The good news from Nigeria that more than one hundred schoolgirls abducted by radical Islamist group Boko Haram did not last, as state authorities in the northeast of the country confirmed to Reuters that only fourteen of the girls had escaped captivity, with dozens still missing.
Reuters reported Wednesday that armed forces spokesman Major General Chris Olukolade told the media that only eight schoolgirls remained captive under the Islamist group. The girls had been kidnapped while they slept on Tuesday at the boarding school they attended – a common practice for Boko Haram militants, who are known to kidnap Christian teenage girls and force them into Muslim marriages. While the federal government of Nigeria had been spreading the news that the girls had been freed, state government officials in Borno denied the report.
According to Reuters, an unnamed aide to Borno Governor Kashim Shettima directly refuted Olukolade’s claim, clarifying that only fourteen of the kidnapped students had returned to their villages. These girls, they noted, were neither freed or rescued – they had escaped on their own.
CNN reports that one of the escaped girls told her story on condition of anonymity: “They forced us into trucks, buses and vans, some of which were carrying foodstuffs and petrol. They left with us in a convoy into the bush… A group of motorcyclists flanked the convoy to ensure none of us escaped.”
The captors left the school with 129 girls.
Time notes that similar reports have led investigators to believe the girls were taken to a camp Boko Haram uses for training and warfare. BBC adds that the area to which the girls were taken is suspected to be on the border with Cameroon.
Major General Olukolade also told the media that Nigerian officials had captured one of the assailants.
The Islamist group Boko Haram, whose name means “Western Education is Sin,” is a twelve-year-old militant group intent on imposing Sharia law on Nigeria, a nation with both significant Muslim and Christian populations. In the aftermath of the killing of founder Mohammed Yusuf, the group has become internationally reviled through a series of terrorist attacks and crimes against humanity that appear only to be increasing in volatility. The group has kidnapped Christian women in the past for use as sex slaves or wives and has a history of violent attacks on churches. One year ago, Boko Haram was accused of destroying fifty of fifty-two Catholic churches in Kurudu, Nigeria. In a particularly bloody month for the group, Boko Haram killed 71 Christians last November in the weeks preceding Christmas.
While the Nigerian government appears chronically unable to handle the Boko Haram threat, many in the international community are calling for intervention to save the lives of Nigerian Christians. While many nations in the West, including the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, have already declared Boko Haram a terrorist group, the United Nations has yet to do so, prompting vocal petitions from Christian groups in Nigeria to do so and intervene in the crisis. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon declared the mass kidnapping this week a “grave violation of international law,” though the UN itself has not made any proactive steps to combat the menace in Nigeria.
The crisis comes at a pivotal time in the history of Nigeria. This month, the nation became the largest economy in Africa, overtaking South Africa, and it is the largest producer of oil on the continent. Such economic growth could attract more investors to the nation, though this is increasingly inhibited by attacks from Boko Haram and concerns that the Nigerian government will not be able to control or protect the interests of investors.