Boko Haram attacks after freeing 21 Chibok girls

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (BP) -- As many as 83 Nigerian soldiers are missing after Boko Haram attacked a military base in northeastern Nigeria and destroyed a village bordering Chibok just days after the negotiated release of 21 kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls, the Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian government has downplayed the continuing strength of Boko Haram as the jihadists continue to attack and capture remote towns north of Borno State, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) Nigeria leader said in an interview published on ReliefWeb, a news service of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Senior Nigerian army officers, their identity undisclosed because they were not authorized to give information to reporters, said Boko Haram was better armed militarily than the soldiers in the Oct. 17 attack on the military base in Gashigar village, AP reported Oct. 23. The Nigerian military soldiers fled and 83 were still missing, the officers told AP. Some soldiers were feared drowned after jumping into a nearby river on the border of Niger and Nigeria, but others were rescued by military forces in Niger.

One day later on Oct. 18, Boko Haram gunmen invaded the village of Goptari about six miles from Chibok, looted food and livestock and set the village ablaze, the French news agency AFP reported.

"They attacked the village around 8 p.m., firing heavy guns which made people flee into the bush," the AFP quoted Samson Bulus from nearby Kautikeri village. "The Boko Haram raiders looted homes and shops, taking along food supplies and livestock before burning the entire village."

The attacks in Goptari and Gashigar came a week after the Nigerian government announced the negotiated release of 21 Chibok schoolgirls the jihadists had held two and a half years. Negotiations are said to be continuing for the release of 197 Chibok girls who remain missing, although 100 of those girls have told the government they are too embarrassed to return home for fear of discrimination and rejection, the Christian Science Monitor reported.

In an Oct. 19 interview posted on humanitarian information website ReliefWeb, HRW Nigeria leader Mausi Segun said Boko Haram is still very active, despite Nigerian President Muhummadu Buhari's declaration of a "technical" defeat of the jihadists in December 2015.

"The conflict is not over. Though the intensity of the war has reduced, Boko Haram continues to attack and control areas, especially in the north of Borno State," Segun said in the interview conducted by Heinrich Boll Stiftung (The Green Political Foundation). "The Nigerian government deliberately understates the (humanitarian) crisis because it does not want any observers on the ground to find out what is really going on."

Boko Haram has killed an estimated 25,000 people, including many Christians, in northeastern Nigeria since 2009 in its attempts to establish strict Sharia law across the country. An estimated 2.6 million people have also been displaced in violence that has created a multifaceted humanitarian crisis in Nigeria, described by the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative and former Congressman Frank R. Wolf in July as the "gravest" in the world.

"The narrative of the government is that the conflict is actually over," Segun said in the interview, "but for many people this is not so because they continue to be exposed to the attacks of Boko Haram."

Many internally displaced persons have not been counted and are not receiving humanitarian aid, Segun said.

"Only 8 to 12 percent of refugees are in the camps. The bigger problem is the host communities and villages that have absorbed the almost 2 million refugees who are not living in the camps," Segun said. "The villagers often do not know about humanitarian aid, and the aid organizations have no knowledge of the refugees in those locations. There seems to be no mapping, or central register. Here the lack of coordination in reaching IDPs in host communities is serious."

An 8,600-member regional, multinational military force formed in 2015 has recaptured territory Boko Haram once held. And Buhari declared victory on the grounds that Boko Haram's attacks had been reduced to suicide bombings instead of village takeovers.

In April 2014 when Boko Haram was in the process of establishing caliphates in northeastern Nigeria, the fighters kidnapped nearly 300 girls from a boarding school in the mostly Christian town of Chibok. More than 50 managed to escape, but 220 had remained missing.

Bring Back Our Girls, an international group still advocating for the girls' release, expressed lament Oct. 24 over Boko Haram's latest attacks. The advocacy group urged the Nigerian government to better arm the military to defend itself, reported Today.ng, a news service of Today Digital News and Media Limited.

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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