Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden” in the local dialect. True to its name, the Islamic terrorists kidnapped 330 boys from a school in Kankara, Nigeria. Hundreds of others escaped during the attack that authorities fear shows the terrorists’ growing power and influence.
Boko Haram has operated almost exclusively in northeast Nigeria. But Kankara is in the northwest part of the country and the fact that they were able to infiltrate and organize a large-scale raid has the government worried that their insurgency, which began in 2009, is spreading.
At least 15 boys were rescued by the Nigerian military and several more were found in the woods near the school.
“There’s no way I can measure my anger now,” said Marwa Hamza Kankara, camping outside the school Tuesday night for word of her son. “No woman wants to be outside at this hour but we cannot sleep, we cannot eat, because of our missing children.”
Hamza says that all those missing belong to Nigeria. “I am not only crying for my child but I am crying for all the children,” she said.
When armed patrols go by, parents outside the school momentarily gain hope that they may have found their sons.
It’s possible that Boko Haram did not carry out the raid, contracting out that job to other terrorist groups, and then buying the boys. But however it happened, Nigerian families are begging the government to get their children back.
A 2014 raid on a girls’ school in Chibok devastated the community. There are still 100 girls missing from that terrorist act, which was apparently carried out so that Boko Haram fighters could have wives.
Cheta Nwanze, lead partner at Lagos-based risk consultancy SBM intelligence, said huge swathes of northwest Nigeria were ungoverned spaces where arms and people moved freely across porous borders.
“There is a danger that jihadists operating in the Sahel could potentially build alliances with groups that have previously remained in northeast Nigeria. That would further destabilise the region,” Nwanze said.
Nigeria is not a poor country. It’s awash in oil and raw materials. But the massive corruption of the government prevents a lot of Western investment to develop all that wealth. The growth of Boko Haram over the last decade, despite training and cash from America, shows just how far Nigeria still has to go.