Zack Beauchamp shares the latest from Nigeria:
According to a video made public on May 12, Abubakar Shekau, [Boko Haram’s] leader, demanded an unspecified number of Boko Haram prisoners held by the Nigerian government, possibly all of them, be released in exchange for the girls’ freedom. Political science research on hostage-taking suggests Boko Haram may well succeed at getting a ransom, and some reports say the Nigerian government is already negotiating.
Before this video, Shekau threatened to sell the girls into slavery, chillingly promising that “by Allah, I will sell them in the marketplace.” Shekau’s threat is not idle. Unverified reports suggest that several of the children have already been sold to Boko Haram fighters as “brides” for around $12. West Africa has one of the world’s largest per capita concentrations of enslaved people; there are human trafficking routes that extend into Niger and Cameroon (the latter of which isn’t in West Africa), countries to which Boko Haram has easy access. A lot of the people trafficked in and around Nigeria are children.
Lanre Ola reports that there has been “no immediate reaction from authorities,” while Frank Gardner observes that the US has sent teams of “highly experienced hostage negotiators” to Nigeria. Meanwhile, Nina Strochlic notes that Boko Haram had been terrorizing children for years before the West started paying attention:
[I]n 2012, the organization’s leaders concluded that obliterating the already weak education system would be a valuable means to their end. That year, Boko Haram began burning school buildings to the ground to keep children out of school. At one point 10 schools were incinerated in as many days. … In June 2013, the campaign against schools had turned into violence against children. “When no one took them seriously, they became very angry and so began to attack students and teachers for not listening to them,” Obaji says. Schools were no longer destroyed in the dead of night—they were attacked when class was in session.
Over the course of just two days last June, 16 students and two teachers were murdered. That summer, Boko Haram leader Shekau pledged to continue burning educational institutions and killing educators. According to an Amnesty International report, at least 50 schools were targeted in the state of Borno that year and more than 100 students were killed or wounded, with some attacks claiming dozens of casualties. The campaign seemed to achieve the terrorists’ goals of banishing education – schools closed and an estimated 15,000 children, both Muslim and Christian, were kept from attending class.
At the same time, Lola Ogunnaike suggests that Nigeria’s internal divisions may be at least partly to blame for the government’s sluggish response to the kidnapping:
Several people that I spoke with believe the government would’ve been quicker to react if the students were abducted from a school catering to the Lagos elite. “If this had happened to rich kids in Lagos, the country would have been shut down until they were found,” said the development manager. “But then again, what truly rich kid goes to school in Nigeria after the age of 10? From 10 on, they’re schooled abroad in London. And that’s the problem. The divide between the haves and the have-nots is so great that the elite never feel these things directly. And until the elite feel it directly, it’s going to be really difficult to motivate these people to action.”
Rana Foroohar, reporting on the World Economic Forum’s recent conference in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, elaborates on those divisions:
Just a few weeks ago, the World Bank “rebased” Nigerian GDP numbers to account for the fact that old calculations weren’t taking into account new industries like telecoms and Nollywood. The result was that Nigerian GDP grew by 89 percent overnight, making the country the largest economy in Africa, trumping South Africa. … Yet unemployment is still high and inequality even higher. Half of Nigerians live in poverty, despite vast oil and gas wealth. In fact, that’s one reason that many prominent citizens say that Boko Haram has gained a foothold in the country. Some Nigerians are getting wealthy, but there aren’t jobs for enough of them, particularly given that over 50 percent of the population is under 18 years old. That’s exactly the kind of demographic and economic combination that bred the Arab Spring uprisings.