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Chibok Girls: Boko Haram’s Latest Approach

In a video released by Boko Haram on the 14th of August 2016, Boko Haram blamed the Nigerian government for killing some of the Chibok girls through aerial bombardment. It also demanded the release of its incarcerated members in exchange for the remaining Chibok girls. In the video, one of the girls calls on the Nigerian government to yield to the demand of Boko Haram. She also called on parents to plead with Buhari’s government.

Why release the video?

The Islamic State (IS) announced that Abu Musab al-Barnawi was the new leader of Boko Haram on August 3, 2016. His emergence as leader was protested by Abubakar Shekau who was the leader that expanded the movement from a home-grown terrorist group to a larger movement across Nigerian territories and the neighbouring countries. On August 4th al-Barnawi announced his new agenda to attack churches and Christians. This announcement is significant because it unites internal differences because the Ansaru faction (now part of Boko Haram) who were dissatisfied with Shekau’s indiscriminate killings of both Muslims and some Christians.

The new video is a message to IS from al-Barnawi that he is in a position of authority, and he is on a mission to re-enforce the movement which has been recently weakened by the Nigerian forces. After the 2009 Boko Haram uprising, Boko Haram went underground and staged a major comeback in 2011 with a jailbreak in Bauchi state in the North-East of Nigeria where it freed over 700 of its members. Because the group has been decimated and forced to hide out in the Sambisa Forest, it lacks sufficient operational capacity to carry out jailbreaks across Nigeria.

Therefore, it wants to use the Chibok girls as a bargaining chip. Al-Barnawi’s move to free the key members from the Nigerian authority is also critical for him to gain legitimacy within Boko Haram.

Will Buhari change tactics?

The video portrays the government as insensitive to the feelings and trauma of the parents of the Chibok girls. It is meant to create pressure on the government from the parents of these girls and other human rights organisations. Moreover, Boko Haram has succeeded in putting more pressure on the government through the public for the release of their members.

There is anecdotal evidence that Boko Haram is relocating from its hideout in Sambisa Forest in the Northeast to Burra Forest in the North. Daily Trust, one of Nigeria’s most widely read Newspapers, also confirms that relocation is strategic in linking both the states in the Northeast and Northwest Nigeria. Burra Forest extends from Sambisa, Dansadau, Falgore Game Reserve to Birnin Gwari in Kaduna State. The forests also stretch to Bauchi, Gombe, Yobe, Adamawa, Borno, and Jigawa States. Perhaps Boko Haram is using the new video to distract the Nigerian military to facilitate this movement.

Choices before the Nigerian government

Nigerians, the Bring Back our Girls movement and the parents of these children want the government to secure the release of the girls. But the Nigerian authorities are confronted with the choice of both saving the Chibok girls through negotiations with Boko Haram and consolidating its enormous success in curtailing Boko Haram’s campaign of violence through continued military actions.

Allowing these Chibok girls to continue the life of sexual slavery, trauma and misery is a crime against humanity. If the government decides that to release BH members, then all the resources expended to capture hardened Al Qaeda-trained Kabiru Sokoto, Khalid Al-barnawi, Ali Konduga and other key leaders who have the capacity to strengthen and spread the movement will be in vain and the growing stability in the Northeast region will be threatened by Boko Haram’s desire to revive itself.

Ways forward

Negotiating with Boko Haram at this moment is like rinsing neatly washed clothes with mud. This is because the new leader of Boko Haram is determined to reorganize and strengthen the operational capacity of Boko Haram. Billions of dollars have been spent so far, and both civilians and the military personnel have lost their lives over the last seven years.

I suggest that the Nigerian security forces should adopt the strategic use of intelligence. The security agents should know the exact location of the girls and a well-planned and less aggressive method should be applied in rescuing them. Nigeria needs to adopt another version of Operation Entebbe; an operation which was carried out by the Israel Defence Force (IDF) in 1976 to rescue the 246 hostages who were held by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

As it stands, Nigeria is winning the war against Boko Haram and it should be careful of the looming reversal of the successes achieved so far. For Nigeria to expand the success of the ongoing war against Boko Haram, there is a critical need for Nigeria to strike a balance of both soft and hard approaches to combating terrorism. While military efforts are essential to protecting civilian territories and confronting belligerents, Counter-Violent Extremism (CVE) and de-radicalization is crucial to preventing other individuals from engaging in terrorism.