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Opinion

Opinion: One year after Chibok - Nigeria's open wound

It is exactly a year since Boko Haram kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls from the Nigerian town of Chibok. There has been no trace of them up until now. DW’s Jan-Philipp Scholz fears that is not going to change.

A few weeks after 14 April 2014, when the Boko Haram terrorists kidnapped 276 girls from a school in Chibok, I met the father of one of them. He told me how he had taken his daughter to school on a motorcycle on the morning of the attack.

As his daughter got off the bike, she said "Thanks, Dad. See you soon." And then the father ended his talk with me with the unbearable statement that he had given up hope of seeing his daughter alive again.

Chibok became a double symbol

What do you say to a father who has lost all hope? I did not know then and I still don't. Perhaps all of us present felt that what he said was true and that any well-meaning, optimistic words would just sound hollow and artificial. So much had been heard of the inability and unwillingness of the Nigerian military that it could be ruled out as a source of hope. There was also little confidence in President Goodluck Jonathan who was even reluctant to visit grieving family members. From him too, no help could be expected.

Jan-Philipp Scholz

Jan-Philipp Scholz is a DW correspondent in Nigeria

Since April 2014, Chibok has become a double symbol. It is a symbol of the failure of the Nigerian government in the fight against the Islamists.

Since the abduction a year ago, Boko Haram has kidnapped more than 2,000 other women and girls, according to a new report by Amnesty International. The Islamists are responsible for at least 300 new attacks and raids on civilians since then. According to UNICEF, about 800,000 children have become refugees.

The plight of all these people has, however, not attracted anything like the same attention as the Chibok girls. Nevertheless, something has changed. Chibok has also become a symbol of the long overdue waking up of international public opinion and of Nigeria's civil society.

Since the events of April 2014, Nigeria's indifferent and self-centered political elite is now facing far more critical questions than before. One can even go so far as to say the vote against incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan was a result of Chibok. Alongside rampant corruption, his failure in the fight against the terrorists became a crucial issue for Nigerian voters.

But will Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria's president-elect, be able to keep his ambitious promise to crush Boko Haram within six months? One thing is certain: part of the problem will take care of itself.

It is an open secret that a section of the northern Nigerian Muslim elite provided financial support to the terrorists to get rid of the unpopular Christian President Jonathan. According to their cynical calculations, a president from their own region would bring them closer to Nigeria's oil money. A new president from the north means that the financial backing for Boko Haram will disappear.

But the problem is far more complex. Many of the thousands of young men in northern Nigeria fighting for Boko Haram joined the terrorists for one main reason: they had nothing to lose. For them the fighting, looting and raping became an end in itself. Some of them are now so strongly radicalized that they genuinely believe the Islamist propaganda with which they have been indoctrinated.

The army as a solution?

As hard as it sounds, the fight against Boko Haram will ultimately be decided militarily. The terrorists must be weakened to such an extent that their leaders have no alternative but to enter into talks with the new government.

Whether former general Buhari will succeed will depend on whether he manages to dismantle the encrusted, highly corrupt structures within the army. Up to now, a significant portion of the Nigerian defense budget disappeared into the pockets of senior military officers.

This may perhaps come too late for most of the Chibok schoolgirls - but not for the many thousands more pupils in northeast Nigeria who simply want an education, and with it a perspective for a region that for too long has lacked one.

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