Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram has struck again. Amid rising distrust of government authority within civilians in the Muslim-dominated sections of northern Nigeria, Boko Haram has perpetrated another mass kidnapping, allegedly taking more than 60 girls and women from the Damboa government area.
Nigerian media has reported that insurgents raided villages in the northern zone between Thursday and Sunday, and kidnapped more than 60 married women and young girls. This is in contrast to the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls earlier this year, when it was feared that the girls would be forcibly married off to the rebels. But taking married women is being seen as a step up in bloodlust and violence.
As the fate of the previously kidnapped girls and now the newly taken women and girls, hangs in balance, the local population has become increasingly skeptical about the ability and intent of the government and the Nigerian military to protect. Nigeria’s military leaders have claimed that they know the location of the kidnapped schoolgirls but fear that any strike to recover them would result in bloodshed and murder by Boko Haram militants.
Nigerian President Jonathan Goodluck has refused to negotiate with the terrorist group, which has demanded the release of hundreds of detained Boko Haram members, leaving the girls and their families in a state of limbo. Such impasse has added to the frustration and rising distrust among Nigerians, especially in the north.
With the presidential elections looming in February 2015, there is a sense among Nigerians that the issues of the kidnapped women and the increasing activity of Boko Haram have been sidelined and largely minimized. For instance, Nigeria’s first lady, Patience Jonathan, has outraged many Nigerians by claiming that the mass abductions were imaginary and concocted by her husband’s opponents.
This position was debunked by a presidential investigative committee that reported on the mass kidnapping and found that a total of 395 students were the victim of a Boko Haram raid, of which 119 escaped from the school, another 57 dodged their kidnappers and escaped, leaving 219 young girls unaccounted for.
Amid increasing violence including another mass kidnapping by Boko Haram, the distrust of the Nigerian people for government authorities has also grown. Given the recent bombings of the capital city of Abuja, the central city of Jos and northeastern state capital of Maiduguri, Nigeria’s government and the military are being seen as weak actors, who have failed to put a dent in the ongoing terrorist activities.
The Nigerian population is largely divided along religious lines into an impoverished Muslim north and resource-rich Christian south. The Muslim northeast believes that the Nigerian army, which is seen as being brutal and corrupt, is conspiring with the Boko Haram to create instability and commit genocide.
Northern governors have called Boko Haram a straw man, and the common perception within the Muslim population is that the federal government and the president are conspiring with the military to carry out all the brutal attacks so as to destabilize the region, cripple the economy and impose military rule.
Questions have been raised about the ability of the terrorists to travel freely at night despite imposed curfews; their access to arms, ammunitions and military uniforms; and their ability to attack and destroy towns and villages within a few hours of the military leaving.
At the same time, supporters of President Jonathan have accused the politicians of the north of aiding Boko Haram and funding their activities so as to create an ungovernable situation, which could lead to the ouster of the ruling president.
As the politicians trade conspiracy theories, the local population, especially in the northeast, is bearing the brunt of Boko Haram activities. Amid complete distrust of authority, the intense violence, which includes the constant threat of another mass kidnapping by Boko Haram, and the lack of effective military intervention, there has been a mass exodus of Nigerians from the north into the neighboring countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
By Monalisa Gangopadhyay