The Lost Girls

"The Lost Girls" Continued...

Issue: "The GOP’s Greg Abbott," May 31, 2014

Video purportedly showing missing girls.
Video purportedly showing missing girls.
The years that followed brought more attacks on government buildings, schools, and churches, and more executions of Christians, particularly men with large families. One widow reported in 2012 that militants had killed her husband and kidnapped her two young daughters. Other widows said gunmen had killed their husbands after asking if they were Christians.

It took the U.S. government years to designate Boko Haram a terrorist organization, but even after the designation last November, the U.S. State Department has continued largely to ignore the overwhelming rate of Christian persecution in northern Nigeria. 

In its recently released annual report on Nigeria, the U.S. State Department notes Boko Haram’s campaign of terror against civilians, but the opening summary doesn’t mention relentless attacks on churches and Christians. The summary does report Boko Haram attacks on a much smaller number of mosques.

The report later mentions “bombed churches” far into a long list of other Boko Haram abuses, but it doesn’t identify persecution as a motivation for Islamist terror. Emmanuel Ogebe, a Nigerian and a human rights attorney, decried the report and asked: “The question remains—why is the U.S. downplaying or denying attacks against Christians?”

Instead, the State Department often lists issues like poverty as motivations for Boko Haram’s terror. Even after the Chibok kidnappings, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke about the need to “alleviate poverty” as a way to fight terrorism in Africa. In 2012, senior State Department official Johnnie Carson told Congress: “Boko Haram thrives because of social and economic problems in the north.”

Laolu Akande, a Nigerian pastor with the New York–based Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans, bristles at that suggestion, and notes the majority of Nigerians are poor. “Please don’t use poverty to justify acts of terrorism,” he said. “It’s an insult to poor people.”

Two students of government secondary school in Chibok, who were abducted by gunmen and managed to escape.
Associated Press/Photo by Haruna Umar
Two students of government secondary school in Chibok, who were abducted by gunmen and managed to escape.
The State Department also cites reports from human rights groups like Amnesty International that have criticized the Nigerian military for excessive force in its counterterrorism efforts.

Akande says he doesn’t deny or excuse abuses by the Nigerian military, but adds: “I’m aghast at how they [human rights groups] are painting the military without pointing to the thousands who have been killed—whose humanity has been reduced to nothing. Boko Haram is going to churches, slicing the throats of pastors, and burning people’s homes. Let’s deal with that first.” 

Clare Lopez, vice president for research and analysis at the Center for Security Policy, says failing to deal properly with the threat of Boko Haram hinders U.S. efforts at combating terrorism in Nigeria and other countries. “The bigger issue is this administration’s absolute refusal to acknowledge and confront Islamic jihad,” says Lopez. “We can’t turn a blind eye to what Boko Haram says is their objective. And their deeds match their words.”

Confronting Boko Haram is a confounding task, especially as reports emerged that Nigerian security forces in the Chibok area didn’t heed warnings about the impending attack, and responded too slowly to track the abductors as they fled. Some Nigeria advocates called for a group of special elite forces dedicated solely to the task of dismantling Boko Haram.

Beyond mass killings, Boko Haram’s deeds have also left thousands of Nigerians homeless. The United Nations estimates the terror attacks have produced nearly a half million internally displaced Nigerians. At least 60,000 more Nigerians have fled to neighboring countries.

Mark Lipdo of the Nigerian advocacy group Stefanos Foundation, recently returned to Nigeria after visiting Nigerian refugees in nearby Cameroon. He’s working to produce a report on conditions in the camps, and says the situation Christians are fleeing in northern Nigeria is pitiful: “A whole community is displaced.”

Lipdo says he hopes efforts to rescue the kidnapped girls will include efforts to confront the wider threat of Boko Haram: “It’s not just about recovering the Chibok girls. It’s about the slaughtering of schoolchildren. It’s about imprisonment. It’s about so many victims.”

A protestor brandishes a wooden stick.
Associated Press/Photo by Manuel Balce Ceneta
A protestor brandishes a wooden stick.
As the Nigerian military continued to search for the missing girls, Boko Haram claimed more victims. The group kidnapped 11 more girls, and launched a May 7 raid on a trading town near Nigeria’s border with Cameroon. Gunmen opened fire in a crowded market, tossed bombs into houses, and burned shopkeepers alive. Authorities confirmed at least 100 dead, but local residents expected the number could reach 300.

On May 12, Boko Haram militants released a video purportedly showing more than 100 of the missing girls dressed in hijabs and reciting Islamic prayers. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said he wouldn’t release the girls unless the Nigerian government released all jailed Boko Haram militants. But it wasn’t immediately clear how many of the young women in the video came from Chibok, and some parents said they didn’t recognize their daughters in the group.


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