On 8 January, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari stated that he was hopeful that the remaining 195 Chibok schoolgirls will be rescued, as the country marked 1,000 days since the mass abduction by Boko Haram that drew global attention to the jihadist insurgency.
President Buhari stated that his government was committed to finding the rest of the more than 200 schoolgirls who were abducted almost three years ago from the northeastern town of Chibok. Since being seized in April 2014, only two dozen have been found or rescued, some of whom had babies in captivity.
Earlier this month, the Nigerian army reported that it had rescued another Chibok girls, Rakiya Abubkar, along with her six-month-old baby. Another two schoolgirls have been found in the past year by troops and in October, 21 Chibok girls were released by Boko Haram after negotiations with the Nigerian government brokered by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Swiss government. The release was hailed as a breakthrough that would lead to the recovery of the remaining girls in captivity. At the time, presidential spokesman Garba Shehu disclosed that the Nigerian government was hoping to secure the release of 83 other girls, however there has since been no update on those negotiations.
Timeline of Chibok Kidnapping
- April 2014 – Boko Haram militants kidnap 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in the northeastern Nigerian state of Borno, a region where the insurgency emerged several years ago.
- November 2014 – Extremists seize Chibok and the Nigerian army takes back the town.
- May 2015 – Newly elected President Muhammadu Buhari is sworn into office, pledging to tackle Boko Haram “head-on.”
- 13 April 2016 – Boko Haram video appears to depict some of the Chibok girls, with mothers recognizing their daughters.
- 18 May 2016 – A relative discloses that one of the Chibok girls is found, pregnant, in a forest. Pressure increases on the Nigerian government to rescue the remaining missing girls.
- 14 August 2016 – Boko Haram video states that some of the Chibok girls have been killed in airstrikes. The militant group demands the release of extremists in exchange for the other girls’ freedom.
- 13 October 2016 – Spokesman for Nigeria’s president confirms that 21 Chibok schoolgirls have ben freed as a result of government negotiations with Boko Haram
- 5 November 2016 – Nigerian military announces the first army rescue of a Chibok girl, during a raid on a forest hideout.
- 24 December 2016 – Nigeria’s president declares that Boko Haram has been crushed as the militant group is driven from its last forest hideout.
- 5 January 2017 – Nigeria’s army states that soldiers have found one of the schoolgirls wandering in the bush near the forest stronghold.
The United Nations has reported that poverty, conflict and climate change will leave fifteen million people across Africa’s Sahel region in need of life-saving aid next year.
The UN has now launched a record UD $2.7 billion humanitarian appeal for the region in 2017. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), around 40 percent of the money will be used in order to help some seven million people in Nigeria, who have been affected by Boko Haram’s seven-year insurgency. OCHA has increased its appeal for eight countries in the semi-arid band that stretches from Senegal to Chad more than tenfold in as many years, however each year the funding has fallen short. This year’s US $2 billion appeal had been less than half-funded to date. According to the UN’s regional humanitarian coordinator, Toby Lanzer, “the lack of funding this year has worsened the humanitarian needs of 11 million people in the Lake Chad Basin, where the crisis is most acute.” Figures released by the OCHA have indicated that one in six people across the Sahel region are hungry, while in many communities throughout the region, a fifth of children under the age of five are malnourished. Aid workers say that in addition to violence involving militant groups, climate change is also becoming a major factor behind the growing number of vulnerable people across the region. This is due to increasingly unpredictable rainfall patterns, which disrupt local food production. Arame Tall, Africa regional coordinator for the UN-led Global Framework for Climate Services, states, “we are adapting by equipping farmers and policymakers with climate information and early warning forecasts, and being prepared not just weeks, but months and years ahead.”
The United Nations has also reported that the vast number of vulnerable people, and those who have been forced from their homes by violence across the Sahel region, some 4.5 million, is fuelling migration to Europe and driving more young men to join militant groups. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports that this year, Nigeria has been the main country of origin for migrants arriving in Italy by sea. IOM data shows that at least 34,000 Nigerians have crossed from Libya so far in 2016, up from 22,200 last year. According to Anne Moltes, regional director of the peacebuilding group Interpeace, “families and communities are separated and split, education is disrupted and dreams of success dashed,” adding, “if there is no structure, young men leave to find figures of authority elsewhere.”
Analysts reported on 16 November that Nigerian-based militant group Boko Haram has significantly scaled back attacks in Cameroon in recent months, suggesting that a regional security force is gaining ground against the militants.
According to the International Crisis Group (ICG), the Islamist movement, which controlled an area in northeastern Nigeria last year and raided Cameroon and other neighbours, including Niger, in a bid to expand its “caliphate,” has since suffered a number of defeats. One of the report’s authors, Hans de Maria Heungoup, disclosed that “we’ve seen a dizzying downwards spiral in the number of attacks suicide bombings.” Two years ago, attacks were happening on an almost daily basis, however since September that number has fallen to between six and eight a month. The study indicated that “(Boko Haram) has suffered heavy losses and seen its conventional capacities reduced,” partly thanks to last year’ formation of a 10,000-strong regional force with troops from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. According to the report, up to 1,000 fighters with heavy weaponry and armoured vehicles joined strikes in Cameroon’s Far North region in 2014 – 2015, however attacks have now focused on the northernmost tip of the region, where fighters have continued to control part of the fishing industry of Lake Chad.
