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'No One Knows What Nigeria's Government Is Doing to Rescue Our Kidnapped Schoolgirls'

Six months after the mass abduction by Boko Haram, the Nigerian lawyer who started #BringBackOurGirls tells VICE News that the military is being held back in the fight against the group by "weak leadership."
Image via Reuters

Six months after nearly 300 schoolgirls were abducted from Chibok town in north-eastern Nigeria by Boko Haram, Ibrahim Abdullahi, the Nigerian lawyer who started the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, told VICE News that he thinks the country's military has the capacity to contain the militant group itself, but is being held back by "weak leadership."

The girls, thought to number around 276, were taken from their school on April 14. 57 are since believed to have escaped, including four last week. The New York Post reported that the most recent escapees left with the help of a male teenage prisoner, walking west for three weeks guided by the setting sun.


It took two weeks for the Nigerian government to officially recognise what had happened, and then accounts of the situation and the number of girls involved remained confused. On May 5, Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau, claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. The group also threatened to "sell" the abducted girls, saying that they shouldn't have been in school and should have been married instead.

Numerous countries offered the Nigerian government assistance including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Israel.

In the six months since, Abdullahi said he recognises that a lot of the international community have moved on "because there are so many other matters that require their attention." However, in Nigeria he says there are still daily demonstrations in Abuja, weekly demonstrations in Lagos, and constant tweets.

This hasn't translated into concerted action from the government, however, he said. "We get no information as to the whereabouts of the girls or as to what the government is doing to rescue them. I think there is not much commitment there. So the situation is very difficult."

He also said that many still live in fear of attacks from the terrorist group, which has killed thousands of civilians as it attempts to carve out a caliphate in the country's north. "Boko Haram is a great threat to everybody here," adding that they "have the same ideology as ISIS." Nearly 650,000 people had been forced from their homes by the group, according to AFP.


In terms of the actions of the international community, Abdullahi says the most important thing they can do is "stand with the girls until they are rescued by not allowing the campaign to die out," and "put pressure on the Nigerian government."

In a letter published on Monday, British politicians and former military leaders say that they "stand together with their Commonwealth partners, the Nigerian government and the international community to do all we can to help bring them back to their families."

They added that Boko Haram are "threatening to plunge the region into chaos," and "must be stopped."

"Their impact thus far is just a small taste of the turmoil that will ensue if the group realises its goal of securing an African caliphate in the west of the continent. According to intelligence agencies, Abubakar Shekau, the group's leader, has already secured the backing of ISIS who are sharing intelligence and giving strategic advice and guidance. Emboldened by the success of Isis and equipped with modern small arms, heavy artillery and armoured vehicles, Boko Haram now operates like a conventional army, occupying towns and villages across the north-east of Nigeria."

This year the group have killed 3,000 people in Nigeria, according to the US government.

Mausi Segun, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch, told VICE News that "the group has made it clear that it wants to impost sharia law on Nigeria. It has rejected the secular rule of the government, and is pushing for territory, but it is failing to control the areas that it has taken."


Because of Boko Haram's mission, she said, the response cannot purely be a military one, but also needs to focus on helping develop the areas that the group have targeted.

In terms of the missing schoolgirls, Segun said that current feeling is characterised by the "sense of frustration that there hasn't been that much movement," but added that negotiations are ongoing. She said that talks are mostly being led by "a number of influential private citizens," and that Boko Haram seem to be quite open to that.

Muhammad Yabaya, the mother of one of the girls, told the BBC: "The government must do more to get the girls back. Some parents are already dying. About six women have gone insane because they… can't endure the trauma."

Last month the Nigerian military claimed — for the second time — to have killed Shekau in fighting. However he then appeared in an online video in which he mocked his enemies' inability to destroy him and posed with an anti-aircraft gun mounted on the back of a truck. He claimed that the group had downed a Nigerian air force jet which had disappeared a few weeks earlier, and Boko Haram fighters were shown picking through what appeared to be the wreckage of a military plane. The video — obtained by AFP — also showed gruesome scenes of sharia punishments including a stoning, a flogging and an amputation, being carried out in areas where the group has declared a caliphate.

The Nigerian government however continued to insist it had killed Shekau and that the video must have been filmed before his death. It also denies Boko Haram downed the air force jet.

On Tuesday the US government issued a fact sheet on its efforts to help the Nigerian government. It said it had provided them with a team of advisers and had shared intelligence. It also said the State and Defense Departments were launching a $40 million Global Security Contingency Fund for Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria to counter Boko Haram.

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd

Boko Haram Leader Appears Alive in Video — But Nigeria Still Says It Killed Him. Read here