On April 14, nearly 300 schoolgirls were abducted from the Girls’ Secondary School, a boarding school, in the northeastern Nigerian city of Chibok. The girls were in their final year of secondary school and are between the ages of 16 and 18. Nigerian police have stated that 53 girls have escaped and 276 are still in captivity, according to the Associated Press.
The Islamist militant group, Boko Haram, has claimed responsibility for abducting the girls. Boko Haram operates in Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon, generally through civilian attacks, and has the goal of overthrowing the Nigerian government.
The group has targeted teenage schoolchildren several times. In fact, the Girls’ Secondary School was shut down in February in response to threats from Boko Haram. The abduction occurred in April when the school opened for the girls to take their final exams.
The group claims to have taken the girls as a statement against Western education. They believe girls should not be educated. The leader of the group, Abubakar Shekau, released a statement threatening that they will sell the girls into marriages. In the video obtained by the Agence France-Presse, Shekau said, “God instructed me to sell them, they are his properties and I will carry out his instructions.”
The underlying reasons behind why Boko Haram targeted this school could be multifaceted. According to a Human Rights Watch report, Boko Haram might have planned this attack, which is greater in scale than their usual attacks, as an assertion of power in response to the school reopening. It also could have been an effort to fill a new “supply” of women and girls for “domestic and sexual needs”, as posited by the report.
The group primarily targets women and girls and is responsible for many abductions from schools and public places, such as streets and transportation vehicles. Boko Haram also operates through various bombings, threats, assaults, and attacks.
The abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls has garnered both national and international attention due to its scale. It is also shedding light on the Nigerian government’s inability to protect its citizens against these repeated attacks and Boko Haram’s threat to the region’s security.
Boko Haram: A history of violence
Boko Haram was formed in the early 2000s. The group, while not very unified, operates on the belief that Nigerian society is corrupt. Nigeria is a religiously diverse nation; however, Boko Haram projects radical Islamist militant ideals and opposes the secular government. Boko Haram militants operate using the same strategies as other terrorist organizations, such as Al-Qaeda, which operates worldwide, including in northeast Nigeria, and Al-Shabaab, a cell of Al-Qaeda that is responsible for terrorist activity in eastern Africa.
Until 2009, Boko Haram operated relatively peacefully. Following the involvement of Boko Haram members in an incident with the police that turned violent in 2009, the group retaliated using planned attacks in multiple states and by taking over one town for multiple days before they were stopped with military force.
In subsequent years, Boko Haram has undergone organizational changes that have resulted in the group becoming more powerful and carrying out more attacks. The past four years have seen Boko Haram attacks in countless public and private spaces, including schools, government buildings, and even in the streets. The attacks are undermining Nigerian society in the northeast by destabilizing the economy, closing down schools and other facilities, and causing a general feeling of unrest, according to International Crisis Group.
In the past few months Boko Haram has carried out larger attacks at a greater frequency. According to Amnesty International, the death toll in Nigeria has exceeded 1,500 people within 2014. Nigeria has seen bombings, shootings, thefts, and other attacks on a daily basis. This trend poses increasing threats for neighboring areas in Niger, Chad and Cameroon, and thousands of people have escaped to neighboring countries, according to Human Rights Watch.
The abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls, along with the increasing attacks in the subsequent weeks, highlight the increasing threat Boko Haram poses to Nigeria and its neighboring countries.