NEW YORK, New York — On December 11, 2020, more than 300 boys were kidnapped from an all-boys school in the northwestern region of Kankara, Nigeria; this was the work of the terrorist group Boko Haram. After a video was released by Boko Haram which claimed responsibility for the incident, it is speculated that the attack was either an attempt to threaten schools that taught Western values or a ransom negotiation tactic. Regardless of intent, Nigerian protesters have blamed the Nigerian government for failing to take adequate action in protecting the Nigerian people affected by Boko Haram.
History of Boko Haram
This attack was not unprecedented. In 2014, Boko Haram conducted an attack that targeted 276 girls from Chibok, Nigeria. The result was that more than 100 of those girls never came back. The systemic failure of the Nigerian government in warding off Boko Haram attacks is a strong reminder of how much is affected by Boko Haram’s influence in the region.
Boko Haram came into fruition in the early 2000s as a Strict Salafist Islam-interpreting organization that objected to the Westernization of Nigeria, which was propagated by the central government and seeped into the overwhelmingly Christian population in southern Nigeria. Violence from the group began to escalate after the crackdown against the group’s founder, Mohammad Yusuf, which led to his death.
Since the rise of Boko Haram, approximately 10,000 people have died as a result of the conflict between the group and the Nigerian government. Also in December 2020, more than 100 men and women from a farming community were beheaded because the farming community refused to give Boko Haram food after a history of being forced to do so.
Fighting for Change
Now, the local Nigerian people are speaking out against the Nigerian government for not safeguarding them. The #EndSARS Twitter campaign called for the dissolution of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which has a long track record of abuse, killings, extortions and other crimes against Nigerian citizens. Critics of SARS also say that its involvement only escalates violence between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram.
According to CNN, there is a broad consensus that more guns and military intervention won’t help resolve the conflict. As for the kidnapping of the more than 300 boys, the Institute for Security Studies originally claimed that the Nigerian government alluded to a militarized counterassault in a statement made by Defense Minister Major General Bashir Salihi Magashi. However, because of the local Nigerians’ large protests against the government for its use of violence in the past, the government opted for negotiations, which turned out to be effective. The BBC reports that concessions were made by the Nigerian government to Boko Haram in exchange for the rescued boys. The negotiations included complaints about conflicts between herders and farming communities, which led to complaints on how cattle were killed and how various vigilante groups have disturbed them.
In addition to local help, NGOs have offered support. Action Against Hunger and Mercy Corps have helped the local people, and international bodies like UNICEF have done so too, despite being banned at various lengths by the Nigerian army for allegedly indirectly helping Boko Haram when providing food supplies. However, other NGOs like Amnesty International and Global Rights say that these NGOs provide significant help to locals despite objections. NGOs like Amnesty International also called out the Nigerian government in reports for not doing enough to resolve pastoral conflicts in the region and criticized the government for arbitrarily detaining and killing up to 7,000 citizens amid the 2015 insurgency in the northeastern region.
Local Nigerians and NGOs have been working together to convince the Nigerian government to change its tactics as well as provide aid to those affected by Boko Haram. NGOs have repeatedly aided local populations in times of turmoil and worked to keep governments accountable. With continued international pressure, the Nigerian government will continue to change its tactics when dealing with dangerous groups like Boko Haram.
– Justin Chan