Despite rampant violence and clear signs that Boko Haram, an Islamic State affiliate, is still a threat to west Africa, the Nigerian government has declared the fight against the terror group won, and will begin a new investigation into the abduction of more than 200 girls and young women from a secondary school in northeast Chibok, Borno, in April 2014.
“Securing the Chibok girls is my responsibility. The service chiefs and heads of our security agencies will tell you that in spite of the dire financial straits that we found the country in, I continue to do my best to support their efforts in that regard,” President Muhammadu Buhari said this week, noting that the government was preparing to establish a panel specifically to investigate the disappearance of the girls and women from Chibok. The nation’s national security adviser, General Babagana Munguno, will be in charge of creating the panel. The girls were abducted from a secondary school where they were taking a physics exam, and save for a few who escaped by jumping off the moving trucks into which they were forced, they have never been heard from again.
In announcing the new panel to find the girls, Buhari also praised the military for its work against Boko Haram. “You all know the progress we have made. When we came in Boko Haram was in Adamawa, Yobe and Borno. Boko Haram has now been reduced to areas around Lake Chad,” he told members of the Bring Back Our Girls advocacy group. Military officials also noted that Nigeria had managed to free over 3,000 Boko Haram hostages in the past three months.
Reports indicate that Bring Back Our Girls members – largely the parents and other relatives of the missing – left the meeting disillusioned. The group largely forced the meeting, marching to Buhari’s residence on Thursday and demanding a meeting with the President. Rumors began to circulate that, while Buhari accepted to meet with some, he “stormed out” without providing the answers parents were seeking.
“First of all, the president failed to make any connection with the parents of the girls who today have spent 21 months since they were abducted. There was no personal connection. The president finished his talk at the microphone and walked out,” Aisha Yesufu, a Bring Back Our Girls organizer, told Voice of America of a separate discussion Buhari had with the group. “There were so many things that he did mention, the fact that the fight against terrorism that he has embarked on should be appreciated; and also that the Chibok girls were not abducted during his regime. They were abducted during the previous regime,” she added, protesting that many interpreted his defensive attitude as unhelpful.
The controversy surrounding this new initiative to find the Chibok girls follows an official declaration from Nigerian Army chief, Lt. General Tukur Buratai, that Boko Haram has been “defeated” in Nigeria. “The North East operation is critical at this stage. The terrorists have been defeated; these criminals may rear their ugly heads through other means. We will continue to maintain vigilance,” Buratai announced this week. Buhari had given Buratai a December deadline to eradicate Boko Haram from Nigeria.
Buhari had made a similar statement in late December: Boko Haram, he told BBC Hausa, “has been reduced to fighting with improvised explosive devices (IED) and remains a force only in its heartland of Borno State,” so Nigeria had “technically won the war.”
That same week, female suicide bombers believed to be Boko Haram-affiliated struck in both Cameroon and Nigeria, leaving dozens dead and wounded.