooting and bombing in an attempt to overthrow the Christian rule. According to the BBC, Boko Haram’s trademark has been the use of gunmen on motorbikes, killing police, politicians and anyone who criticizes Islam. You can read the harrowing story of a Boko Haram attack survivor here.
– The reign of terror was said to start when police killed Mohammed Yusuf in a 2009 crackdown of the organization. According to CNN, Abubakar Shekau took control of the group and escalated the attacks.
– The group is known for murdering and kidnapping Westerners, and bombing churches, mosques and government buildings.
– The group was also responsible for the recent massacre of fifty-nine schoolboys in the neighboring Yobe state. And just this year alone, an estimated 1,500 people were killed in violent uprisings and subsequent security crackdowns involving Boko Haram.
Kidnappings/Violence Against Women:
– This isn’t the first time the group has kidnapped young women. In November, Boko Haram abducted dozens of Christian girls and women who were later rescued by the military in a Maiduguri forest. Upon rescue, many of the women and girls were pregnant and had been forced to convert to Islam and marry their captors. News that the nearly 300 girls abducted on April 14 will go through a similar fate has been reported in the past two weeks.
– Human Rights Watch estimates that in the first two months of this year alone, Boko Haram kidnapped at least 25 girls and women.
Boko Haram Stronghold:
– According to many analysts, what’s making Boko Haram and its leader so elusive to Nigerian government is the mockery they make of the administration. Keeping a stronghold on the northern region, a Muslim area regarded as poverty-stricken, Boko Haram has been able to instill fear while also garnering anti-goverment support from the neglected region.
– From the BBC: “Since the Sokoto caliphate, which ruled parts of what is now northern Nigeria, Niger and southern Cameroon, fell under British control in 1903, there has been resistance among the area’s Muslims to Western education. Many Muslim families still refuse to send their children to government-run ‘Western schools,’ a problem compounded by the ruling elite which does not see education as a priority.”
– Rights groups have also accused authorities of human rights violations in the fight against Boko Haram
– Analysts say Boko Haram’s threat will disappear only if the Nigerian government manages to reduce the region’s chronic poverty and builds an education system which gains the support of local Muslims. Others, however, don’t believe it will be that easy.
For more information on Nigeria’s missing girls, click here.
SOURCE: CNN, Human Rights Watch, BBC, YouTube