On April 14, 200-300 schoolgirls from a boarding school in Chibok, Nigeria were kidnapped by an extremist Islamic group called Boko Haram, which exactly translates as “Western education is a sin” in the Hausa language. However, the group’s official name is “Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad”, which in Arabic means “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad”. Upholding the Sharia law, their aim then is to create an Islamic state. “Anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed is among the transgressors,” is a Koranic phrase by which these followers live.
Founded by Mohammed Yusuf in the northern city of Maiduguri, the group emerged as a religious sect in 2002. It was in response to the public’s anger against the corruption of the ruling class, the increasing and pervading poverty, the evil of the Western lifestyle, and the perceived notion of the marginalization of the federal government against the North. The leader, Mohammed, built a religious complex with both a mosque and a school where many impoverished Muslim families enrolled their children in the hope for a better future. They were deceived into thinking that education was the prime objective of its founding father. However, the school soon became a recruiting ground for jihadis. Due to its imminent path towards violence, Yusuf soon lost support. However, his sect became even deadlier in the public’s eyes and to the nation it terrorized.
The group operates like a guerilla movement, but is backed up with pick-up trucks and armored vehicles mounted with machine guns. No one knows the exact number of fighters the sect has, but it is likely to run into the thousands.
Though it is unclear where Boko Haram gets its weapons or financing — aside from looting banks and ransom from kidnapping foreigners — there are rumors that they may have gotten arms from certain politicians and disloyal security officers.
Accompanying the sect’s army are sophisticated strategies in attacks and intimidation, which show that Yusuf and his army may be linked to other jihadi groups such as al-Shabab in Somalia and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. There are also unconfirmed reports that the sect recruits and pays poor people from neighboring states like Chad and Niger.
Then, recent events took a turn for the worse. In 2009, Boko Haram began attacking police stations and other government buildings. This led to horrifying shoot-outs with hundreds killed and thousands fleeing the city. Inevitably, Yusuf along with thousands of his sect’s members were killed in a crackdown by the Maiduguri police. For a time, it seemed that peace was achievable. Unfortunately, Yusuf was soon replaced by Abubakar Muhammad Shekau whose reign was marked by radical violence.
Seeking vengeance for their former leader, Yusuf’s death became another cause for the sect to fight. Since 2009, there had been 2,000 recorded murders attributed to this group through bombings in schools and churches. These were abductions and ambushes that prompted Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to declare a state of emergency in three northeastern states: Adamawa, Yobe and Borno in May 2013.
In one of the clips Shekau uploaded, he was shot laughing into the camera as he admitted that he kidnapping of 200 girls to the public. “I abducted your girls,” he said. “I will sell them in the market, by Allah. There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women.” This was in accordance to Sharia law, where captured women are considered booty.
Aside from the sect’s numerous malicious and violent attacks like the September 2013 massacre, the recent kidnappings of Christian and Muslim schoolgirls became one of its most appalling acts. In the middle of the night, members of the group dragged these girls out from their beds and into the Seven Lorries they had. After which, they burned down the school, consequently destroying official records of the students, classrooms and textbooks in defiance to girls having an education. It is due to this destruction of documents, together with the fact that some girls who were not students of the school stayed the night because of exams, became the reasons why the number of abducted girls remains uncertain. The kidnapped girls were led away from Chibok, and the sect and their captives camped momentarily in the Sambisa Forest near the Cameroonian border. Now, Haram along with his hostages may be hiding or may have sold some of the girls to neighboring states. However, Chad and Cameroon are denying such allegations.
In one of the clips the sect released, some of the girls were wearing headdresses and were seen reciting Koranic verses with which the sect proclaimed that the Christian girls were converted into Islam.
However, the terror did not stop here. Haram abducted eleven more girls at a nearby Borno state.
As of now, only 53 of the kidnapped girls escaped.
As a ransom for these abductions, Haram wants the government to free his fellow brethren from captivity along with their wives and children.
Because of this, the public has taken its sentiments to Twitter and other social media sites with the hashtag “#BringBackOurGirls”, which was started by Ibrahim M. Abdullahi, a lawyer in Abuja.
Since then, there have been public demonstrations that force the government to act immediately. Over and over again, people are posting pictures with this hashtag, demanding for more but expecting less as the days pass by without any news from their daughters.
Two prominent women who posted this hashtag were U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama and the Pakistani activist named Malala Yousafzai. The latter said that the world must not stay silent over the abduction.
Last Saturday, presidents and officials from the West and from Africa held a summit in Paris. Nigeria plans to join forces with its four neighboring countries to strengthen their hold on Haram and to watch out for any of 200 girls they captured. They plan to take stronger measures to exterminate the group. The Western nations agreed to provide training and technical expertise.
“We’re here to declare war on Boko Haram,” Cameroonian President Paul Biya said. Sadly, reports then circulated around the conference of another attack in Cameroon where a soldier was killed on a Friday night attack.
Al-Qaeda or not, Islamic extremist group or not, it is time to put a stop to this before this worsens.