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Nigeria faces mounting pressure to rescue abducted girls

An Oct. 19, 2016 file photo shows 21 Chibok girls who were released by Boko Haram in Abuja, Nigeria. (AFP)
CHIBOK, Nigeria/DAKAR: Nigeria is facing mounting pressure to find some 200 schoolgirls abducted 1,000 days ago in Boko Haram’s most infamous attack after the rescue of 24 girls raised hopes that they are alive.
For more than two years there was no sign of the girls who were kidnapped by the militants from a school in Chibok in northeast Nigeria one night in April 2014, sparking global outrage and a celebrity-backed campaign #bringbackourgirls.
But the discovery of one of the girls with a baby last May fueled hopes for their safety, with a further two girls found in later months and a group of 21 released in October in a deal brokered by Switzerland and the International Red Cross.
For parents like Rebecca Joseph the return home of the group of 21 girls at Christmas was a bitter-sweet celebration.
Her daughter, Elizabeth, is one of an estimated 195 girls still held captive by the militant group, which has tried to force some of them to convert to Islam and to marry their captors.
“I am happy that some of the girls are returning home even though my own daughter is not among them,” Joseph said in the town of Chibok in Borno state.
“My prayer is that my daughter and the rest of the girls will be rescued and returned to their families safe.”
With last weekend marking 1,000 days since the girls were abducted, President Muhammadu Buhari said he remained committed to ensuring the abducted schoolgirls are reunited with their families “as soon as practicable.”
“We are hopeful that many more will still return,” said Buhari, who came to power in 2015 and replaced a government criticized for not doing enough to find the missing girls.
“The tears never dry, the ache is in our hearts,” he said in a statement.
The Nigerian government said last month that it was involved in negotiations aimed at securing the release of some of the girls as the army captured a key Boko Haram camp, the militant group’s last enclave in the vast Sambisa forest.
The exact number of Chibok girls still in captivity is believed to be 195 but it has been hard to pin down an exact number since the girls went missing.
Academics and security experts say it may be a huge challenge to obtain the girls’ freedom given the significance of the abduction for Boko Haram, which has killed about 15,000 people in its seven-year insurgency to set up an Islamic state.
“Outside Nigeria, the Chibok girls have come to symbolize the Boko Haram conflict,” said Sola Tayo, an associate fellow at the London-based think tank Chatham House.
“The global outrage generated by their captivity has added to their value to the insurgents,” she said, adding that they were also significant to Buhari because he made their release a key campaign pledge before his 2015 election.
The government said in October that it had not swapped Boko Haram fighters or paid a ransom for the release of the 21 girls but several security analysts said it was implausible that the militant group would have let the girls go for nothing.
“To secure the release of the remaining girls would require concessions by the Nigerian government, which could reverse significant gains it has made against Boko Haram,” said Ryan Cummings, director of risk management consultancy Signal Risk.
“In addition to detainees, Boko Haram may also demand supplies, weapons, vehicles and even money which they could use to recalibrate and invigorate their armed campaign against the Nigerian state.”
One of the major obstacles to securing the release of all of the Chibok girls who remain in captivity is the deep divisions emerging within Boko Haram, said Freedom Onuoha, a security analyst and lecturer at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka.
CHIBOK, Nigeria/DAKAR: Nigeria is facing mounting pressure to find some 200 schoolgirls abducted 1,000 days ago in Boko Haram’s most infamous attack after the rescue of 24 girls raised hopes that they are alive.
For more than two years there was no sign of the girls who were kidnapped by the militants from a school in Chibok in northeast Nigeria one night in April 2014, sparking global outrage and a celebrity-backed campaign #bringbackourgirls.
But the discovery of one of the girls with a baby last May fueled hopes for their safety, with a further two girls found in later months and a group of 21 released in October in a deal brokered by Switzerland and the International Red Cross.
For parents like Rebecca Joseph the return home of the group of 21 girls at Christmas was a bitter-sweet celebration.
Her daughter, Elizabeth, is one of an estimated 195 girls still held captive by the militant group, which has tried to force some of them to convert to Islam and to marry their captors.
“I am happy that some of the girls are returning home even though my own daughter is not among them,” Joseph said in the town of Chibok in Borno state.
“My prayer is that my daughter and the rest of the girls will be rescued and returned to their families safe.”
With last weekend marking 1,000 days since the girls were abducted, President Muhammadu Buhari said he remained committed to ensuring the abducted schoolgirls are reunited with their families “as soon as practicable.”
“We are hopeful that many more will still return,” said Buhari, who came to power in 2015 and replaced a government criticized for not doing enough to find the missing girls.
“The tears never dry, the ache is in our hearts,” he said in a statement.
The Nigerian government said last month that it was involved in negotiations aimed at securing the release of some of the girls as the army captured a key Boko Haram camp, the militant group’s last enclave in the vast Sambisa forest.
The exact number of Chibok girls still in captivity is believed to be 195 but it has been hard to pin down an exact number since the girls went missing.
Academics and security experts say it may be a huge challenge to obtain the girls’ freedom given the significance of the abduction for Boko Haram, which has killed about 15,000 people in its seven-year insurgency to set up an Islamic state.
“Outside Nigeria, the Chibok girls have come to symbolize the Boko Haram conflict,” said Sola Tayo, an associate fellow at the London-based think tank Chatham House.
“The global outrage generated by their captivity has added to their value to the insurgents,” she said, adding that they were also significant to Buhari because he made their release a key campaign pledge before his 2015 election.
The government said in October that it had not swapped Boko Haram fighters or paid a ransom for the release of the 21 girls but several security analysts said it was implausible that the militant group would have let the girls go for nothing.
“To secure the release of the remaining girls would require concessions by the Nigerian government, which could reverse significant gains it has made against Boko Haram,” said Ryan Cummings, director of risk management consultancy Signal Risk.
“In addition to detainees, Boko Haram may also demand supplies, weapons, vehicles and even money which they could use to recalibrate and invigorate their armed campaign against the Nigerian state.”
One of the major obstacles to securing the release of all of the Chibok girls who remain in captivity is the deep divisions emerging within Boko Haram, said Freedom Onuoha, a security analyst and lecturer at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka.

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