KAMPALA, Uganda — Pressure from international human-rights organizations has spurred the government of Nigeria into action to find and rescue the nearly 300 young girls kidnapped in April by the Muslim terrorist organization Boko Haram.
According to The Associated Press, the Nigerian military knows the location of the girls but is taking slow steps to ensure their safety.
On the night of April 14, students in an all-girls’ government-operated secondary school in the northeastern Nigeria town of Chibok were abducted when members of Boko Haram, which means "Western education is sinful," stormed the school’s dormitory and abducted them. Boko Haram has been linked to the international terrorist organization al Qaeda.
For nearly two weeks, the details of the situation were treated as a matter of speculation, from the exact number of the girls abducted to the identity of the militant group and their whereabouts.
A police report quoted in the AP put the figure at 276.
The public response to the kidnapping has built slowly since mid-April. At first, Nigerian protesters, dressed in red and holding banners, marched to the National Assembly to present a letter of complaint that the government was not doing enough to rescue the girls.
Public uproar in Nigeria finally attracted the attention of the international community via social media. Demonstrations took place in London, Washington, Rome and other cities. A Facebook page named Bring Back Our Girls was created as a platform to rally global support, with hopes of pushing the Nigerian government to serious action.
And in the wake of recent twin bomb blasts in Jos, the capital of the Plateau state, one of the country’s most senior Catholic Church leaders re-echoed the general public’s concern. Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Jos, who has criticized the government’s efforts to subdue Boko Haram since 2012, said President Goodluck Jonathan’s government had done "too little, too late" and now "lacked the capacity" to deal with the crisis.
In response, the Nigerian government insisted that it was committed to rescuing the girls. Government Minister Tanimu Turaki told The Guardian that the administration was ready to talk to Boko Haram. "Dialogue is a key option" in bringing the crisis to an end," he said, adding that "an issue of this nature can be resolved outside of violence."
Government official Mike Omeri was also quoted in the same paper as saying that the authorities would "use whatever kind of action" it took to rescue the girls and that an internationally assisted military operation was possible.
At a summit on security in Nigeria, held in France May 17, the Nigerian president told his audience that Boko Haram is "hostile to democracy."
During the summit, Jonathan sought the assistance from the international community in defeating Boko Haram, saying the organization had caused the deaths of more than 12,000 Nigerians since its insurgency began in 2009.
By the time of the summit, the U.S. and Britain had stepped up military assistance to the Nigerian government as part of mounting international efforts to find and rescue the Chibok girls. And a joint U.S.-British advisory team was expanded to include French experts, while China sent experts to help in the search and Israel offered to join the international effort.
Although the jihadist group is not only targeting Christians, it is clear that the majority of the group’s victims have been Christians.
"Many of the girls who were kidnapped are Christian, the attacks in Kano took place in a predominantly Christian area, and, to some extent, this applies to what happened in Jos," Archbishop Kaigama said in an interview with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
Father James John, the pastor of St. Peter’s Parish in the Maiduguri Diocese in the northeastern state of Borno, echoed the archbishop’s concerns. During a press conference in March, Father James said that 23 churches in his area had been burnt down, forcing Christians to flee.
The archbishop, who is president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, further explained that although Boko Haram remains committed to its goal of eliminating Christianity from Nigeria, Muslims have felt the impact, as well. "We are not only seeing Christians dying and being abducted," he said. "We are seeing attacks on Muslims whom the group considers not Muslim enough."
Archbishop Kaigama also called on the international community to do more to help defeat Boko Haram following the twin bomb blasts in Jos May 20, which killed more than 100 people. "The international community should stop posturing and start providing support in the struggle against the extremist violence in Nigeria," he told Aid to the Church in Need.
The archbishop said foreign governments have a vital role in helping with intelligence gathering, stopping the illegal sale of arms, stepping up border controls and other activities crucial to cutting off Boko Haram’s supply lines.
A Nigerian journalist told the Register in a phone interview from Lagos that several Muslim authorities had condemned the group and its ideology. He cited Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu, the Niger state governor, who said, "Islam is known to be a religion of peace, and Boko Haram does not represent Islam."
Another critic of the terrorist group, he said, was the sultan of Sokoto, Sa’adu Abubakar, the spiritual leader of Nigerian Muslims. He said the sultan has called the sect "anti-Islamic" and "an embarrassment to Islam."
Sister Grace Candiru of the
writes from Kampala, Uganda.