Nigeria’s government said the deal to release the girls was part of a ceasefire agreement with the insurgents. Boko Haram has not confirmed the deal, and continuing battles have been tied to them. Experts have doubts the deal will materialize; they say seeing is believing.
By Ben Brumfield
The Nigerian government says that more than 200 girls abducted by Boko Haram in April are to be released as early as Monday, after it signed a ceasefire agreement with the Islamists.
People around the world are hoping the girls will be set free, but there are skeptics — and bad signs coming from Boko Haram.
After the girls were kidnapped from the village of Chibok, the hashtag mantra #BringBackOurGirls kicked off an avalanches of posts.
Celebrities like First Lady Michelle Obama, teen Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, and actor Sean Penn joined in.
Even Pope Francis took to Twitter to call for their release. Let us all join in prayer for the immediate release of the schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria, the pontiff posted.
Now, after the government made the announcement of their possible release, the hashtag has reawakened with messages of hope and anticipation.
“I am desperate for their return. I must sing a new song of joy,” one poster wrote.
Another wrote, “I hope and pray this 189th day of the abduction of #OurGirls will be the last day we’ll say #BringBackOurGirls. I fervently pray so!”
Islamists remain silent
But Boko Haram remains silent on the deal the government says it signed with the Islamists in neighboring Chad last week.
Instead, the group may be letting its weapons do the talking, continuing five years of war. Over the weekend, gunmen believed to be Boko Haram fighters attacked two villages and a town, killing at least eight and kidnapping others.
Bring Back Our Girls
David Cook, who studies jihad, has doubts about the deal going through.
“It remains to be seen whether this truce will actually materialize, whether it is merely an election ploy for Nigeria’s embattled president, Goodluck Jonathan, and most crucially whether it will bring about the release of numerous captives taken by Boko Haram during the past year,” he wrote in an analysis for CNN.
President needs a success
The Islamists have employed particularly bloody tactics this year, killing thousands.
Boko Haram has gone after Christians, muslims, foreigners and educated people, driving them out of the country’s northeast. And they have continued kidnapping.
They have often sidelined Nigeria’s army. And government soldiers have at times mutinied, complaining of lacking support from the government.
Jonathan needs some good news going into February’s polls.
Analyst Richard Joseph from the Brookings Institution shares Cook’s doubts.
“This is a case when we will actually need to see the girls emerging from their six-month confinement before we can truly believe,” he wrote after the government’s announcement.
He fears that after so much war, the group may be disjointed and any ceasefire deals made with some members may not be heeded by others.
A screengrab taken on May 12, 2014, from a video of Nigerian Islamist extremist group Boko Haram obtained by AFP shows girls, wearing the full-length hijab and praying in an undisclosed rural location.
And like ISIS, Boko Haram has ambitions for a caliphate or religious state, which would mean it has long-term ambitions to keep fighting, Cook said.
But he believes that a deal could still be in Boko Haram’s interest. They could use it to rest and regroup.
The kidnapping lookback
On April 14, Boko Haram militants raided the village of Chibok and kidnapped an estimated 276 teenage girls from a boarding school. Officials there say some of the girls were able to escape.
It is believed that the Islamist militants were able to hold on to more than 200 of them.
Three weeks later, a man claiming to be a Boko Haram leader threatened to sell the girls into slavery. “Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women,” he said.
More than a month after their abduction, the White House announced it had sent 80 U.S. troops to Chad to help search for the kidnapped schoolgirls.
Meanwhile, when the social media phenomenon of signs calling for the release of the missing girls took off in May, celebrities like first lady Michelle Obama and Nobel Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai posted their photos, joining people from around the world. But as weeks became months and prospects of the schoolgirls’ release seemed slim, the social media campaign slowly dwindled.
But one man, Alasholuyi Kehinde, did not stop fighting to bring the missing girls home.
Almost every day, for 186 days, the Lagos, Nigeria, resident took a photo of himself holding up a sign pleading with the world not to forget about the Chibok schoolgirls. A father of three and marketing professional, Kehinde felt a responsibility to advocate for the missing girls and their families. He posted the images on CNN iReport each day.
Now, Nigeria has reached a ceasefire agreement with the Islamist terror group Boko Haram, which took credit for kidnapping the girls back in April. The girls are expected to be released shortly, although Nigerian government spokesman Doyin Okupe says “it is a process. … It is not a question of hours and days.”
In spite of many promises to find and free them, the girls have remained in the terrorists’ hands.