What The Hell Just Happened In Nigeria?

The Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped some 100 teenage girls from a government school in the northeastern state of Borno on Monday. Zack Beauchamp expects the group to hold the girls for ransom:

“Their goal is almost certainly to ransom [the girls],” Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation of the Defense of Democracies who follows Boko Haram, told me. ”Otherwise, they have chosen a target that will make everybody hate them. Killing [100] schoolgirls would be a huge PR hit even for some of the rougher jihadist groups.”

Boko Haram has been known to kidnap for money. Since the group launched a full-on uprising against the Nigerian government in 2012, it has kidnapped a number of foreigners in order to raise funds to continue the struggle.

Nigerians in Borno province, which is both the location of the school and Boko Haram’s base of operations, aren’t as wealthy as the foreigners that the group might normally kidnap. But kidnappings aren’t always about money. “Ransom can be for any number of things, including ransoming for a prisoner exchange,” Gartenstein-Ross says. Nigeria has captured many Boko Haram fighters during the ongoing conflict. In response, the group has both attacked prisons and demanded prisoner releases as part of ransoms before.

Walter Russell Mead is more pessimistic:

Boko Haram, which is believed to have camps in the hilly forests surrounding Chibok near the border with Cameroon, have used kidnapped girls in the past as sex slaves and laborers. All of this happened the same day that a bomb blast, also blamed on the Islamist group, killed 75 people at a bus station outside the capital Abuja.

Despite a much touted government military offensive that was launched against the militants in October, the threat from Boko Haram is growing. Abuja, which in three weeks is set to host the World Economic Forum on Africa (called the “African Davos”), is hundreds of miles away from the state of Borno, where the kidnappings took place. That Boko Haram might be able to conduct two highly-coordinated attacks against Nigerian civilians on the same day, in two locations far apart, will not be any comfort to President Goodluck Jonathan and the people he is charged with protecting.

Meanwhile, John Campbell wishes American journalists would pay as much attention to the unrest in Nigeria as they do to the situation in Ukraine:

It takes horrific violence in the capital city, Abuja, to generate US coverage on Nigeria. In the US as in southern Nigeria, the carnage receives little to no attention – no matter how great it is – so long as it is far away in the northeast. The “Giant of Africa” and until recently Washington’s most important strategic partner in Africa and a major source of imported oil and gas, Nigeria is largely ignored by the U.S. media, beyond occasionally boosterish articles on the business pages that focus on the Lagos-Ibadan corridor and the country’s oil patch. While the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are honorable exceptions and have previously broken stories of gross human rights violations by the government security forces U.S. media inattention to Nigeria seems short-sighted and unwise.