Islamic militant group Boko Haram has been terrorising Nigerian citizens for more than a decade, but it is just recently that the world was made aware of the situation in Nigeria when 274 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped last April.
The girls were abducted from their school dormitories on April 14 by Islamic militants Boko Haram, and are yet to be released. Their leader, Abubakar Shekau, publicly stated his plans to sell the girls. However, on May 12, a video obtained by AFP news agency showed Shekau demanding the release of Boko Haram’s prisoners in exchange for the girls.
On Friday May 9, around 300 people gathered in front of Nigeria House in London to denounce the kidnapping of the schoolgirls, thanks to the widely popular social media campaign #BringBackOurGirls. Last week, awareness on the case exploded via social media, with high profile figures such as Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie condemning the mass abductions.
“Now that bigger personalities like Michelle Obama are taking part, the case has gathered a lot of attention,” a protester in the London demo said. “However, this protest is not just about the girls, but about general security in Nigeria. The Boko Haram have been terrorising us for years and people back home are scared to even leave their houses.”
Dr Abdullahi Abubakar, a Journalism teacher now based in London, believes that social media has played a massive role in raising awareness about the situation in Nigeria and explained why this particular case has gotten so much attention during the past few days.
“The number of girls kidnapped is such a huge one that people cannot ignore it,” he said. “In a journalistic sense- this is a huge story, and the sheer audacity of the Boko Haram group claiming that they are willing to sell them has brought even more attention.”
“Because these are school girls, it makes the story more relatable to everyone,” he explains. “This is such a shocking experience to so many people, and now they ability to participate through social media which has contributed greatly to the attention.”
According to The Guardian, the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag has been tweeted over one million times.
Government Corruption + Socioeconomic problems
But how were these kidnappings allowed to happen in the first place? Many believe that the government’s corruption has played a large role in the rise of Boko Haram, as in Nigeria money budgeted for national security is going into the pockets of politicians and ministers.
“The government actually have the resources, but they’re not using them,” said another protester at the London demonstration. “When the mother of our Finance Minister got kidnapped for example, she was rescued in less than three weeks. So why are these girls not safe yet?”
Furthermore, socio economic problems in the country make it easy for the young and unemployed to join such radical groups.
“There is such a high unemployment rate in Nigeria at the moment,” explains Dr Abubakar, “that young people rejected by the state find themselves following such extremist movements. These are people with no proper education.”
According to Dr Abubakar, people in Nigeria distance themselves from the Boko Haram. “These extremists attack mosques and churches alike,” he said. “They claim to be Muslims in reality their ideology is far away from Islam.”
“It is very hard to say what will happen to these girls,” said Dr Abubakar, who also worked as a journalist in Nigeria covering the Boko Haram situation for years. “It is a very tricky situation because these militants are not ordinary people. They have no regard for their own lives let alone the life of someone else- they are people who are well armed with no rational thinking.”
Countries like France, for example, have now dispatched intelligence agents to Nigeria to aid with the operation and fight the militant group.