At a Loss in Nigeria: missing girls and a government

An expert on human rights offers eight broad suggestions for addressing Islamist violence in Nigeria, where nearly 300 girls were recently abducted by Boko Haram militants for sale as slaves.

The Islamic terrorist group known as Boko Haram shattered the façade of security in Nigeria’s capital with consecutive suicide bombings in April and May 2014. The bombings on the city’s outskirts were barely two weeks apart and were the first since an attack on a media house in Abuja in 2012. The 2014 attacks set a new casualty record of almost 100 people killed—doubling the prior record from the Christmas bombing of 2011 at St Theresa's Catholic parish.
 
In just two weeks, Boko Haram effectuated 50% of the terror attacks on Nigeria’s capital compared to the all-time high of four attacks during the last six months of 2011. The April bus station bombing alone exceeded the total capital-area fatalities for 2011. In that attack, eight people died at the police station, five at the All Christian Church, twenty-four at the U.N., and forty-four at St. Theresa’s Catholic Church. The bombings came right after blood-thirsty terrorist leader Abu Shekau ordered the activation of cells across the nation beyond the group’s traditional northeastern stronghold.
 
What is most troubling about these attacks, however, is the dismal emergency response. The government apologized that they had insufficient body bags on hand during the bus station bombing. Even now, the media is reporting that hospitals are denying admission to victims of the Mayday blast. It is disconcerting to know that that the casualties reported by the Abuja dailies the morning after the bombings ranged from eight to thirty people dead. Sadly, the exact numbers may never be fully ascertained. What is most appalling is not simply the government’s inability to squelch this genocidal insurgency. Instead, the true travesty is the government’s inability to even provide responsive care to the victims of the state’s own failure to protect its citizens.
 
I have compiled eight broad suggestions which would be a far better response to mitigate the human impact in Nigeria. Even if only a few of them are implemented, Nigeria would be well on its way to protecting its citizens from terrorists:
 
First, schools in the vulnerable parts of northern Nigeria should be shut down. Students should either be located to more secure locations to continue their education or be taught using a combination of nomadic education and homeschooling until the area is safe enough for the children to go back to school. If the government can shut down the schools for months simply to allow voter registration, there is no legitimate reason why they cannot be shut down to save children’s lives. A state of emergency needs to be immediately declared in the education sectors of the Terrorism-Prone Zones (TPZ). If the terrorists are homicidal enough to attack heavily fortified military barracks on average of every three months for the past year, then there is no school in northern Nigeria capable of withstanding the bloodlust of these barbaric maniacs. The government should provide emergency scholarships and grants to existing institutions to help expand their absorptive capacity for student intake. These grants should include consecutive shifts—both morning and afternoon—to ensure that the children evacuated from TPZ continue to be educated.
 
Second, the government should offer a reward for each of the missing Chibok children. Their names and pictures should be splattered across the region in an Amber Alert. Given the reports that some of the girls have been sold for dowries as small as N2,000 ($13 U.S. dollars), the government should be able to offer N500,000 reward per child for her safe return. Because of Abu Shekau’s threat to sell the girls, the government should consider implementing a buy-back program similar to the one used by human rights groups in Sudan. Furthermore, Nigeria should offer a prisoner exchange program to Boko Haram for the girls safe return. If Nigeria could sign a prisoner exchange treaty with the UK when Nigerian only had one known citizen in custody and the UK had hundreds of Nigerians in jail, this prisoner exchange program is certainly precedential when the girls have such a high captive value.
 
Third, border crossings must impose a zero exit policy for young girls without proper parental certification. When I visited a UN refugee camp for Nigerians in Cameroon, two gendarmes (armed police officers) were killed by Boko Haram. In that situation, Cameroon immediately shut down the borders. A similar response strategy should now be implemented because it is highly likely that Boko Haram will attempt to traffick the girls across the borders and beyond the reach of Nigerian authorities.
Fourth, hospitals should be given anticipatory approval to treat victims of any past or future attacks. The government must honor the financial obligations arising from these bills. Ambulances, helicopters and special mobile casualty units should be mobilized and stationed in terrorism-prone zones to ensure rapid medical intervention after any future attacks.
 
