Cover Stories, Politics

Chibok Schoolgirls spend 45 days in Sambisa Forest (4)

-Why they’ve not been rescued

Hope of the release of some of the Chibok, Borno missing girls was dashed last week as neither the Federal Government nor local and foreign security services involved in their search made any significant progress.

Nigerian soldiers in Sambisa Forest

Nigerian soldiers in Sambisa Forest

A development Nigerian authorities are worried about, the true picture has been painted by foreign news agencies who are strongly criticizing the rescue effort of the military and sister intelligence agents.

According to New York Times report of May 24, 2014, the search for the missing Chibok girls is still far. In an article by Adam Nossiter entitled, Nigeria’s Army Hampers Hunt for Abducted Schoolgirls, the newspaper of record claimed: “Intelligence agents from all over the globe have poured into this city, Nigeria’s capital, to help find the nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by the Islamist extremist group, Boko Haram more than a month ago  but there has been little or no progress in bringing the young women home.

The problem, many involved in the rescue effort say, is the failings of the Nigerian military.

There is a view among diplomats here and with their governments at home that the military is so poorly trained and armed, and so riddled with corruption, that not only is it incapable of finding the girls, it is also losing the broader fight against Boko Haram. The group has effective control of much of the northeast of the country, as troops withdraw from vulnerable targets to avoid a fight and stay out of the group’s way, even as the militants slaughter civilians.”

It further noted that, “Boko Haram’s fighters have continued to strike with impunity this week, killing dozens of people in three villages in its regional stronghold and also hitting far outside its base in the central region. Car bombs have killed well over 100, according to local press reports,

One recent night, Boko Haram fighters ambushed a patrol that had sought to leave Chibok, the town where the girls were kidnapped, killing 12 soldiers. The next day, when the bodies were brought to the Seventh Division – the main army unit taking on Boko Haram, soldiers angry about the loss of their comrades opened fire on the car carrying their commanding officer, Maj. Gen. Ahmadu Mohammed, as he was heading to an armoury. The commander was unharmed and the soldiers were arrested.

For the moment, assistance from France, the United States, Israel and Britain is focused on answering questions that ultimately might guide a rescue attempt. Where exactly are the girls? Have they been split up into groups? How heavily are they guarded?”

Meanwhile, in dire search for clues, the United States has dispatched drones to scan the 37,000 square miles of Sambisa Forest, where the girls are believed to be held.

“You have a lot of guys in town right now,” said a diplomat, referring to foreign intelligence and security personnel President Goodluck Jonathan invited to help find the Chibok girls.

One senior diplomat offered a sober picture of the prospect for now:

“Realistically, I don’t think we’ve seen anything to indicate that we are on the verge of a huge breakthrough.” The New York Times is afraid that this is a dangerous signal for Nigeria.

“That the hopes of many across the globe rest on such a weak reed as the Nigerian military has left diplomats here in something of a quandary about the way forward. The Nigerian armed forces must be helped, they say, but are those forces so enfeebled that any assistance can only be of limited value? Now, it’s a situation where the emperor has no clothes, and everybody is scratching their heads.”

But Military officials are saying that patrols are already underway in the Sambisa Forest, and that 10 days ago one even came close to where some of the girls were being held before they were attacked by Boko Haram, leaving two officers dead.

Still diplomats here have expressed serious reservations about the likelihood that any military operation would return the young women safely.

“We’re concerned that a kinetic action”, meaning an armed intervention, “would result in deaths,” a senior diplomat here said. “What are the good potential outcomes? It’s not going to be easy or quick.”

“Instead, the government may have its best shot with a negotiated settlement with the Islamists, possibly including a prisoner release”, said a military officer in the region. Nigerian officials have hinted of a deal as well, though President Goodluck Jonathan has publicly ruled out a deal.

Some other diplomats are more pessimistic, saying it was unlikely that all of the victims would be saved. Already, in the region and in the capital of Borno state, Maiduguri, 80 miles from Chibok, there are some credible accounts suggesting that some of the girls may already have been killed.

Adding to the diplomats’ worry is a sense that officials in Jonathan’s Presidency are dangerously out of touch with the realities of a vicious insurgency that for years had been minimized in the distant capital, until the abductions made that impossible.

Last fall Boko Haram rampaged around the town of Benisheik for 10 hours before the army even arrived. When it was over, about 150 people were dead. In February, when Boko Haram struck a college in Yobe State, in the northeast, it was unguarded by soldiers and a nearby military post was unstaffed, though it had been attacked in the past.”

Still, Jonathan’s aides are waiting for Boko Haram to simply free the young women.

“I have reasons to believe Boko Haram will see reason and let these girls go,” said Oronto Douglas,Special adviser on Strategy to Mr. Jonathan,  “I think they will have a conscience to let these girls go.”

Oronto Douglas also suggested the recent Boko Haram video showing some of the kidnapped girls may actually show another group of young women, though parents have identified many of their own daughters on the video.

Despite the bashing of the military in what appears a smear campaign by the Western press, not a few Nigerians have called for caution while urging citizens to join hands to liberate a section of the country from the terrorist group that went to Federal Government College in Chiboko, Borno state more than a month ago and abducted over 300 girls.

With the world record hash tag, #BringBackOurGirls going global, the appeal for their release has not waned. And much as Nigeria has challenges in its military operations, patriotic security  have also informed those who care to listen that insurgency is indeed a national scourge difficult to be contained by only one country, one person or intelligence agency. Hence the need to be patient with those involved in routing out the insurgents.


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