Abducted Schoolgirls as Bargaining Chips

The abduction of 234 school girls from Chibok in Borno State enters the third week from today. Gunmen suspected to be Boko Haram members stormed the Government Girls Secondary School in the dead of the night three weeks ago and kidnapped about 300 students of the school, which was hosting them for the school certificate examinations. Boko Haram, which literally means, “Western education is forbidden”, had thus scored a major point and achieved a goal by literally closing down the school through the midnight abduction of those school girls. Before the Chibok episode, the group had attacked schools at Mubi in Adamawa State, schools in Yobe and Borno, where hundreds of students had been burnt to death, shot or slaughtered with knives. These had led to the closure of schools in the three states, more particularly in Borno, where the Governor had said that the Federal Government forces were not doing enough because they were ill-motivated and poorly equipped.

The kidnap of 300 under-aged school students was particularly mysterious and worrisome. Armed gangs, numbering over 100 stormed a government school in several noisy six-cylinder engine Toyota Hilux vans at the most quiet of all day and forcefully took away (probably) screaming children, passed through the streets, roads, bushes, forests and safely got away, without any soldier, policeman, neighbour or civilian JTF detecting anything! Put differently, 100 gangsters, 300 schoolgirls, about 20 noisy vans, loud gunshots, shrilling and multiple screams of timid girls, all got away through the eye of the needle in a militarized zone; in the middle of a State of Emergency, in which the armed forces were supposedly fully in control. The Nigerian intelligence community must look critically into these again and again to get to the root of the matter.

For some time, the Nigerian army had recorded some successes in the fight against Boko Haram, matching the invincible and masked men in the raw use of terror. The victories, if that is the right word, had led to the arrest and detention of several key commanders of the vicious sect, some of whom were detained at the Department of State Security headquarters in Abuja. This had probably informed the attempt, four weeks ago, just before the first Nyanya terror attack, at jail-break to free the detained terrorist commanders. The failed jail-break attempt was quickly followed by the sequence of events: Nyanya Bus Park bombing in which about 100 people were killed and the abduction of about 300 girls a day later.

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My understanding of the abduction is not in consonance with the popular sentiment that the terrorists wanted them as sex slaves. This might be, but of course, the abducted school girls are more of human shields and bargaining chips for the gangsters. These are teenagers, under-aged, and they are girls. The girl-child is regarded as a tenderly, delicate and vulnerable; and these are the reasons why the society is easily protective of her and emotionally committed to her cause. School girls are persons people will fuse or pour rage about if they are in any way physically, emotionally or psychologically injured. Abducting girls of 10-15 years of age will definitely attract local, national and world attention. Abducting 234 school girls will definitely bring the world to Nigeria and make Boko Haram have an edge in any situation: war or peace.

In a war situation, the army and other forces have been rendered powerless because there are 234 human shields that must rather be rescued or left safe, than frontal attack that might leave all of the girls dead. That is even after serial raping and emotional torture of the innocent young girls. The soldiers will not be able to fire a single shot even if the terrorists are killing their own compatriots. Any attempt to launch attacks on the terror group might mean the loss of those poor souls. The girls thus constitute an effective fortification of the terror group, and sadly so.

In a peace situation, the girls may become the group’s bargaining chips to have the detained commanders freed, to get the soldiers off Maiduguri or to call for the resignation of the President. From the second Nyanya attack three nights ago, it is becoming clearer that Boko Haram might not be a truly Islamic group seeking an Islamic State after all; it seems it is a militant group connected with terrorist organizations outside Nigeria, but with political intentions to have a fanatical Muslim President and Cabinet that will run things in the interest of the core North.

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The abduction of the girls is thus a smart move, and it goes to show that the Borno Governor is right after all, that Boko Haram is better equipped with military and intelligence capacities, more motivated and better organized. The deft move to abduct school girls shows their superiority of intelligence, knowledge of warfare and capacity to turn things around in their favour. This is a shame on the Nigerian State!

It is a shame because we allowed this to happen in the first place. The security apparatuses of the state have not been able to do anything to defend Nigeria from the incessant invasions of a non-military organization; they have not been able to protect the people from attacks and killings; they have not been able to detect, preempt or forestall incessant attacks; and now, they could not detect the attack on the Chibok school three weeks ago. Like I said, all of those people and machines passed through the eye of the needle.

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One can therefore be most certain that none of those children will be killed or hurt; in fact, they will be well taken care of, because they are goldmines for the terrorists now: human shields and bargaining commodities. This is why a multidimensional approach is now required by the government to free the girls. Military onslaught should be the last resort and when there is a last recourse to it, it should be total-that might be the last straw to break the group. There is no doubt that the recourse to kidnapping harmless school girls is a demonstration that the terrorist group is struggling to sustain their war. They now want to bargain, either to reinforce themselves with their detained commanders that they want freed, or to get themselves a soft landing.

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The military forces have to be extremely careful because any bungling will lead to the slaughter of those girls. This is the first time I will support a “carrot” approach; but the carrot should be to trap the mouse for the kill. The government should now engage the international community more intensely and court the help of Israel, USA and Britain (they should not trust France because the French government has never pretended to distrust and dislike Nigeria’s stature and threatening exploits in the comity of French-speaking nations of Africa). The girls must be made safe and must in the end, be liberated.

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