Six Years After Chibok Kidnappings, Boko Haram Uses Coronavirus for Resurgence

Fourteen missing 'Chibok girls' were seen in a video released on January 15 by their abductors
BOKO HARAM/AFP Handout

Six years after Boko Haram kidnapped 276 girls from a government secondary school in northeastern Nigeria, the Jihadist terror group is taking advantage of the ongoing Chinese coronavirus pandemic to launch a comeback.

Assaults in recent weeks demonstrate Boko Haram’s expanding jihadist campaign in the area, part of the vast Lake Chad region. Recently, the terrorist group has stepped up its attacks in the communities bordering the Sambisa Forest, Boko Haram’s historic hideout, and the area in which the Chibok schoolgirls were kidnapped on April 14, 2014. The attacks have occurred as much of Nigeria locks down to prevent the spread of the Chinese coronavirus.

Boko Haram attacked Chibok village’s girls’ secondary school six years ago on Tuesday. Of those kidnapped, 112 remain missing.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesman issued a statement on Monday night to acknowledge the sixth anniversary of the kidnapping. In the statement, Buhari claimed that the current coronavirus pandemic and continuing “restrictions on movement” made it impossible for any government delegation to be with the families of the 112 Chibok girls still missing as they hold prayers and services to commemorate the event. In the statement, the president described “ongoing efforts” to find the women:

Unfortunately, an ongoing crisis within the Boko Haram leadership, which has led to factions and breakaway groups, brought a number of unforeseen challenges to the process of negotiating with the militants for the young women’s release. In the past few years, our armed forces have recorded huge successes in the battle against Boko Haram, but they have also been careful to ensure that as few civilian lives as possible were lost in the process. We would rather the young women still in captivity were freed alive.

President Buhari also commented on the progress being made by the freed Chibok girls his administration sent to study at the American University of Nigeria (AUN), Yola.

Boko Haram, which loosely translates to “Western education is forbidden,” pledged to kill the girls if they returned to school. Almost three years ago, the government arranged for more than a hundred survivors to study at a strictly controlled campus in northeastern Nigeria, where they are watched over by a “support team” 24/7 and also by security guards, who follow them whenever they leave. The government says the protection is necessary, but some, including human rights activists, believe the supervision is excessive.

Anietie Ewang, a Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch who has closely followed the case, told National Geographic last month, “It feels like at every stage they’ve been secluded.” She explains, “After they were first released, they were kept together by the government in some facility in Abuja. After that, they were shipped off to AUN.”

In his statement on Monday, President Buhari also commended the executive officials of the Association of the Parents of the Abducted Girls from Chibok for their work in keeping alive the struggle of the girls still missing.

However, last month, three families of missing girls who live in Abuja told National Geographic that they have no way to contact the government and have not communicated with Buhari’s administration since a tense meeting with President Buhari in 2016.

Hamsatu Allamin, an activist from northern Nigeria, has petitioned for an outside investigation into the missing girls, to no avail. Speaking to National Geographic in March, she said, “Look at the area [of northeastern Nigeria]. There are no roads, no trees, nothing. How can they just disappear?”

Allamin said she believed there may be much more to the incident. “Boko Haram is a complete moneymaking venture for our leaders, the army, and the kidnappers,” she said, referring to the fact that billions of dollars have been given to Nigeria to combat Boko Haram and aid rescue efforts for its captives.

In 2014, a British Air Force mission allegedly located the girls in the Sambisa forest and offered to rescue them, but the Nigerian government declined. Buhari’s predecessor Goodluck Jonathan was president at the time and lost his election largely based on his poor handling of the situation.

Some of Nigeria’s largest states – Lagos, Abuja, and Ogun – are currently on lockdown to curb the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus. The restrictions on peoples’ movement began on March 30. On Monday, President Muhammadu Buhari announced a 14-day extension to the lockdown.

“It is a matter of life and death,” Buhari said of the measure. “The repercussions of any premature end to the lockdown action are unimaginable.”

For many people in northeastern Nigeria, the lockdown’s repercussions have meant a resurgence in Boko Haram’s attacks in the area, even while far away from economic hubs like southern Lagos.

On April 7, Boko Haram killed two people in the Borno State communities of Wamdeo and Chul. The insurgents looted the area of foodstuffs and livestock before setting fire to some area shops; hundreds of residents fled the communities.

Yahaya Isa, a Wamdeo resident who successfully escaped the attack said, “Two persons were killed in Wamdeo,” when speaking to Nigerian newspaper Vanguard on April 9. At least one other resident – a local medical doctor who owned a private hospital in the community – was abducted.

On Sunday night, Boko Haram gunmen attacked and killed at least seven people near Yana-Yakiri. The remote village is located near a cattle route used by the terrorists to carry out attacks in the area. Boko Haram waited for the village’s lockdown curfew to be lifted, then ambushed people as they drove on the local highway.

“The driver and other vehicles coming from behind were forced to stop … Two persons were instantly shot dead while about 13 others were dragged into the bush in two different vehicles. We later got to learn that one of the vehicles broke down in the bush and the insurgents had to shoot the passengers at a spot [nearby],” Malam Bunu, a local resident told the Nigerian newspaper Premium Times on Tuesday.

A group of locals later found six corpses near the vehicle that broke down, bringing the total number of dead to eight. When originally questioned by the Premium Times about Sunday night’s attack, the Nigerian military denied that the incident happened.

On April 5, the jihadist terror group killed at least ten people in a suicide bombing in Blama Kamsoulou, a northern village of Cameroon along the country’s border with Nigeria. The next day, Boko Haram attacked Kirchinga, a village in northeastern Nigeria currently on lockdown. According to locals, the terrorists rampaged through the village, looting shops, and destroying houses. Many people were believed dead following the attack.

On March 22, Boko Haram killed at least 92 Chadian soldiers on an army base on Boma Peninsula, located in the Lac province near the border with Nigeria and Niger, in the deadliest attack on Chad’s military forces. The next day, on March 23, the terrorists carried out a different attack in Nigeria, killing at least 50 Nigerian soldiers in an ambush near Goneru village in northern Yobe state. Similar to the attack in Chad, this ambush was one of the deadliest assaults on Nigerian troops, wiping out an entire artillery unit.

The United Nations estimates that Boko Haram has killed 36,000 people and displaced about two million people in northeastern Nigeria. Regional militaries have struggled to combat the jihadist insurgency, as evidenced by the unprecedented losses sustained during the attacks in March. In 2015, several countries organized the Multinational Joint Force in an attempt to curb jihadist activity in the Lake Chad area.

At press time on Tuesday, Nigeria had 343 confirmed cases of the Wuhan coronavirus, with 71 percent of them registered in Lagos and the capital territory of Abuja. So far in Nigeria, ten people have died from the Wuhan coronavirus.

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