The ICG also noted that recruitment in Cameroon has also faltered, warning however that forced enlistment remains a risk. Citing interviews with the locals, the study disclosed that up to 4,000 Cameroonians are though to have joined the group and some were given sign-on bonuses of up to US $2,000 and a motorbike, adding that those who proved their loyalty by killed their parents often enjoyed quick promotion. Analysts have disclosed that the faction around the Lake Chad Basin represents the stronger branch of the group, which is loyal to the so-called Islamic State (IS) group and which is led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi, while another faction, which is led by Abubakar Shekau, is based further south in Nigeria’s Sambisa forest.
A report released on 16 November indicated that deaths from terrorism in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries decreased last year by 650 percent despite a marked fall globally as Nigerian-based Boko Haram militants and the so-called Islamic State (IS) Group suffered military defeats at home but carried out more attacks abroad.
The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) has reported that worldwide, there were 29,376 deaths that were caused by terrorism in 2015. This figure represents a decline of 10 percent, adding that this is the first decrease in four years. GTI disclosed that his decline was due to action against IS in Iraq and Boko Haram in Nigeria, which cut the numbers killed there by a third. IS was the deadliest group in 2015, overtaking Boko Haram. Last year, IS carried out attacks in 252 cities that led to 6,141 deaths. The index however has noted that Boko Haram’s move into neighbouring countries – Cameroon, Chad and Niger – saw the number of fatalities in the se countries increase by 157 percent.
The report however notes that the groups have spread their actions to neighbouring states and regions, where they have caused a huge increase in fatalities amongst OECD members, most of which are wealthy countries, such as the United States and European countries. According to GTI, of the 34 OECD member countries, 21 had witnesses at least one attack with most deaths occurred in Turkey and France. Last year’s terror incidents included coordinated attacks carried out by IS gunmen and suicide bombers at the Bataclan music venue, a soccer stadium and several cafes in Paris in November, which killed 130 people. The index also noted that Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden and Turkey all suffered their worst death tolls from terrorism in a single year since 2000, adding that in total twenty-three countries registered their highest ever number of terrorism deaths. Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria, which accounted for 72 percent of all deaths, were the top five ranked countries in the GTI. The United States ranked 36th, with France coming in 29th, Russia in 30th and the United Kingdom in 34th.
According to Steve Killelea, executive chairman at the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) think-tank, “while on the one hand the reduction in deaths is positive, the continued intensification of terrorism in some countries and its spread to new ones is a cause for serious concern and underscores the fluid nature of modern terrorist activity,” adding that “the attacks in the heartland of western democracies underscore the need for fast-paced and tailored responses to the evolution of these organizations.”
Reports have emerged from the remote northeastern region of Nigeria that in-fighting has broke out within militant group Boko Haram after the so-called Islamic State (IS) group announced a new leader to its Nigerian affiliate last month.
In August, IS announced that Abu Musab al-Barnawi, the son of Boko Haram’s former founder Mohammed Yusuf, had replaced Abubakar Shekau at the head of the terrorist organization. Just days later however, Shekau insisted that he remained in charge of the Islamist group, whose insurgency has killed at least 20,000 people since 2009 and forced more than 2.6 million from their homes. In early September, sources in northeastern Nigeria reported that there have been deadly skirmishes between the two factions, even as the Nigerian military is seeking to finally rout the rebels in a sustained counter-offensive.
On 1 September, several fighters from Shekau’s camp were said to have been killed in two separate gunbattles that erupted with IS-backed Barnawi gunmen in the Monguno area of Borno state, near Lake Chad. While the Nigerian military has declined to comment on the reported in-fighting, one locate who lives in the area disclosed that “the Barnawi faction launched an offensive against the Shekau faction who were camped in the villages of Yele and Arafa,” adding, “in Yele, the assailants killed three people from the Shekau camp, injured one and took one with them, while several were killed in Arafa.” The attack prompted residents of Arafa to flee. The local also disclosed that fighters from Barnawi camp had the previous day attacked gunmen loyal to Shekau in Zuwa village in nearby Marte district, killing an unspecified number, adding that “the Barnawi fighters told villagers after each attack that they were fighting the other camp because they had derailed from the true jihad and were killing innocent people, looting their property and burning their homes.” News of the factional clashes has been slow to emerge because of the destroyed telecommunications infrastructure in northeastern Nigeria.
Since the death of Mohammed Yusuf in police custody in 2009, Shekau has led Boko Haram, waging a deadly, indiscriminate guerrilla war that has overwhelmingly targeted civilians in the three main northeastern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. Within these states, suicide bombers have repeatedly targeted mosques, churches, markets and bus stations while hit-and-run attacks have destroyed remote villages and have killed and maimed thousands of residents. Thousands of people, many of them women and young girls, have been kidnapped, with the widely most known hostage taking occurring in April 2014, when more than 200 schoolgirls were taken from the northeastern town of Chibok in an attack that sparked international outrage. In many videos and audio recordings that have been released over the years, Shekau has justified the attacks against the secular state, those who support it and anyone who does not share his radical interpretation of Islam. In March 2015, he pledged allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and changed the group’s name to Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP). However over the past year, there have been growing tensions within the group, and experts have suggested that the indiscriminate killings of civilians, coupled with Shekau’s “dictatorial” style, including secret killings of dissenting commanders, have caused a rift. This was evident shortly after his nomination, with Barnawi making a point of critiquing Shekau’s leadership and lambasting him for targeting ordinary Muslims.