Headlines revisits stories that the media has forgotten.
When Boko Haram — whose name means “Western education is forbidden”— kidnapped more than 200 girls from their school in April of this year, there was worldwide concern. The social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls went viral, attracting famous advocates from Michelle Obama to Amy Poehler. Activist Malala Yousafzai made a well-publicized visit to Nigeria on her birthday, and has created an ongoing campaign for rescue efforts. After some objection, even Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan accepted international assistance in rescue attempts, including aid from the U.S. This global attention made the kidnapped girls high-risk victims and valuable prisoners for the militant group, and possibly prevented the victims from being sold and enslaved, at least for the short-term.
In recent months, attention has turned away from the issue, despite the fact that little has been accomplished in the way of rescuing the hostages. A false report of the hostages’ release was circulated in May. Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, released a video in which he took responsibility for the kidnapping and responded to the social media campaign, saying, “Bring back our girls, no, bring back our soldiers.”
About 60 of the girls have escaped, but the others remain missing. Boko Haram offered to exchange the girls for prisoners. The Nigerian government refused to authorize the trade. At the United States-Africa summit in August, President Jonathan said that the Nigerian government was making every effort to find the girls, but withheld details, fearing that the information would compromise the mission. The Nigerian government previously ruled out a rescue mission, saying such operations would put the girls in too great of danger.
Different mediators acting without government consent, have attempted to negotiate for the girls’ release. While these negotiations have not resulted in any freed hostages, they have confirmed the safe status of the girls and have established that they are not being treated as sex slaves.
In August, U.S. surveillance flights over Nigeria showed large groups of girls in a rural location, raising hope that the abducted girls were part of the group; however, nothing came of this discovery. Since then, the number of drones used to survey Nigeria has declined, as the aircrafts have been moved to operations in other parts of the world.
Boko Haram continues to take control of territories in West Africa, destroying schools and forcefully displacing families. Former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell contended that “kidnapping is ongoing” in Nigeria, and smaller groups of young people are being taken on a regular basis. He hypothesized that the girls are no longer together, but are moving in smaller groups. This makes locating them more difficult and means “their fates will be highly variable.”