CREDIT: AP Photo/Jossy Ola
Last week, the Nigerian government concluded its official fact-finding inquiry into the abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls, reporting that almost none had been freed since their kidnapping more than two months ago. Just days later, according to witnesses on the ground, the militants who took the girls abducted another 91 people from their homes.
Militants reportedly attacked the village of Kummabza, located in Nigeria’s northeast Borno State, over the weekend, abducting more than 60 women and girls, as well as 30 boys. Local police have yet to confirm that the kidnappings took place and journalists have yet to independently verify the story on the ground. “Sources from the villages where the victims were taken, however, insisted that the victims included young girls and babies,” Nigeria’s Premium Times reported. Though no group has taken credit for the attack, fingers are being pointed at Boko Haram, the group who launched the kidnapping in neighboring Chibok in April.
As was the case in April, the lack of clarity on the ground and independent verification is leading to confusion over just who went missing and when. The primary source for the most basic version of the story is Aji Khalil, who leads one of the vigilante groups that have had some success in combating against Boko Haram. “More than 60 married women and young girls as well as children, young men were forcefully taken away by Boko Haram terrorists,” he told reporters. “Four villagers who tried to escape were shot dead on the spot.” Though he is based in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno and around 95 miles from Kummabza, Khalil said the reports came to him through reports from other vigilante groups that he receives daily.
A senior councilor from Damboa, around 15 miles from Kummabza, confirmed to the Associated Press that the abduction had occurred, based on reports from “elderly survivors of the attack” who had walked to his village. Officially, the Nigerian security apparatus has either denied or simply not confirmed that the kidnapping took place at all. But according to the AP, an “intelligence officer with Nigeria’s Department of State Security also said there had been a mass abduction, but he said it occurred in Kummabza and three nearby villages between June 13 and 15, and that no one knows the actual number abducted.”
News of this potential latest mass abduction comes as Nigeria is still struggling to handle the last. Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan last month named Brigadier General Ibrahim Sabo (ret.) to lead a fact-finding committee charged with learning all it could about the how militants managed to kidnap an estimated 276 girls from the Government Girls Secondary School in April. That investigation concluded on Friday, with Sabo reporting that of the 395 students at the school, 119 escaped during the attack, another 57 escaped in the first couple of days of their abduction, and 219 of the girls remained missing. “We are … pained that the schoolgirls remain in captivity,” Sabo said in a statement. “The hostage situation that this represents is obviously delicate.”
But it will be a long time before the rest of the report is made public, as Sabo recommended that the findings of the committee remain secret for national security purposes. Sabo also tried to turn criticism away from the Jonathan government, which has been harshly criticized over its handling of the kidnapping so far. “For the Chibok schoolgirls, little will be achieved through finger-pointing,” Sabo said in his statement. “Getting the girls out, and safely, too, is by far more important than the publicity generated by the blame game that has tended to becloud the issue.”
The Nigerian government has in the 72 days since the girls were kidnapped put forward a response that has run the gamut from being dismissive towards the families of the girls to using the kidnapping for political gain. “The Nigerian government is very adept at playing the crisis game,” EJ Hogendoorn, the deputy director for Africa at the International Crisis Group told Mashable. “When something emerges, it causes an uproar, they then appoint a blue ribbon committee or something to take care of it and kind of let those things die down.” The case of the missing girls, which first gained international prominence through the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls nearly two weeks after the kidnapping, clearly did die down relatively quickly after its launching, showing a massive drop in interest only two weeks later.
Meanwhile, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ representative in Nigeria on Monday lamented the large number of Nigerians that have been displaced in the north as a result of the activities of Boko Haram. “According to an intelligence assessment of Northeastern Nigeria, at least 650,000 persons have been displaced within the boundary of Nigeria,” Angele Dikongue-Atangana told Nigeria’s This Day. “And what is of most concern to the UNHCR in Nigeria today are these internally displaced persons.” For the past five years, Boko Haram — whose name roughly translates to “Western education is sinful” — has launched attacks on both the government and civilians in its quest to impose a harsh version of sharia law on the country, including recent bombings of people gathered to watch Nigeria’s performance in the World Cup.