BORNO STATE, Nigeria (BP) — Divisions within Boko Haram weaken the credibility of a reported cease-fire announced Friday (Oct. 17) to secure the release of more than 200 Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped in April, an expert in Nigerian relations told Baptist Press.
Nigeria’s military announced the agreement with Boko Haram in which the jihadists agreed to release the girls, but many analysts and others questioned the credibility of the announcement after suspected Boko Haram terrorists raided three communities in Borno state Saturday and Sunday. The group reportedly killed perhaps dozens, kidnapped 40 women and forced other residents to flee, according to the Associated French Press, Monday (Oct. 20).
Boko Haram’s very structure makes the success of such an agreement unlikely, said Adeniyi Ojutiku, a Southern Baptist in Raliegh, N.C., who leads the Lift Up Now grassroots outreach to his homeland Nigeria.
“There appeared to have been a truce, but that truce would not hold,” Ojutiku said. “There are factions even within Boko Haram itself. … Because of that, it is difficult to have a viable truce. The sponsorship of the group is diverse. It is just a rogue organization that does the bidding of whoever sponsors them.”
Religious and political motivations are in play as Boko Haram seeks to establish Sharia law across northern Nigeria, Ojutiku said.
“There is no amount of negotiation that will appease every segment of that organization,” Ojutiku said. “What needs to be done is for that organization to be crushed and completely disbanded.”
In the supposed cease-fire, the girls were to be released no later than Tuesday (Oct. 21), Nigerian military leaders said in news reports. Statements attributed to Boko Haram describing the girls as “alive and well” are absurd and insulting, Ojutiku said.
“Alive and well? You don’t capture people for six months — girls, young girls — separate them from their families, separate them from everything they know in terms of their existence, and then say they are alive and well.” Ojutiku said. “How can they be well? Even if they are physically well, what is their mental state of health?”
“For example, we had heard that some of the girls had died in certain situations — disease, snake bites,” Ojutiku said. “Are any of them pregnant, any of them dead, any of them sick? If these negotiations are legitimate, these are issues that must be discussed along with the release of the girls. How many of them are still alive? When there are no such details in the discussion, then it’s questionable whether this is truly authentic.”
In April, Boko Haram kidnapped nearly 300 teenage girls — most of them Christian — from a Chibok boarding school and threatened to enslave them as Muslim brides. At least one of the girls may have been killed as a forced suicide bomber, according to the Jubilee Campaign for religious freedom.
About 60 of the girls managed to escape independently, according to news reports. Ten of them have been brought to the U.S. to complete their education through a program run by the Jubilee Campaign.
In the months following the kidnapping, the international community called for the girls’ release and joined the Bring Back Our Girls campaign. President Obama sent 80 U.S. troops to Chad to help search for the girls.
Nigerian military officials announced in May they knew the girls’ location, but decided against military intervention to free them, fearing for the girls’ safety. Six months after being kidnapped, the girls’ location has not been disclosed and as many as 223 are believed still held.
Boko Haram, seeking to establish Sharia law, had killed thousands of Christians, moderate Muslims, government officials and civilians in attacks targeting religious communities in Northern Nigeria in the past two years, according to news reports, with the death toll calculated between 8,000 and 10,000. An estimated 1.5 million Nigerians have been forced to flee their homes, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
The U.S. State Department designated Boko Haram an official foreign terrorist organization in December 2013, giving the U.S. added power to weaken the group. The European Union designating the jihadists a terror group four months ago.