How the Chibok Girls Mass Abduction Cast Light on One of the World's Deadliest Insurgencies

The Nigerian army has rescued another girl who was kidnapped by Islamist group Boko Haram nearly four years ago. The former captive, identified by the military as Salomi Pagu, was rescued in Pulka, in the country's northeast, on January 4.

She is part of a group of 276 schoolgirls abducted in the Chibok village, in the restive Borno state, in April 2014. Some of them managed to escape shortly after being abducted, while others were either rescued or released by the group following negotiations with the government.

Last May, Boko Haram released 82 of the "Chibok girls" as part of negotiations that also involved the Swiss government. The group allegedly agreed to free the girls in exchange for prisoners.

Another 21 Chibok girls were released in October 2016, but more than 100 are believed to be still held captive by the group, which has been accused of forcing hostages to carry out suicide bombing missions in crowded places.

"This brings the number of our missing Chibok Girls to 112," the Bring Back Our Girls movement said in a statement on Facebook, following Pagu's release.

"The global movement 'Bring Back Our Girls' has given Boko Haram a golden chip to bargain in a position of strength with the Nigerian government and rally [for] the sympathy of parents and the international community," counter-insurgency expert David Otto told Newsweek.

"The willingness to exchange the Chibok girls with very strategic Boko Haram fighters rather than secure a full disengagement with the group is a clear indication that the government is willing to score short-term political gains rather than a long term national security interest," he continued.

Chibok girls
Coordinator of the 'Bring Back Our Girls' Nigerian movement Oby Ezekwesili (L) sobs as she lead mothers of missing Chibok schoolgirls, holding a banner showing photographs of some of the missing, to press for the release of the schoolgirls kidnapped in 2014 from their school in Chibok by Islamist group Boko Haram, during a rally in Abuja on January 14, 2016. More than 100 girls are believed to be still held captive by the group. STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

Boko Haram's deadly insurgency

Although the mass kidnapping was neither the first carried out by Boko Haram nor the worst atrocity the group has committed since its insurgency began in 2009, it sparked international outrage leading to global campaigns—involving celebrities and politicians—calling for the girls' release.

Before what became known globally as the "Chibok girls mass kidnapping" took place, the Boko Haram insurgency had been relatively unknown to the Western world.

Jamā'at Ahl as-Sunnah lid-Da'wah wa'l-Jihād, later renamed by locals as "Boko Haram"—which loosely translates from the Hausa language as "Western education is forbidden"—was founded in Borno state in 2002.

The group, started as a non-violent movement, began to carry out attacks in the summer of 2009, following increasing tensions with authorities. It conducted its first attacks in retaliation to the arrest of some of its members and the death of its leader, cleric Mohameed Yusuf, murdered while in police custody. He was later replaced by Abubakar Shekau.

Abubakar Shekau
A poster displayed along the road shows photograph of Imam Abubakar Shekau, leader of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, declared wanted by the Nigerian military with $320,471 reward for information that could lead to his capture in northeastern Nigeria town of Maiduguri May 1, 2013. Boko Haram is blamed for the death of at least 20,000 people in Nigeria and neighboring states. PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)

Since Yusuf's death, Boko Haram has been carrying out attacks and mass abductions while advocating for a violent struggle to establish an Islamic caliphate in the occupied territories.

The organization, allied with the Islamic State (ISIS) militant group, is today divided. The fraction occurred after ISIS replaced Shekau as leader with Abu Musab Al Barnawi, a former Boko Haram spokesperson and one of Yusuf's living sons.

Although split into at least two factions today, Boko Haram has continued its violent war to establish an Islamic state. The United Nations estimates that the group has killed at least 20,000 people in northern Nigeria and neighboring countries and displaced more than 2 million people since 2009.

Boko Haram used to control territory the size of Belgium. However, Nigeria's ongoing military operation, Lafiya Dole, and a regional offensive—consisting of 8,700 troops from Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Benin—have scored some successes, with soldiers recapturing key territories and releasing thousands of civilians held captive by the group.

In spite of the army and government's repeated claims that the fight against Boko Haram was over, violence blamed on the group continues to claim lives.Nigeria's President Muhammad Buhari, who has vowed his administration would finally defeat the terrorists, said in January that Nigeria "had beaten the group". Similarly to previous instances, Shekau dismissed the claim.

"It started as a small but organised group with Yusuf, but it has become a disorganized movement with international jihadist networks under Shekau. Kill Shekau, and the sect will continue unabated," Otto explained.

"The only way to secure the complete release of any Chibok girls left and indeed all other captives held by Boko Haram factions, is for the Nigerian government and its partners to engage with the group for a complete negotiation process that will give conditional amnesty to any faction that is willing to surrender."