Women attend a demonstration calling on the government to rescue the kidnapped schoolgirls of the Chibok secondary school, in Abuja, Nigeria. Picture: Sunday Alamba

The present contains the past, it is said, and it’s how we’ll understand the Boko Haram kidnapping, says Dr Firoz Osman.

Johannesburg - The agonising plight of the families of the more than 200 Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram and the Nigerian government’s dismal failure to protect them has evoked worldwide outrage and condemnation.

The official misuse of resources for personal enrichment has ranked Nigeria 139th out of 176 countries in Transparency International’s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index, with the police perceived to be one of the most corrupt institutions.

Nigeria was created in 1914 from an amalgamation of the north and south region by British colonial authorities.

Northern Nigeria consists mainly of the Hausa and Fulani ethnic groups, who are predominantly Muslim, while southern Nigeria consists of the Yoruba and Igbo ethnic groups, who are Christians and animist worshippers.

The history of northern Nigeria has been profoundly influenced by religion and politics. Since the Borno Sultanate and the Sokoto Caliphate – which ruled parts of what is now northern Nigeria, the Republic of Niger and southern Cameroon – fell under British control in 1903, there has been strong resistance to Western education among the Muslims of the area.

Since the activities of early Christian missionaries who used Western education as a tool for evangelism, it has been viewed with suspicion by the local northern population. Muhammed Yusuf, the popular former leader of Boko Haram who established schools that provided an alternative curriculum, was killed in police custody. A massive crackdown on the movement’s followers led to its militant insurgency.

Nigeria is Africa’s biggest oil producer and strongest economic powerhouse, but most of its people subsist on less than $2 (R20) a day. Under President Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s economic growth has not trickled down to the poor.

Health care and education are beyond the reach of many.

A phalanx of security personnel are paid to protect the wealthy and the foreign companies, such as Shell, that want to access the country’s resources, especially oil.

Corruption and the widening income gap, poverty and lack of development provide fertile ground to spawn groups such as Boko Haram.

Mushrooming criminal gangs have used the Boko Haram label to disguise their motives for attacks.

The wild, lunatic bluster of Abubakr Shekau on video excited the Islamophobes who exploited his delirious ranting to vilify Islam and Muslims. This was rubbished by all with a modicum of knowledge on Islam and Muslims.

In a Human Rights Watch’s 2014 World Report, Nigerian security have been “implicated in various human rights violations with regard to the Boko Haram insurgency”, including “the indiscriminate arrest, detention, torture and extra-judicial killing” of those suspected to be supporters or members of the group.

Security forces razed and burnt down homes and properties in communities thought to harbour Boko Haram fighters.


A Nigerian human rights watchdog released a report that said security forces were killing, torturing, illegally detaining and raping civilians in a fight to halt an Islamic uprising in north-east Nigeria that has killed nearly 2 000 people since 2010.

It is this background that informs the terrible plight of the kidnapped girls in Nigeria.

Hollywood icons and politicians have seized the opportunity to make this a cause célèbre. Yet there was no publicity over the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda, even though Unicef estimated that 12 000 children were abducted by the LRA between 2002 and 2004 and forced to fight, work or be used for sex.

Unicef also reported in 2011 that more than 31 000 children were rescued from militias in the Democratic Republic of Congo or escaped from them in the previous seven years.

And, of course, there is no international outcry about “Christian terrorists”.

The kidnapping presents the US, Britain, France and Israel with a golden opportunity to secure a foothold in the oil-rich country.

This is part of its efforts to build up a string of military bases across the Horn of Africa, the Sahel and West Africa.

Experts opine that the move is in line with a broader “pivot to Africa” aimed at securing control of the continent’s huge mineral and energy resources and containing, if not excluding, China from Africa.

Africom already has a presence in Africa. Its forces are engaged in West Africa through their Predator drone base in Niger, which borders northern Nigeria.

It also borders Mali, the scene of recent French and British interventions, and Libya, object of a disastrous Western bombing campaign in 2011 that has left that country in a state of civil war and collapse.

US drones operate too in Djibouti, Ethiopia and just across the Red Sea in Yemen.

US President Barack Obama ominously suggested any potential military response won’t just be about securing the release of these girls. “We’re also going to have to deal with the broader problem of organisations like this that can cause such havoc in people’s day-to-day lives,” he said.

Just as in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Libya and Syria, West Africa is fertile ground to create chaos and mayhem. Nigeria’s 160 million people are divided between numerous ethno-linguistic groups and also along religious lines. Nigeria can be pushed from the frying pan into the fire.

Experts state that Western countries have no humanitarian credibility, and as part of other “anti-terror” campaigns are employing practices such as extra-judicial execution, long-term detention without trial, the bombing of weddings, death squad activity, the treating of all military-age males as “militants” and massacres. They have unaccountably killed thousands of women and girls in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan and strongly support formally misogynistic states in places like Saudi Arabia.

They regularly exploit humanitarian crises, fabricated or real, to further their own strategic aims, often leaving a trail of destruction and misery in their wake, unfortunately ignored by media and supporters of such “interventions”.

Only by addressing the fundamental cause for the crisis will it lead to greater protection for the children and women of Africa who are habitually stripped of their dignity, frequently violated and the principal victims of both poverty and war.

* Dr Firoz Osman is from the Media Review Network.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

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