Less than a month after 276 Nigerian schoolgirls were abducted by the terrorist group Boko Haram, eight more girls were kidnapped earlier this week from the village of Warabe, in the north of the country, only 60 miles from Chibok, the site of the original attack. The Nigerian government appears incapable of either rescuing the Chibok girls or preventing further abductions. Members of Boko Haram have boasted in recent days that a number of the schoolgirls are being sold in neighboring countries for just $12 each.
The horrific story has made international news, with Western governments pledging to help Nigeria rescue these girls. Secretary of State John Kerry called the abductions an "unconscionable crime," and Britain is sending a team of experts to assist. The government of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has been frustratingly slow in both responding to the crisis specifically and making any discernible progress against the al-Qaida-affiliated Islamist militants generally. No girls have been rescued so far, despite mounting anger among Nigerians, including mass demonstrations.
The leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, recently released a video taking credit for the kidnappings, in which he stated: "I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah. ... There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell." Reports have circulated in recent days of girls being smuggled into nearby Chad and Cameroon, making any future rescue attempts even more difficult.
Boko Haram means "Western education is forbidden" and sums up quite succinctly the group's philosophy. The group's kidnapping 276 girls from a boarding school in Chibok, where they were studying to take the West African Senior School Certificate Examination, demonstrates very clearly the importance its members put on stopping girls from being educated. Passing their exam would have enabled many of these girls to find employment and then eventually lead lives free from the control of the men around them. Instead, they were herded onto trucks like cattle and are now being sold as sex slaves and servants for less than a Westerner would pay for a movie ticket.
Unfortunately, the Nigerian government was slow to swing into action in the days immediately after the abductions. Jonathan's wife, Patience, even went so far as to initially cast doubt on whether the kidnappings had even occurred, accusing women who were protesting in an attempt to draw attention to the schoolgirls' fate of making the story up in order to undermine her husband. Other politicians made similar claims in those crucial first few days. The Nigerian first lady eventually accused protest leaders of themselves being members of Boko Haram. In an attempt to improve her public standing, she later changed tack and said she would "march to see the president" to demand that more be done to find the schoolgirls, even if she was shot at in the process. This in turn made her a further target for ridicule by her fellow Nigerians, who questioned why she would need to "march" in order to speak to her husband and who might want to shoot her.
Attempts by Jonathan's government to put the blame solely on the governor of the state of Borno, where the kidnappings occurred, are being similarly criticized. Boko Haram has been conducting violent attacks on Nigeria for years across a number of states, with few successes by the central government in combating them or protecting its citizens. The delay by Jonathan to start any meaningful offensive squandered any opportunity for a quick reunion of these girls with their parents. In desperation, the parents resorted to funding and conducting their own rescue expeditions in order to search for their daughters, with no results.
The wider assault on the education of women in countries such as Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan demonstrates how threatened Islamist militants are of losing control to new generations of literate and empowered girls. The kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls is only the most dramatic and horrific instance of a wider trend growing in momentum around the world to limit the opportunities and independence of young women. The parents in Borno who are waiting desperately for the safe return of their daughters are becoming an international symbol of the destruction and pain being caused by Islamist militants, but the growing epidemic of attacks on girls schools is simply an attempt to reach a similar outcome in a slightly slower and slightly less flamboyant way.
By targeting female education, groups such as Boko Haram want to solidify their hold on power by forcing half the population to give up independence and individuality. This war on women must be stopped before meaningful progress will be seen in making these countries safe from terror.
Timothy Spangler is a writer and commentator who divides his time between Los Angeles and London. His radio show, "The Bigger Picture with Timothy Spangler," airs every Sunday night from 10 p.m. to midnight Pacific time on KRLA AM 870. To find out more about Timothy Spangler and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.