The latest Boko Haram kidnapping of female students sheds some light on the terrorist group’s current operational capacity and highlights President Muhammadu Buhari’s direct involvement in the matter. While Boko Haram’s kidnapping operation is similar to its infamous kidnapping in 2014 of female students from Chibok, the government's response has so far been quite different. What this episode also highlights, however, is the ongoing lack of transparency with respect to Boko Haram activities on the part of Nigerian officials.
On February 20, Boko Haram attacked the Government Girls Science and Technical School, a girls’ boarding school roughly equivalent to a high school in the United States, in Dapchi, less than fifty miles south of the Niger border in Yobe state. Witnesses told U.S. media that the Boko Haram convoy consisted of nine vehicles, including two with machine guns on the roof. The uniformed Boko Haram fighters opened fire as they entered the village and proceeded directly to the school. There are contradictory reports about the number of girls they kidnapped and how many were subsequently rescued by the Nigerian army. Witnesses credibly say that more than ninety were kidnapped, more than seventy were rescued, and that two girls were killed.
This Boko Haram operation certainly recalls the 2014 kidnapping of almost three hundred school girls at Chibok. Unlike at Chibok, however, the army responded quickly at Dapchi. President Goodluck Jonathan was silent about Chibok for many days and spoke out only in response to international and domestic criticism. By contrast, President Muhammadu Buhari issued a statement soon after the incident and directed the military and police to find the missing girls. He also said he was sending the defense minister to Yobe on Thursday to “ascertain the situation.” Nevertheless, his critics complain that it took two days for him to issue a statement.
There continues to be too little transparency about the incident: some police spokesmen and the school’s principal said no girls were kidnapped at all, and the principal said that Boko Haram only stole food until they were chased away by the police. On the other hand, a school roll call accounted for only 815 of 926 students. (The roll call seems to have occurred before the army’s rescue operation.) Several witnesses indicated to media representatives that Nigerian security personnel told them not to talk about the episode.
More disturbing is Boko Haram’s use of armored vehicles, its access to uniforms, and its ability to carry out mass kidnappings. The operation appears more sophisticated than the suicide bombings that continue to be a feature of the group. Dapchi is yet another sign that Boko Haram is far from defeated. As for the three hundred Chibok school girls, about one hundred still remain in captivity.