Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari told BBC Hausa in an extensive interview that he believes most of the girls Boko Haram kidnapped from Chibok village in April 2014 are alive, but have been dispersed and married off to Muslims.
“They [Boko Haram insurgents] have scattered them, and [they] are being guarded at dispersed locations,” he told the news outlet of the ISIS-affiliated group. “Most of the girls are Christians and were forced to embrace Islam. The sect’s cruel leaders have married some of the girls, obviously against their wish. Others have been left to practice their religion but their condition could hardly be ascertained.”
Nigerian newspaper Vanguard has transcribed most of the interview, which also addresses accusations of corruption and the Nigerian government’s plan to eradicate Boko Haram completely–a campaign promise Buhari has yet to fulfill.
Buhari explained that the military knows where some of the abducted girls are within the dense Sambisa Forest that Boko Haram has made their last remaining stronghold, but that it is impossible to identify the women and girls airborne surveillance finds as being from Chibok or the product of other mass abductions in northeastern Borno state. “Both ground and air security personnel in the Sambisa forest could spot where the girls are, but since the insurgents have also kidnapped housewives and other women, no one could say whether they mixed them or how they dispersed them,” he notes.
Buhari adds that he is receiving help from Cameroon and Chad in identifying women who have been found to be working with Boko Haram in their countries, as the terrorist group has begun a campaign of suicide bombings in both nations. The most recent such attack occurred at the beginning of September, when a female suicide bomber killed 20 in Cameroon. It is often difficult to identify the girl or woman conducting the attack in the aftermath, as their bodies receive the brunt of the bomb’s impact.
Buhari expressed some concern in the interview that Boko Haram was no longer operating alone. “Boko Haram members have pledged their allegiance to ISIS — an insurgent group from the Middle East, with enough money and its members were brainwashed into killing innocent people,” he states, adding, “The biggest problem here is how they brainwashed young people, including young girls, who go to mosques, churches, markets, motor parks and detonate bombs, kill themselves and other civilians.”
Nigerian news outlets cited a report this week claiming that at least half the girls and women abducted from Chibok more than 500 days ago are alive. Many of them reportedly died in the process of being converted to Islam or have been forced to become suicide bombers. ThisDay Nigeria cites a military report claiming the girls are being held throughout Borno and the Lake Chad area, which straddles the border of Chad and Nigeria.
“We will never find all the girls again as intelligence findings revealed some have died, and some married away, while the rest are still divided among the terror groups in different locations both within the North-east and some neighbouring countries,” an intelligence source is quoted as telling ThisDay.
That same report claims Boko Haram is on the verge of a major schism, as many within the group diverge from the original plan by group leader Abubakar Shekau and join a faction led by a man known as Mahamat Daoud. “In fact, they got fed up with the way Shekau was going on with the terror campaign, especially the alliance with ISIS. So right now, there are two camps and they are no longer coordinated and active,” the intelligence source tells ThisDay.
The name Mahamat Daoud first became public in a speech by Chad’s President Idriss Deby, who claimed that Daoud was the man who had come forward requesting peace talks with the Nigerian military. Deby advised Buhari to disregard this request and not attempt peace with the terrorist group. In a recent audio message in which he asserted that he was alive and still running the terrorist group on behalf of the Islamic State, Shekau himself denied that there was a rift.
Buhari has pledged that the Nigerian military will destroy Boko Haram completely within three months’ time. Nearly one month has passed since that promise, and Nigerian military leaders are eager to show progress. The military has grown by thousands in number following the reinstatement of soldiers who had been discharged for disciplinary reasons during the beginning of Buhari’s tenure earlier this year.