Over the past month, 276 Nigerian school girls have been kidnapped from their communities by an armed Islamic terror group known as Boko Haram. The group of extremists have made video threats to continue stealing girls enrolled in school and selling them in the slave trade. The United Nations human rights office is now butting heads with the extremists to return the Nigerian school girls, as pressure mounts from around the world for intervention.
Boko Haram is claiming capture of young girls from a number of Nigerian villages, to sell them “in the market” and “marry them off.” Reports state that the girls range in age anywhere from 12 to 18-years-old. The most recent 57-minute video made by Abubakar Shekau, the group’s leader, included threats to marry off girls as young as 9-years-old. According to UNICEF, the most recent kidnapping took place yesterday, when eight girls were seized in the northern Borno State.
Boko Haram has been ravaging northern Nigeria for the past five years; this group has been responsible for many human atrocities that have gone almost completely unnoticed by the rest of the world. Just as an example, earlier this year a massacre of over 50 teenage boys took place at a government school. Boko Haram aims to overthrow the Nigerian government, but its opposition to Western education hits closer to home. Shekau calls for an end to Western education, stating that girls should get married.
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is not the only entity taking action to butt heads with the extremists over the return of the Nigerian school girls. So far, there is little being done aside from threatening the group with “future arrest and prosecution,” but global outrage is building in ways that rarely take place.
The Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan, has pleaded with President Obama for help. Nigerian leaders seldom ask the United States to intervene, but the “monstrous activity” of Boko Haram is showing the government’s weakness and incapacity to stop the attacks. Anti-government protests are cropping up all over the country in retaliation to Jonathan’s failure to control extremist crimes and rescue the girls, adding to the tensions in Africa’s most populated terror-torn country.
The first mass abduction took place on April 14, but political and human rights leaders are only just beginning to speak out and take action. The United States has responded to some of the pressure, but the Obama administration has released very little detail in terms of what is being done.
One thing is clear for now, the U.S. will not be sending any troops, and is calling upon the Nigerian government to take the reins in resolving the kidnapping crisis. Although the approach remains “hands off” from the U.S. government, measures are definitely under way to help.
Jay Carney, spokesman with the White House, said President Obama has been briefed several times about the situation taking place with the Boko Haram abductions. There are a number of U.S. programs and procedures being set up in Nigeria to help the country improve its criminal justice system, build economic opportunities for women, and strengthen its capacity in combat.
There is also word of exchanges in intelligence that could help the Nigerian government stage a rescue mission. For now, the close, but not-too-close approach of the United States is meant to allow Nigeria to solve this problem on its own as much as possible. This is what Nigerian leaders want as well, as any kind of U.S. military presence is likely to exacerbate tensions.
Nonetheless, the United Nations and the United States are making a statement that they are responding to this crisis in human rights, butting heads with this dangerous extremist group to return the Nigerian school girls. If they are not handed over willingly, action will be taken to ensure their rescue, and retribution.
Secretary of State John Kerry said recently during a trip to Addis Ababa that the United States “will do everything possible” to help the Nigerian government rescue the girls and return them to their families, stating further that the persecutors will be held accountable and brought to justice.
By Erica Salcuni