The Sharia Conflict in Nigeria has witnessed confrontations between the Muslim majority and Christian minority since 1999. Sharia law was established in several Northern states oppressing the Christian minority and causing significant outbreaks in the region.
The Islamist Boko Haram group started an armed rebellion against the Nigerian secular government in 2009, causing the death of almost 4,000 people in a three-year period. The group conducted operations that did not make it to the international headlines until very recently, after the clashes between Nigerian security forces and members of the group that caused the death of 700 people. Amnesty International estimates that over 1,500 people have been killed in this year‘s clashes, most of them civilians.
Sharia continues to be the main source of legislation demanded by the Muslim majority, as human rights issues remain to increase. Extrajudicial killings; arbitrary detentions; restrictions to freedom of expression; infringement of privacy rights; judicial corruption; torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners are among the many human rights abuses faced by the Nigerian population. Women and girls are particularly affected, as they suffer from unpunished crimes such as rape; human trafficking; child labour; child abuse and exploitation, as well as female genital mutilation (FGM); gender-based violence and discrimination. Child marriage continues to be a common practice in the country, which is estimated to have enslaved over 700,000 people. LGBTI rights are practically non-existent, as same-sex couples could face up to 14 years in prison.
In recent months, Boko Haram — whose main goals are to defeat the influence of western education systems – have set schools on fire and slaughtered, kidnapped and slaved hundreds of students. An unprecedented event took place as a result of these attacks on 14 April 2014, when militants of what appeared to be the Boko Haram group abducted over 200 female students from a school in Chibok, Borno state. Initially, officials said 129 girls were kidnapped when gunmen stormed the school after sundown and said 53 of them managed to escape. Local people however, confirmed that 230 students were abducted and 187 were still being held hostage.
Most of these girls are between 12 and 18 years of age, and relatives fear they have been used as sex slaves or have faced death. Pogo Britus, leader of a Chibok elders group and other prominent figures such as Halite Aliyu of the Borno-Yobe People’s Forum, said locals had been tracking the movements of the hostages across the north-east and suspected that the girls could have been taking into Chad or Cameroon where they are sold as brides to Islamist fighters for $12 USD. Borno state officials said two of the girls who were taken and driven off to the Sambisa fores, have died from snake bites.
Relatives of the captives have launched their own rescue operations in the Sambisa forest where girls were being held. Searchers have confirmed that students were at least divided into three groups, as witnesses had seen truckloads of girls moving in the area, confirming fears that this was an operated convoy that saw no security agents along the route through which girls were taken.
The Nigerian government is said to be negotiating with rebels to release schoolgirls. However, outrage over its failure to free the girls is growing among the population. On Wednesday, Nigerian protesters marched on parliament to demand more tangible efforts to find the girls and punish the perpetrators. Nigerians also complain about the government’s slow response, as mass abduction has been compounded by disputes over how many girls were seized and criticism of the military’s rescue operations.
The attack has been one of the most shocking perpetrated by Boko Haram since the uprising five years ago. Nigeria remains unable to provide clear answers or effective actions, while criminals are still unpunished and thousands of women and girls are killed and abused.
Karol Alejandra Arámbula Carrillo – Consultant in International Affairs (Twitter @KarolArambula).