3 Reasons We May Never Find the Nigerian Schoolgirls
Policy + Politics

3 Reasons We May Never Find the Nigerian Schoolgirls

REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

Two new fronts in the fight against Boko Haram opened yesterday, with the U.N. Security Council slapping the Nigerian terrorist group with sanctions and the White House announcing that it had sent 80 military advisers to Chad to assist in the search for the 200 or so schoolgirls who have been kidnapped.

The U.N. sanctions impose weapons embargoes, travel bans and asset freezes on members of the group. The sanctions also link the group to al Qaeda, despite the fact that the group has no formal connections to global Islamic jihad.

Related: Why Hillary Clinton Was Right on Boko Haram

“The Security Council took an important step in support of the government of Nigeria’s efforts to defeat Boko Haram and hold its murderous leadership accountable for atrocities,” Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said yesterday. “By adding Boko Haram to the U.N.’s 1267 sanctions list, the Security Council has helped to close off important avenues of funding, travel and weapons to Boko Haram, and shown global unity against their savage actions.”

The troops that have been sent to Chad, where France has a military presence, are aiding in the search by helping to maintain necessary aircraft and by analyzing data connected to the search. The troops will not be directly involved in combat.

The increase in assistance to Nigeria comes at a crucial time. The girls have been missing for more than a month, and as the search for them becomes more urgent, Boko Haram has escalated its campaign of violence in northern Nigeria.

Related: Why Boko Haram Might Be Impossible to Stop

But it also comes as hopes for rescuing the girls are fading. It’s now highly unlikely that all of them will be rescued – there’s even the possibility that none of them will. Here are 3 reasons why:

1. Boko Haram is better organized and trained than the Nigerian military. Paul Lubeck, a sociology professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz who specializes in Nigeria, told The Washington Post that the Nigerian military has “decayed.” For years, it’s been a den of corruption.

In the south, high-ranking military officials accept bribes to look the other way as oil thieves plunder pipelines. When I was in Lagos in 2011, I bribed a Nigerian soldier to sit in the front seat of a car so I could drive to the airport on a day when driving was forbidden. Recently in northern Nigeria, soldiers fired on one of their own generals, apparently displeased with operations to hunt down Boko Haram. The military is so incompetent in the area where the girls were kidnapped that President Goodluck Jonathan canceled a trip there last week because of security concerns.

2. The U.S. and other world powers are limited in the assistance they can provide to Nigeria’s military because of its track record of human rights abuses. In the fight against Boko Haram, the Nigerian military has lined people up and gunned them down, fired on crowds, and displaced thousands connected that have no connection to the group. Amnesty International has repeatedly criticized the Nigerian military for its actions.

Because of these abuses, the U. S. is limited in the kind of assistance it can provide. Right now, it’s only permitted to share information, not raw intelligence, as it would with an ally like France or the UK.

Related: Here's What Could Get the U.S. Military in Nigeria

3. The girls have likely been split up and sent in different directions. The girls could be anywhere in the mostly lawless northern Nigeria. They could also be in southern Chad, or southern Niger. This means that even if a few of the girls are found – there  are likely to be many more who are not.

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