On Friday, Oct. 1, Nigeria announced a cease-fire with Islamic militant group Boko Haram. However, questions remain on validity and fate of missing schoolgirls.
According to the New York Times, Islamic extremist group Boko Haram and the Nigerian government have reached a cease-fire and may mark the end of a five-year conflict. The newspaper notes that while three Nigerian websites have discussed the agreement, the government hasn't officially confirmed any news.
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In the news media, there seems to be some confusion, however. Los Angeles Times reporter Robyn Dixon is based in Johannesburg, South Africa, and claims that the defense chief of staff Alex Badeh announced the truce. He also indicated government troops will comply with the agreement.
Nigeria’s attempted to negotiate with Boko Haram for the past several years as the group attacked northern Nigeria, struggling to establish a strict form of Islam in the area. Nothing has come out of the negotiations, however.
And Hassan Tukur, an aide to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, confirmed negotiations over the fate of the kidnapped 200 schoolgirls, which spawned the #BringBackOurGirls social media campaign where people of all walks of life supported the release. The girls have been missing for six months, with 57 escaping and 219 still missing. Boko Haram kidnapped the girls and young women in the middle of final exams at a Chibox boarding school, a common tactic as college and higher education are considered very Western.
During a news conference, government spokesperson Mike Omeri established that the group's negotiators said the girls were in good health.
Yet the NYT notes that one Boko Haram member claims the reports were false. Since the member transmits videos by Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, the negotiator may not in fact part of the Islamic terrorist group.
Bring Back Our Girls has remained critical of the government over the six months, demanding more action and less evading. And criticism is important as the country will be voting in presidential and parliamentary elections in February, and skeptical citizens may feel Jonathan is unofficially campaigning for a second term.
Harsh condemnation of a slow military campaign is based on many voters worried for personal safety and safety of loved ones. That could mean a difficult reelection for the president. Nigeria’s roughly 170 million people are divided by religion with Muslims predominately in the north and Christians to the south. It’s harder to unite given the treatment on both sides.
Badeh's reservation over previous international aid involves the well-being of the kidnapped victims since the government didn't want incite the extremist action. A valid concern since the group has kidnapped many young victims in the 5-year insurgency, and there’s a fear of retribution on the captured girls.
In the past decade, Boko Haram gained prominence when looking to stand against the corrupt ruling class and rapid Westernization of the African country. In fact, the name translates into “Western education is a sin” in the Hausa language. And the movement has become splintered as violence to Muslims instead of government-run military and police stations has gained opposition.
However, as Dixon reports, “attacks on villages, churches, schools, markets, open-air video entertainment venues, bus stations and other crowded public places” have killed thousands of people.
According to BBC News, the Human Rights Watch lists 2,053 killed civilians this year while Amnesty International estimates nearly double that amount in the first seven months of this year. And Reuters claimed more than 100 Boko Haram militants were killed in Cameroon on Friday, Oct. 17, during a military assault. In July, Cameroon, Nigeria, Chad and Niger formed a force of roughly 2,800 meant to battle the militants, preventing illegal border crossings and international attacks.
And a lack of confirmation by the Islamic group has skeptical people wondering about the validity of agreement since previous attempts resulted in little more than miscommunication and embarrassment. Last year, the Nigerian government announced a cease-fire, but the group denied any attempt.
Shekau said at the time that there would be no truce. “Let me assure you that we will not enter into any truce with these infidels. We will not enter into any truce with the Nigerian government.”
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If the pattern follows, media and government officials will not receive word from the Islamic group for several days. In the meantime, world citizens will continue worrying about the fate of the missing girls and hoping for a brighter future where northern Nigerians feel safe.