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Four schoolgirls who escaped the attack and were reunited with their families.
Associated Press/Photo by Haruna Umar
Four schoolgirls who escaped the attack and were reunited with their families.

Africa’s new champion or terrorist punching bag?

Nigeria | Nigeria touts its growing economic influence, while terrorists kidnap its children

The latest edition of The Economist magazine features a prominent headline on its cover: “Nigeria, Africa’s new champion.”

A story inside notes that Nigerian officials estimate the country’s economy has grown by 89 percent, stoked by an exploding telecom industry, and the addition of informal retailers to the formal economic outlook. If those figures are correct, Nigeria is now the largest economy in Africa, and ahead of Belgium and Taiwan on a list of the largest economies in the world.

But if Nigeria is Africa’s new champion, most of its own countrymen aren’t enjoying the spoils. The latest poverty statistics available (from 2010) show more than 60 percent of Nigerians live on less than a dollar a day.

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Even more dire: Northern Nigeria is enduring a terror campaign that’s engulfed the region for more than two years. Even now, nearly 200 teenage girls remain captive to a band of militants in the forests of northeastern Nigeria. If they’re not rescued soon, the militants could turn them into sex slaves and try to force their conversion to Islam. So far, no champion has emerged who can save them.

The girls first went missing on April 13 when a band of armed men invaded their school in the northern city of Chibok, and loaded them into waiting trucks. As many as 40 girls escaped, but parents and school leaders say at least 187 remain missing.

Nigerian officials suspect the abductors are members of Boko Haram, the Islamist terror group that has killed thousands in a campaign to force Islamic law on the northern region. The group slaughtered at least 59 teenage boys at a government school in Yobe State in February.

In the hours before militants seized the schoolgirls, they raided the mostly Christian town of Chibok, looting and burning homes and businesses. A pastor told Morning Star News that most of the kidnapped girls are members of the Church of the Brethren in Nigeria.

Desperate parents joined vigilantes to search the forests last weekend, but after traveling for hours, a group of forest dwellers warned the group not to invade the heavily armed camp where their daughters are likely held. Fearing they’d lose their own lives, and not save their daughters, the dejected search party turned back.

Many parents expressed frustration with government inaction in the search for their daughters. Though Nigerian officials say they’re working on the girls’ rescue, one parent told CNN that during his nine-hour trek through the jungle to search for his daughter, he never saw a single soldier. If a military rescue is underway, parents said they weren’t aware of it.

Military leaders—likely embarrassed by the militants’ relentless incursions—have also released conflicting figures of the number of girls missing. In the beginning, the military said most of the girls had escaped—a claim parents immediately rejected. Earlier this week, the state’s governor said seven more girls had escaped. The school’s principal and parents have disputed those figures.

The insecurity in Nigeria provides a stark backdrop for the country’s place on the UN Security Council. This month, Nigeria’s ambassador is serving as president of the council tasked with monitoring security threats around the world. Ambassador Joy Ogwu joined other nations in condemning the spiraling violence in South Sudan, calling it “intolerable,” but hasn’t publicly spoken about the schoolgirls.

Nigeria’s own intolerable problems with violence are equally bewildering. Martin Ewi of the Institute for Security Studies wrote that Boko Haram’s decentralized ranks and “mystical aura that perpetuates a sense of invincibility and fear” make it hard to track and defeat the group: “In most communities in northern Nigeria, people believe that members of the group are present everywhere, and could even be the person closest to you.”

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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