IAs a rule, it is cruel news when the terrorist organization Boko Haram is reported. The jihadists repeatedly carry out attacks and assaults on villages, churches or schools in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, killing civilians, security forces and politicians. According to information from the Nigeria Security Tracker, a platform of the American Council on Foreign Relations, almost 40,000 people in Nigeria have fallen victim to the conflict with Boko Haram since 2009.
But in December, about a week before Christmas, there was a rare moment of relief: more than 300 children were able to return to their families after being abducted by members of Boko Haram. A few days earlier, a school in the state of Katsina had been attacked, according to various estimates between 300 and 600 students were abducted. The exact circumstances of their subsequent release remain unclear.
It was the largest hostage-taking in Nigeria since 2014. At that time, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from a boarding school in Chibok in northeastern Nigeria; Under the hashtag “Bring Back Our Girls” the incident attracted worldwide attention. Since then, the violence emanating from Islamists has increased steadily. In late November 2020, Boko Haram rebels killed at least seventy civilians in Borno state, many of them farmers working in a rice field. According to media reports, the attackers handcuffed many of the victims and then cut their throats. The United Nations described the incident as the most violent direct attack on civilians in the past year.
For the terrorism expert Yan St-Pierre, this attack is clear evidence that the security situation in northeastern Nigeria – Boko Haram’s main area of operation – is deteriorating. One of the two factions of the terrorist organization, which joined the “Islamic State” (IS) in 2015 and calls itself “Islamic State West Africa Province” (Iswap), now controls large areas around the provincial capital Maiduguri in Borno state. “They build schools or influence curricula. And they have developed a very strong economic system, a monopoly on fishing and selling and on coal, ”says St-Pierre.
Protecting civilians is becoming increasingly difficult, according to Human Rights Watch. In June, three rocket-propelled explosive devices fired outside Maiduguri killed four people and injured three more in the city – an area previously considered relatively safe due to the heavy presence of the Nigerian army. The Guardian newspaper recently reported that in the first three months of last year in northeastern Nigeria more than a hundred people were killed or injured by land mines laid during the conflict between Boko Haram, other armed groups and the Nigerian army. The number of landmine casualties in Nigeria is now the fifth highest in the world.