TWO of the Chibok schoolgirls held in captivity by Boko Haram in Sambisa forest since April 2014 breathed the air of freedom last week. The first was Amina Nkeki, rescued on the fringes of the forest on Tuesday by members of the civilian Joint Task Force. During a quick reunion with her family, she confessed to have foreclosed such fate. She has since been received by President Muhammadu Buhari, who promised that government would ensure her return to school. The euphoria her rescue generated had hardly
ebbed when the military, a day after, announced that they had freed another girl, Serah Luka. With a majority of the girls still in fetters, Amina and Serah, however, symbolise a modicum of relief.
Abducted as a 17-year-old maiden, Amina is now 19 and, unfortunately, a mother of a four-month-old baby. She was located with a man – Mohammed Hayatu – whom the Islamist insurgents had forcibly married her to. But the revelation that her other colleagues were being held in the notorious Sambisa forest, heavily guarded by Boko Haram fighters, raises the hope of their likely return sooner rather than later. Sadly, six of them have died, according to Amina.
Until now, nobody, including the President, could say with certainty the whereabouts of the 219 girls. He confirmed this in December 2015 during his maiden media chat when he said, “There has been no firm intelligence where those girls are, and what physical condition they are in.” His forthrightness provoked upbraid from the public, already angry and fatigued by the previous government’s prevarications and calamitous response to the emergency. However, Amina has closed an intelligence gap in our knowledge about the girls’ conditions with her information.
A swift and decisive military action that will eventually lead to their release is required. But Nigeria alone cannot achieve this seemingly difficult military task, given her shortcomings in equipment and technology. This is where assistance from the international community, some of which had earlier been expressed in the supply of equipment, intelligence-sharing and financial contribution in the fight against Boko Haram, is now more critical.
Any delay will be dangerous. In fact, it could return the country to the lethargic Goodluck Jonathan era. It took the former President about three weeks to realise that the girls were missing, and summon a meeting of service chiefs to articulate a response strategy. This gave the insurgents a head-start in their evil design to put the girls out of sight and sexually abuse them. Lamentably, they have been subjected to this inhumanity for 771 days.
Sambisa is a massive forest; the exact location of the girls is still an issue that can be clinically dealt with by satellite. America, the United Kingdom and France, among other allies, should speedily provide support for Nigeria in this regard, to help free the entire Chibok girls. Making use of intelligence offered by high-tech was lost under Jonathan, as his government failed to utilise critical information provided by the British and US governments.
A former British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Andrew Pocock, exposed the gaffe recently when he stressed that “…fly-bys and an American Eye In The Sky spotted a group of up to 80 girls in a particular spot in the Sambisa forest, around a very large tree… along with evidence of vehicular movement and a large encampment.”
Nigeria should leverage the deepening military coalition among the other three nations of the Lake Chad region – Chad, Niger and Cameroon. The consciousness that Boko Haram is not just a Nigerian challenge, but a sub-regional security threat has united these countries against it. As Sambisa forest straddles these countries, the ongoing military offensive from troops of the 231 Battalion and 331 Artillery Regiment and other special forces, which appears to have put the heat on the Islamists, should be a unified onslaught for greater effectiveness.
This makes sense against the background of a security summit held in Abuja penultimate Saturday with the French President, Francois Hollande, and representatives of other western nations in attendance that sought to consolidate the gains of the military alliance already made. Boko Haram’s suicide bombings have caused maximum damage in Nigeria, as they have in Chad and Cameroon. In Nigeria, about 20,000 persons have been killed from its murderous activities, just as it has orphaned thousands of children and internally displaced about 2.1million citizens.
What Boko Haram represents within the context of global insecurity is illustrated vividly in the November 2015 Global Terrorism Index, which ranked it as the world’s deadliest terrorist organisation, ahead of the Islamic State of Iran and Syria, Taliban, Fulani herdsmen and al-Shabab.
This alarming revelation may have informed the US offer of 24 mine-resistant vehicles to Nigeria last January, valued at $11 million. Britain has just announced a grant of £40 million to Nigeria, as part of its counter-insurgency support. According to its Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, who was in Abuja for the just-concluded regional security summit, the support includes the training of almost 1,000 military personnel for deployment in the North-East.
Apparently, western leaders have warmed towards Buhari, impressed by how his government has degraded the insurgents. He should, therefore, capitalise on this uncommon diplomatic asset to maximise their assistance to get these girls out from captivity now that the hope is twinkling. This bestial episode cannot be said to have ended if the remaining 217 girls are not freed, as Buhari aptly observed in his inaugural speech on May 29, 2015.