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Published On: Tue, Apr 29th, 2014

Chibok abductions: Goodluck Jonathan under pressure

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Jonathan under pressureWith some 187 girls still missing two weeks after they were abducted from a school in north-eastern Nigeria, the government is under growing pressure, reports BBC Nigeria correspondent Will Ross.

The agonising wait goes on. Almost two weeks after they were driven away from their boarding school in the town in the middle of the night, parents are desperate for news of their daughters.

A resident of the small town of Gwoza in the remote north-east said on 25 April she saw a convoy of 11 vehicles painted in military colours carrying many girls.

This will be of little comfort to the parents as it suggests at least some are now even further from home, close to the Cameroonian border.

The fact that Islamist fighters from the Boko Haram group are still able to move across parts of Borno state in convoys points to the severe limitations of the current military strategy.

‘Eerie echo’

With thousands of extra troops deployed in the main cities of the north and with the emergence of civilian defence forces or vigilante groups especially in Maiduguri, Boko Haram was under pressure and was forced to change tactics.

But this has instead brought the deadliest phase of the conflict with incessant attacks on poorly defended rural villages and smaller towns.

About 1,500 people were killed in the first three months of 2014, according to Amnesty International.

And the Maiduguri barracks attack last month, as well as the Abuja bomb blast on the same day the girls were abducted, show that the insurgents are not entirely confined to rural areas.

Even for those girls who managed to escape during the first few hours of the abduction there is no peace of mind.

“I’m so sad now because when I’m at home I think about all my school friends who are there in the bush,” one 18-year-old told me from her home in Chibok town, where the abductions took place.

“I hope they are set free. We are all praying for God to release them so they come back home.”


The attack is an eerie echo of a mass abduction in northern Uganda back in 1996. A total of 139 girls aged between 11 and 16 were seized from dormitories at St Mary’s School in Aboke.

They were tied together with rope and were taken away by the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), which says it is fighting for a state based on the Biblical 10 Commandments. So, same terror tactics, different religion.

In an extraordinary act of bravery the headmistress, Sister Rachele Fassera, followed them into the bush and managed to rescue 109 of them.

The rest were forced to become so-called wives of the rebel commanders. Most of the “Aboke Girls” escaped and returned years later as young mothers. But at least four of them never came home.

In Nigeria there was such utter confusion and terror after the attack on Chibok School that several days later it was still not clear how many girls were missing.

There cannot be many countries where the political leaders stay as silent following such a tragedy. So far, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has said more about the Chibok attack than Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan.

On Friday, a presidential advisor told the BBC the incident was “unfortunate, embarrassing and evil”.

“The fact that some of them have been rescued raises our hope that with more effort, the objective of bringing them to safety and to their parents will be achieved,” said Reuben Abati.

But they were not rescued by the military. They escaped.

‘Pentecostal polemics’

Mr Abati said the security forces “deserve continuous motivation for them to do even more”.

Few would disagree with that thought but there are doubts over whether the soldiers tasked with fighting Boko Haram are getting the support they need from their own bosses.

“We are in a difficult situation. We are underequipped we do not have the required weapons,” a soldier deployed to Borno State told the BBC last month.

“This problem is not from us at the front line but from our superiors. We, the soldiers, have the courage to confront Boko Haram but we do not have sufficient weapons.”

“You cannot confront someone with more sophisticated weapons than you. It is not our superiors doing the fighting – we are the ones at the front line,” he said.

“So we have to consider our families our parents and when we go there and get killed, what becomes of our families?”

As has been the case with the long war against the LRA in Uganda, some analysts in Nigeria question whether the possibility of making vast amounts of money from the opaque security funds is a hindrance to ending the bloodshed.

‘Goat pen’

Nigeria’s budget for security this year is more than $6bn (£3.5bn) – double the allocation for education.

“The budget for defence is increasing but we don’t see that translating into better kit and security personnel…. so in a lot of ways the question is asked whether the resources that are budgeted for security are actually going into equipping the military to be prepared for this,” said Clement Nwankwo, a policy analyst.

The police are also supposed to play a key role in protecting civilians. If they were well resourced, the streets might not be plagued at night by policemen waving torches and begging for handouts from motorists.

Nigeria’s Premium Times newspaper has just done an expose on how poorly looked after the police are.

“Only through black magic could anybody feed his wife and four children for 30 days with the kind of salary the Nigeria Police pays me,” the online publication quoted a policeman as saying.

The same article says the Police Training School in the north-eastern state of Bauchi quotes officers saying they no longer get issued with a uniform but have to buy them from the local market.

The violence in the north-east has been relentless this year but the kidnapping of the girls from Chibok and the focus on their plight has definitely caused more Nigerians, wherever they live, to question their own safety.

“If they can’t protect them up there in the north-east, why would they be able to protect us here,” is how one Lagos resident put it.

This is a religious country but for some the insecurity is now beyond prayers.

“Nigerian citizens have been waiting in vain for an effective decisive action from the presidency beside the usual: ‘We condemn this act…’ But the president is waxing strong in his Pentecostal polemics and total reliance on prayers to solve the country’s security failings,” says Nigerian writer Victor Ehikhamenor.

“Nigeria is a highly spiritual country and its past and present leaders know this and have manipulated it to their benefit,” he says.

“However, the current administration has taken it to a new height where God is expected to actually physically solve all the country’s debilitating problems from terrorism to corruption to fixing dilapidated infrastructures.”

Many of the politicians are more focused on the blame game than coming up with solutions and with elections due early next year, the violence could have political consequences.

The north-east is an opposition stronghold – the states of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa, where an emergency has been declared, are all under the control of the All Progressive Congress.

“Not holding polls in the north-east, or reducing their scope, could create political chaos, with the opposition rejecting a close unfavourable national tally. It is also feared that Boko Haram could escalate attacks to undermine the elections,” says the International Crisis Group (ICG) in its latest report on the insecurity plaguing Nigeria.

“It overstretches federal security services, with no end in sight, spills over to other parts of the north and risks reaching Niger and Cameroon, weak countries poorly equipped to combat a radical Islamist armed group tapping into real governance, corruption, impunity and underdevelopment grievances shared by most people in the region,” says the ICG.

People are trying to ensure that the tragedy of the abducted school girls is not yet another attack that is swiftly forgotten hence the trending of #BringBackOurGirls and #WhereAreOurGirls on Twitter.

But given the current insecurity in the north-east it is not a question of “if” but “when” and “where” the insurgents will strike next.


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