Boko Haram and Nigeria Declare Ceasefire

According to the Nigerian military, they have agreed to a ceasefire with the Nelson Lewis Boko HaramIslamic extremist group Boko Haram.  As part of this agreement, the schoolgirls that the group abducted earlier in the year will be released.  So far, Boko Haram has made no comment on the incident.  This marks a significant breakthrough to 5 years of fighting, which has cost the lives of some 2,000 civilians this year alone.

After a group of Christian schoolgirls were abducted by Boko Haram, it sparked international outrage, leading to a campaign to “bring back our girls”.  So far, people are “cautiously optimistic” about the deal.  According to the Nigerian government, the negotiations were sealed after a month of talks, mediated by Chad.  As part of the agreement, Boko Haram has assured that they’ll release the girls they captured, which would be finalized at another meeting next week.

While Boko Haram would not be given territory under the ceasefire agreement, the government has yet to reveal what concessions it did make with the group.  Nigerian officials hadn’t mentioned that they were undergoing negotiations with Boko Haram, making this an extremely surprising development.  Many Nigerians are skeptical about the announcement, especially since there had been no definitive word from the Islamists.  In the past, the army had been known to release statements about the conflict in northeast Nigeria which contradicted the actual situation.

Back in May 2013, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan imposed a state of emergency in northern Nigeria, vowing to crush the Islamist insurgency.  The insurgents, who believe that Muslims are forbidden to take part in any political or social activity associated with Western society, have increased their attacks throughout the year.  They frequently target schools and colleges, which they regard as a symbol of Western culture.  Human Rights Watch reported that over 2,000 civilians were killed in the first half of the year, while Amnesty International estimated that 4,000 people were killed in the violence in the first seven months of the year.

Boko Haram is looking to develop an Islamist state in Nigeria, much like ISIS, but its fighters frequently cross into neighboring countries; the region where they operate borders Chad, Cameroon and Niger.  Earlier today, eight Cameroonian soldiers and over 100 Boko Haram militants were killed fighting in the far north of Cameroon.  Due to the threat that the militants pose to the security of the region, Nigeria, Chad and Niger agreed to form a 2,800-strong regional force to tackle them back in July.

Nigerian Schoolgirls

Boko Haram

A group of Boko Haram members, their faces hidden behind camouflage.

Since a group of over 300 Nigerian Christian schoolgirls were captured by the militant Islamic group Boko Haram, the whole world has been watching to see what happens next.  A recent video released by the group shows more than 100 of these schoolgirls, all dressed in traditional Islamic garb, praying to Allah, as well as the group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau.  The leader is apparently in negotiations with the government, and claims that he will hold the girls until imprisoned militants are freed.

Three of the girls in the group are seen speaking in the video; all of them claim that they are now Muslim.  In the video, Shekau claimed that he has “liberated” the girls, and that they converted to Islam, although the nature of this conversion remains debatable.  The majority of the abducted girls are believed to be Christians, although there are a few Muslims among them.  The video was received today by the Associated Press, and came through channels that have previously provided messages from Shekau.  It’s the first sighting of these girls since they were taken nearly a month ago from their school in Northern Nigeria.  Even though more than 50 of the girls escaped their captors and are now safe, the fate of 276 others remains unknown.

The search for the schoolgirls has centered on the Sambisa forest.  Nigerian troops are aided by American, British and French advisers, while Chad, Cameroon and Niger are contributing satellite imagery.  Over the weekend, Israel offered to assist in the search.  The Nigerian government has apparently made “indirect contact” with the terrorists; Nigeria has refused to pay for the girls’ release, believing that the sale of human beings is a “crime against humanity”.  People from around the world have been critical of Nigeria’s handling of the situation; according to Amnesty International, Nigerian security forces were aware that a group of Boko Haram fighters were approaching the school a few hours before the kidnapping occurred, but nonetheless did nothing.

Boko Haram, whose name roughly equates to “Western education is forbidden”, has killed some 1,500 people in Nigeria so far this year.  They have been waging an insurgency across Nigeria for the past five years.  The search for the girls was made difficult thanks to the lack of information on the girls’ whereabouts; there is speculation that they have been split into four groups, and some are believed to have been taken across Nigeria’s border.  In an effort to stop searchers from finding the girls, militants have probably laid booby traps and land mines.  In the past week, two bridges that cross Nigeria’s borders with Chad and Cameroon have been destroyed as well.