Nigeria’s Abducted Girls -- Too Little Too Late

Nigeria’s Abducted Girls -- Too Little Too Late

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Ed. Note: OurWeekly Publisher and CEO Natalie Cole recently interviewed former United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young on the kidnapping of the estimated 276 Nigerian schoolgirls, allegedly by Boko Haram militants, on April 14. In 2006, Cole spoke to Young about U.S. involvement in Africa. In that conversation he pointed to the logistical and political challenges complicating such efforts, as well as to the complex social mix on the ground. “The best intelligence you can have is boots on the ground,” Young said at the time. Young believes there is still a logistics problem, however, he believes the new formation of Africom (United States Africa Command) will make a difference and somewhat improve, but not solve, the problem.

“When we look at the logistic issues there are plenty—the primary being geography and how technology interprets it when drones are used to seek out humans.”

One of the issues Young was referring to could be the difficulty drone aircraft encounter when detecting thermography—a ground-heat reading used by drones to locate humans while traveling at high altitudes. Thermographs can be blocked by foliage, and suspected areas where the girls might be held, have dense foliage.

“Another concern that I have—that has not yet surfaced—is a law known as the Leahy Amendment,” said Young. “It may complicate any type of joint military operations with Nigeria.”

He is referring to a 1997 law, named after its sponsor, Senator Patrick Leahy—a Democrat from Vermont. The law bars United States forces from working with militaries, or units within them, accused of chronic human rights violations. In the past, U.S. military brass have complained that the law has prevented them from training foreign soldiers. According to news sources in Nigeria, it appears to be limiting what forces on the ground can do to help find the children.

“For example, there is a specific counter-terrorism unit with which we don’t interact in Nigeria because we’re not able to [because of] Leahy,” Young said. “However, we’re not prevented from working with the Nigerian military for those soldiers or units that were not affected, and we are doing human rights training on appropriate use of force with the military for those elements that we can work with.”

Young asked, “Are you aware the average life span in Nigeria is around 48 years, and the age of the school girls abducted is between 12 and 15? These girls are daughters, sisters, and hopefully they will return home and live on to become mothers and productive women in Nigeria with the years they have left.”

Kidnapped Adolescents

According to Psychology Today, adolescence is a transitional stage from childhood to adulthood; a time of disorientation and discovery, adolescence can bring up issues of independence and self-identity.

When Funmi Adebayo, executive director of Girls Alive Counselling Initiative in Northern Nigeria, read that definition, she said she didn’t believe it applied to most countries like Nigeria. The vulnerability of adolescent girls in Nigeria isn’t unique. When situations in communities, states and nations go badly, women and children (especially young girls) are often the most negatively affected. They are usually the majority in any refugee camp, and they often experience the most unpleasant treatment. They are too often exploited and abused by the men who are expected to protect them.

Their is a strong possibility that the missing Nigerian girls will be subjected to sexual violence or forced into childhood marriages.

“Now these kidnapped young ladies must contend with the stress, disruption and displacement encountered during war situations and other disasters which often lead to a rise in sexual violence and abuse. In addition to its psychological effects, sexual and domestic violence typically has severe effects on a girl’s general health. Forced sexual encounters increase the risk of HIV and other STDs. Let’s just pray that these young ladies have not been impacted.”

Adebayo goes on to describe how adolescent Nigerian girls fall into marginalized divisive groups and are treated as second-class citizens within the Nigerian culture.

“They are deeply disenfranchised by their youth, their gender, and their status. Those who are impoverished, trafficked, affected by humanitarian crisis, disabled, out-of-school because of marriage and other reasons, face numerous infringements on their basic human rights,” Adebayo continued.

“Investing in the health, education, and rights of women and girls are strategic ways to address poverty and speed progress toward the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (eight international development goals that were established following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations in 2000).” The Millennium Development Goals range from cutting extreme poverty rates in half to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, by the target date of 2015.

It’s unfortunate that the goals did not cover the security of Nigerian school girls, but Adebayo says that is the responsibility of the Nigerian military. “The entire country should cease all criticisms and focus on bringing our girls home,” she said.

Slow to React

Last week, Amnesty International reported that the Nigerian military may not be as strong as the U.S. government has portrayed them to be publicly, finding that it declined to provide assistance to the schoolgirls despite at least four hours of advanced warning “due to poor resources and a reported fear of engaging.”

Peter M. Lewis is a senior associate with the Center For Strategic Studies Africa Program. He is also the director of African Studies and an associate professor at the Paul H. Nitze school of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington D.C.

In 2011, Lewis prepared a report titled, “Nigeria Assessing Risk to Stability” which was commissioned by the United States Africa Command. Lewis believes the slow response to the abduction of the school girls may be the direct result of civilian and military tensions, factionalism within the military, and corrosive rivalries among politicians. He says the Nigerian military is made up of several hundred thousand personnel and among those numbers you have Christians, Muslims, and individuals that are descendants of tribes that aren’t always amicable to one another.

Lewis believes, after hearing rumors of interdepartmental transmittals, that ranking officers were apprehensive in getting involved based on the aforementioned issues. He is confident no one will ever get to the bottom of exactly what happened in regards to the slow response time and the Nigerian Military's failure to protect its girls.