More than 340 Nigerian boys kidnapped last week have been rescued after the military acted on “credible intelligence” and was able to free them.
Details on the rescue are sparse. And the original claim of responsibility by Boko Haram appears to be bogus. In truth, there is little known about the incident except the boys are home and safe.
The abduction gripped a country already incensed by widespread insecurity, and evoked memories of Boko Haram’s 2014 kidnapping of more than 270 schoolgirls in the northeastern town of Chibok.
The boys’ abduction was particularly embarrassing for [Nigerian President Muhammadu] Buhari, who comes from Katsina state and has repeatedly said that Boko Haram has been “technically defeated”.
Buhari had come under pressure even before the kidnapping for the lack of security. Boko Haram is still strong in the northeastern part of the country and regularly carries out terror attacks on the population. Just last month, Boko Haram carried out an attack that killed 110 innocents. A cross-border attack in Niger by the terrorists a few days ago killed at least 28 refugees.
UNHCR spokesperson Babar Baloch, said on Tuesday, that attackers destroyed nearly two-thirds of the town’s homes, burned the Toumour market to the ground, and killed more than a thousand cattle, according to local reports.
“Following the attack, most of the population fled to the bush, with some people returning only at daytime,” he added.
Mr. Baloch said UNHCR teams reported on Monday that many had left the town and were heading towards Diffa, some 100 kilometers (about 62 miles) away, which is already hosting about 46,000 refugees, displaced and returnees.
Get back to us, President Buhari, when Boko Haram is more than “technically defeated.”
But the questions about who was responsible for kidnapping the boys and how were they rescued remains. Some of the kidnapped boys doubted very much that Boko Haram was holding them,
The rescued boy interviewed by Arise TV was one of those who had appeared in the online video.
“They said I should say they are Boko Haram and gangs of Abu Shekau,” he said, referring to a name used by a Boko Haram leader. “Sincerely speaking, they are not Boko Haram … They are just small and tiny, tiny boys with big guns.”
(1/3) 344 boys abducted from GSSS Kankara, Katsina State on 11 December 2020 were safely returned to the Katsina State Governmemt House this morning, escorted by a combined team of personnel from various security agencies with air cover provided by @NigAirForce pic.twitter.com/uMwswO6KU0
— Nigerian Air Force (@NigAirForce) December 18, 2020
Some analysts speculate that Boko Haram paid the bandits to kidnap them since they don’t have the resources in that part of the country to carry out such a large-scale attack. If so, did President Buhari pay a ransom to free the boys? If so, to whom did he pay?
According to the BBC, the kidnappings were part of a decades-long war between cattle herders and farmers.
Conflict between herders and farming communities are common in Nigeria’s central and north-western states, says the BBC’s Nduka Orjinmo in Lagos.
Both groups have been warring for decades but deadly clashes have increased in recent years as farming communities and herdsmen have employed armed vigilantes, especially in Nigeria’s north-west.
A spokesman for the governor said flat out it wasn’t Boko Haram.
“It wasn’t Boko Haram,” he said. “The local bandits we know about all along were responsible. These are people we know very well, I met some of their leaders. That is why an umbrella body of cattle breeders’ association was used in contacting them. So the negotiation was made through this umbrella body of cattle breeders.”
It would be extremely embarrassing for the government to say that Boko Haram was “technically defeated” only to see them carry out an attack of this magnitude.
But whether it was farmers vs. herders or bandits, or Boko Haram, to the parents of the kidnapped boys, all they know is that their children is safe.