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Chibok girls' fate uncertain

Jan-Philipp Scholz and Adrian Kriesch / mc
October 20, 2014

Fresh violence in northern Nigeria has dashed hopes of a ceasefire with the militant Islamist sect Boko Haram. Nigerians are doubtful whether the Chibok girls, kidnapped six months ago, will be released.

Nigeria Boko Haram soll offenbar entführte Mädchen freilassen
Image: Reuters/A. Sotunde

"Hope Rising" reads the slogan on the T-shirt of a Chibok girls' activist. Every weekend a group of protestors gather in Nigeria's commercial hub Lagos to call for the release of the kidnapped girls. On Friday (17.10.2014), Nigeria's armed forces chief, Air Chief Marshall Alex Badeh, announced a ceasefire with Boko Haram, which purportedly included the release of 219 girls abducted by Boko Haram from Chibok.

But Boko Haram hasn't confirmed the truce and the protestors find it difficult to believe that the girls' release is imminent. "The Nigerian government has not been too credible in the past," said Yemisi Ransome-Kuti, activist and founder of the Nigeria Network of Non-Governmental Organizations. "We hope they are saying something that is correct and that will happen. We are crossing our fingers, but until we see the girls we will not believe anything," she added.

Yemisi Ransome-Kuti
Yemisi Ransome-Kuti: 'Until we see those girls we will not believe anything'Image: DW/A. Kriesch

Fresh wave of violence

Events on Sunday (19.10.2014) displayed all too clearly why such skepticism is justified. Boko Haram captured another town in the state of Borno killing numerous villagers. Local media reported the Nigerian armed forces were engaged in combat operations over the weekend, even though the chief of staff had ordered his troops to abide by a ceasefire.

"The Nigerian government continued to contradict itself," said political scientist Abubakar Umar Kari."Today it will talk about dialogue, tomorrow it will say it will destroy the sect, or that the sect does not exists at all," he told DW. After the girls were seized six months ago, government spokesmen could be heard denying that the kidnappings had taken place. Later they claimed that the army had liberated the girls. Denials had to be issued on both counts.

Boko Haram fragmented

According to the Nigerian daily "The Punch," Boko Haram has split into two wings - one is radical and uncompromising wing and and the other is prepared to negotiate. According to the paper, the deal was only struck with the group that was willing to talk. This would suggest that a genuine ceasefire deal is still a long way off. Boko Haram has been regarded an extremely fragmented militia for some time. The Nigerian military has announced several times that Abubakar Shekau was dead, yet he keeps on popping up in videos.

Mindia Chiwar
Lawyer Mindia Chiwar:'We remain faithful'Image: DW/J.-P. Scholz

Trying to be optimistic

One of President Jonathan's close advisors, Hassan Tukur, told DW that no conditions were attached to the ceasefire! Boko Haram had released 27 hostages in Cameroon last week as promised, he said. After previous talks with Boko Haram had ended in deadlock, the militia was therefore showing a measure of good will, he addded. He hoped that an end to the crisis was not far away.

In spite of their suspicion of the Nigerian government, the protestors are also trying to keep their hopes up. Mindia Chiwar, a Chibok lawyer who represents parents of the missing girls and also takes part in the Lagos protests, said confidence was starting to return among friends and family members."They have been having hopes since day one and these hopes are still alive. We remain faithful," he said.