Three months to the day after more than 200 teenage girls were kidnapped from their school in northeast Nigeria, headlines have been dominated by the visit of another teenager, 17 year old Pakistani Malala Yusufzai, to some of the missing girls’ families and the Nigerian President.
But there is no real progress in actually securing freedom for the girls, who were abducted in April from the Government Secondary school in Chibok, Borno state.
Western diplomats have said that, despite international publicity, the efforts to find the hostages are little further on than they were in May, when Britain, America and France began to help. With neither a prisoner swap nor a rescue considered likely, there was little real prospect of any “breakthrough” in the foreseeable future, they said.
Said one diplomat: “It is hard to see this being resolved either by a rescue or a prisoner swap deal, although that is also true for a lot of other girls kidnapped by Boko Haram in recent months and years, who are now bush wives. What may happen is that from time to time, some may seize a chance to escape, or a deal may be done with one particular local faction that is holding some of the hostages. Over the course of a few months or years they may begin to reappear.”
However, Canon Dr. Stephen Davis, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Envoy to the Nigerian President, was a little more positive.
In a recent interview with the BBC, Canon Davis pointed out that Boko Haram militants have been raiding villages for the sole purpose of getting food.
“We’ve heard from a number of people in their camps that the food drops they were getting from outside have been intercepted by military forces sent by international governments, so they will be feeling the pinch of the restrictions of co-operating nations’ forces.”
He also spoke out about some Nigerian politicians, saying that they are some of the sponsors of Boko Haram.
“It’s no longer a Christian[ity]-versus-Islam issue, it’s much more a power play as we get closer to the election. The recent bombs in (the capital) Abuja was a reaction to a (recent) state election that surprised some of the sponsors. They are determined to show that the present government can’t provide security for Nigeria.
“This violence is not by people seeking to purify Islam,” Davis said. “Politicians and power-brokers are funding the Boko Haram violence – they are buying weapons and military uniforms for them.”
When asked by the BBC ‘Why isn’t President Jonathan doing anything?’ Davis, former Director of the International Centre for Reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral replied:
“The President’s heading towards an election; he’s faced with a very difficult situation.
“Political Boko Haram (funded by such sponsors) are the main culprits – they are groups that are ruthless. They capture young men who are then forced to dig large trenches and then are forced to kill each other so that they drop into these trenches”.
“Members of [the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) – or the Society for the Support of Islam] say the Boko Haram insurgency is nothing to do with Islam, and that they will have nothing to do with political Boko Haram. They say they are so sickened, and find it so abhorrent.
“People want to believe it’s Islam on Christian, but the Islamic leaders and those who started it a few years ago are saying ‘This is not what was ever intended – it’s inconsistent with the Quran, we wanted to restore Islam, that’s all.’ ”
The head of JNI, the Sultan of Sokoto, backed up everything Davis said.
Speaking to reporters at a Ramadan dinner held in his palace in Sokoto on July 13, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III said the rising wave of violence and killing of innocent citizens was geared toward the 2015 elections.
“Politicians are the main problem of this country. The whole issue of insecurity in this country is geared towards 2015 elections and nothing more. If there is no election in 2015 and they said not ’til 2030, everything will cool down.
“You see, everybody is trying to take his own position and put himself at a vantage point to gain an extra mile ahead of 2015. The whole thing is all about politics. That is why you see the killings, but what we find painful is that innocent people are being killed every day, especially people who don’t even know what is politics.
“We are shedding too much blood of innocent Nigerians and God will not be pleased with us when we keep on shedding innocent blood because their cries mean a lot,” the sultan said.
“Since the kidnapping of the school girls, these terrorists have intensified their attacks with other kidnappings of women and killings of people.”
Rev. Samuel Dali
Nigeria ranks No. 14 among the 50 countries where life as a Christian is most difficult, according to the World Watch List of Open Doors International, a global charity that supports Christians who live under pressure because of their faith. The main source of pressure, Open Doors says, is “Islamic extremism,” most prominently in the form of Boko Haram violence. Islamic Sharia law governs 12 northern Nigeria states, where Christians are compelled to send their children to Islamic studies in school, and are forbidden to bury their dead in public cemeteries, among other limitations.
The five-year-old Boko Haram insurgency has killed thousands of Christians, as well as moderate Muslims, in its avowed quest to topple the government of Christian President Goodluck Jonatahn and create a fundamentalist Islamic state. The April kidnapping at Chibok, a Christian enclave in the otherwise Muslim-majority state of Borno, prompted worldwide outrage, and prompted several Western countries to send people and equipment to Nigeria to help the Jonathan government track down the girls.
At his regular press briefing July 14, Nigeria’s National Information Centre coordinator, Mike Omeri, said the government is making progress toward rescuing the Chibok schoolgirls.
“We are moving closer to finding the abducted girls and we have identified a number of leads,” the Osun Defender quoted Omeri as saying. “The arrest of the Boko Haram intelligence operative is assisting us in this regard. I can’t speak much on this because the information is classified.”
Omeri made his remarks only hours after new information emerged of a deadly early-morning attack in Borno state. The Vanguard reported heavily armed men emerged from the Sambisa forest and killed many residents, though a precise death toll was only beginning to emerge. The attackers also burned three churches, including the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria, or EYN church, along with homes and businesses, the Vanguard reported.
The families of most of the girls kidnapped from Chibok in April belong to the EYN church.
On Saturday, a bridge on a major northeast Nigeria highway was destroyed in a bomb blast, according to the Associated Press, which cited witnesses and a vigilante group fighting against Boko Haram. The bridge’s destruction further limits access to the forests where the kidnapped Chibok girls are believed to be held.