DAMBOA, Nigeria — Officials in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno report that at least 60 women and girls kidnapped by Boko Haram last June have escaped and returned to their homes. The women fled when the kidnappers attacked Nigerian soldiers in the town of Damboa. The government believes that about seven people, two of them young girls, are still being held.
The kidnapped Nigerian women, who lived near Damboa, were able to escape during a clash between Boko Haram militants and the Nigerian military. The casualties of the attack were high; at least 50 insurgents were killed, while 12 soldiers and many noncombatants lost their lives. An anonymous security officer reported that Boko Haram only left a few men at the camp to keep watch, and “the women took advantage of an opportunity when the guys were dozing off.”
In recent months, Boko Haram has escalated its killings and kidnappings of Nigerian civilians, especially women. This year, Boko Haram attacks have led to the deaths of more than 2,000 people, more than double the average of the past four years.
Boko Haram abducts women during strikes to earn income through ransom. The organization still holds more than 200 schoolgirls that it kidnapped in April, which led to an international outcry through the Bring Back Our Girls campaign. Yet despite global attention on the crisis in Nigeria, the government’s response to Boko Haram has been underwhelming.
Local vigilante groups are able to provide warning for the Nigerian military on about 90 percent of terrorist attacks, including the kidnappings of the schoolgirls, but the Kibaku Area Development Association, a group for concerned Nigerian citizens, claims that soldiers “sit by and watch villagers being helplessly massacred” without effective counterattacks. The Kibaku Area Development Association has appealed to the U.N. for more assistance.
Part of the problem is that the Nigerian government wants to understate the severity of Boko Haram and as a result, actively ignores some attacks. According to an anonymous policeman, the government officially denied the kidnappings of the Damboa women and refused to publish reports until after the abductees escaped. Some government officials even tried to deny the schoolgirl kidnappings, but a presidential investigation last month verified the story.
These deliberate attempts to cover up terrorist attacks are particularly disturbing given the amount of foreign aid Nigeria receives. ForeignAssistance.gov reports that the U.S. alone has planned to spend $692 million on Nigerian development, much of which will go towards public health programs. Of the planned funds, only $5.3 million is allocated to security and only $10 million will support greater governmental transparency.
The U.S. has demonstrated that it wants to help Nigeria, but the government’s handling of the Boko Haram crisis is appalling and hinders efforts toward conflict resolution. As a provider of foreign aid, the U.S. must be able to influence how the Nigerian government spends some of the money. Greater restrictions on how Nigeria uses aid, as well as more concentration on the defense and transparency sectors, will be necessary for future aid programs.
The escape of the 60 kidnapped women is a victory for the Nigerian people. Nevertheless, as Boko Haram escalates its strikes and the government denies the problem, successes against terrorism in Nigeria will remain rare.
– Ted Rappleye