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The Missing
No Rescue for Hundreds of Abducted Nigerian Girls

A 16-year-old girl named Hauwa was kidnapped from her school by Boko Haram. Her father gathered what money he could and set off into the forest of northern Nigeria to look for her. He was gone two days and returned empty-handed after locals warned him and his companions that the kidnappers would gun them down if they went any further. “Even my wife was begging to come as she is so disturbed she hasn’t been able to eat anything,” he told the Guardian. “Our daughter Hauwa is only 16 years old and she has been missing for 11 days now.”

Huawa is one of 230 girls missing from a school in northern Nigeria. Or is it 129? Or 234? How about “more than 200”? The Nigerian government can’t seem to figure out who’s missing—or how many, where they are, who exactly took them, and how to get them back. None of the questions these distraught parents have asked has been answered. We do know that their school was the last in the area to remain open, after all the others had closed down after repeated threats from the Islamist militants. Guards at the school were overpowered or stood by as the kidnappers seized the girls.

One community leader says some of the victims have already been transported to neighboring countries. “Some of them have been taken across Lake Chad and some have been ferried across the border into parts of Cameroon,” he told the BBC. “We learned that one of the ‘grooms’ brought his ‘wife’ to a neighbouring town in Cameroon and kept her there. It’s a medieval kind of slavery.”

The Nigerian government has bungled the rescue attempt from the start. First, it downplayed the number of girls kidnapped. Then the military said it freed 129 of them, and that only eight remained missing. State government officials maintained that only 129 had been taken originally and that 51 had escaped. Later a spokesman said 77 were still missing.

Welcome to Nigeria. The day the girls were kidnapped, Boko Haram bombed a bus station in the capital city of Abuja. 70 people died, the government says. In fact, the number was closer to 500, according to observers. In Nigeria’s central region, ethnic Fulani cattle herdsmen and farmers are engaged in a bloody battle over land and resources. An editorial in the Nigerian magazine Leadership sums up the country’s current situation:

No day has passed in the past weeks without a tale of one horrendous atrocity or the other committed by the bloodthirsty hoodlums. Is it the mass murder of students in their sleep? Is it the kidnap of married and unmarried girls for use as sex slaves and cooks? Is it the invasion of military barracks and sack of police stations? Mosques, churches, villages, banks and farms have come under the terrorists’ fire without challenge from those paid to provide security of life and property.

The editorial calls Nigeria a “failed state,” and given the government’s evident inability to protect its people, who would dispute the charge?

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  • Anthony

    Is definition “failed state” enough?

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