Fifth, the Nigerian government should maximize its ability to detect future attacks and deter those caught engaging in terrorism. Satellite and other surveillance apparatus should be utilized to detect nocturnal movements and to preempt terrorist activity. Nigeria’s Nigcomsat company must be fully repositioned to maximize its operational capabilities for national security purposes. Marital law should be imposed to allow the military to summarily try and publicly execute terrorists captured during an attack. Nigeria needs a strong deterrent for these stone-age savages who respect neither the Geneva Convention nor any other recognized international norms of combat. Boko Haram has killed journalists, westerners, health workers, foreign doctors and other innocent victims. International aid agencies are unable to respond with humanitarian assistance because Boko Haram does not offer safe passage for relief work. Thus, giving life imprisonment, such as the sentence imposed on the terrorist mastermind of the Christmas Day bombing at St. Theresa Catholic parish, is wholly inadequate. Since these purveyors of mass murder want to become martyrs by killing innocent people, the state should be empowered to reasonably accommodate their twisted wishes by executing the guilty for killing the innocent.
 
As a human rights lawyer, I did not come to this conclusion lightly. However, it is all too clear that the Boko Haram conflagration is the most clearly defined and articulated quest to extinguish contemporary human civilization as we know it. If Al-Qaeda was motivated by anger at the U.S. presence in its holy land, Boko Haram is simply incensed at everything other than that. They have espoused a broader hate-filled philosophy of attacking the universe. This is a clash of civilizations. The education, development, legal, governmental, and global systems in Africa are at a high risk of collapse from groups like Boko Haram. Whereas Al-Qaeda merely put constraints on Western concepts of freedom of movement and privacy, Boko Haram threatens more foundational concepts in Africa. The threat of Boko Haram in Nigeria, MUJAO in Mali, and Alshabab in Somalia, is serious. Africa cannot afford to drop out of the civilization production line and neither can the world afford the current threat to the continent. The era when Rome fell to the barbarians must not be relived in Africa. As it stands, Boko Haram monopolizes showcasing via video its own propaganda on YouTube while the Nigerian army is left with e-mailed press statements claiming stupendous victories in undocumented battles. Public trials and executions will have the dual effect of introducing transparency into the claims of extra-judicial killings while at the same time deterring those who would commit acts of terror.
 
Sixth, the larger population of the terror-prone zones should be relocated to safe locations and the exited area thoroughly combed to isolate the terrorists. This includes evacuating Sambisa forest of regular villagers, identifying and interning them in a safe camp, and completely deforesting the Sambisa forest to ensure none can hide under its leaves. The same applies to Gwoza hills where the terrorists must be uprooted from the caves and crevices. This method will reconfigure the combat into symmetrical warfare rather than urban guerrilla warfare amidst vulnerable civilian populations.
 
Seventh, mandatory ID checks must be ordered for all travelers using any mode of transportation. There must be manifests obtained, filed, and reviewed for every travel movement. A DNA and biometric ID and corresponding databank needs to be immediately established for improved evidence-based policing and forensic investigation.
 
Eighth, all local government funds in the areas most affected should be channeled towards victim and IDP support. Many areas have no viable government. Indeed, thousands of citizens have been displaced so the budgeted social services for them needs to be redirected to their current exigencies. The terror-prone zones need the equivalent of a government-in-exile to adequately care for these who are refugees abroad or IDP’s in other states. At a UN refugee camp we visited, almost 3,000 Nigerians were just being given food rations for the first time in 49 days. Yet, Nigeria is hosting the World Economic Forum on Africa at a cost of millions of dollars while its citizens are starving in foreign lands. Refugees say Emergency Management officials visited from Nigeria in November promising aid. They have not been seen since and officials of Nigeria’s refugee commission have not shown up. In addition to these measures, Nigeria needs to sign an IDP agreement with the UN to provide a bilateral assistance framework.
 
In conclusion, the world moved the oceans in search of the missing Malaysian airliner. The time has come for the world to similarly unite to confront this monstrosity. If just some of these recommendations are implemented in an extended state of emergency, many Nigerians may stop feeling that it is not just the Chibok children that are missing but the Nigerian government in Abuja and Maiduguri as well.
 
Spero columnist Emmanuel Ogebe is a U.S. based international human rights lawyer and Nigeria expert for Jubilee Campaign. He recently completed a tour of hostile areas in Nigeria and Cameroon. 
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not of Spero News.

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