Remember the Chibok girls? Once a cause célèbre, the stuff of hashtag campaigns and Michelle Obama’s personal advocacy?
— First Lady- Archived (@FLOTUS44) May 7, 2014
Of the more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in April 2014, 195 remain missing. The Nigerian government secured the release of 21 girls in October 2016 through negotiations with the terrorist group. A handful have escaped, and, tragically, several have reportedly been forced to train as suicide bombers. But the majority remain in captivity at the hands of Boko Haram, an ongoing tragedy one new report suggests was entirely preventable. The Guardian:
British armed forces offered to attempt to rescue nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, but were rebuffed by Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s president at the time, the Observer has learned.
In a mission named Operation Turus, the RAF conducted air reconnaissance over northern Nigeria for several months, following the kidnapping of 276 girls from the town of Chibok in April 2014. “The girls were located in the first few weeks of the RAF mission,” a source involved in Operation Turus told the Observer. “We offered to rescue them, but the Nigerian government declined.”
The girls were then tracked by the aircraft as they were dispersed into progressively smaller groups over the following months, the source added.
Chibok is located in Nigeria’s north-eastern Borno state. Today 195 of the girls are still missing. Those who have managed to escape from their kidnappers have told of a life of torture, enslavement, rape, and forced marriages in captivity.
The report goes on to specify the details of the Nigerian government’s refusal:
Notes from meetings between UK and Nigerian officials, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, also suggest that Nigeria shunned international offers to rescue the girls. While Nigeria welcomed an aid package and assistance from the US, the UK and France in looking for the girls, it viewed any action to be taken against kidnapping as a “national issue”.
“Nigeria’s intelligence and military services must solve the ultimate problem,” said Jonathan in a meeting with the UK’s then Africa minister, Mark Simmonds, on 15 May 2014.
Predictably, former President Jonathan is denying the allegations. But the reports look highly credible, and it is likely that the former president will have to face an official inquiry. Current President Buhari has yet to comment on the matter from London, where he has been receiving medical care for almost two months now. But no matter who initiates the inquiry, Nigerians deserve to know: Why would Jonathan turn down an offer like this? Did he let pride and a narrow view of national sovereignty prevent him from accepting an offer that would do real good for his country and its most vulnerable citizens? It’s a question of presidential negligence that merits a response.