More than six months have passed since the Boko Haram extremist group seized the world’s attention by kidnapping 276 schoolgirls in Nigeria. After a “Bring Back Our Girls” campaign went viral on social media, the United States, France, Britain and Israel joined an international effort to locate the girls. That effort has been fruitless.
Fifty-seven of the girls have escaped, but 219 remain captive. In recent months, Boko Haram has stepped up its efforts, kidnapping young women and teenagers from the places where they should be safest: their homes and schools. On Oct. 18, the day after the Nigerian military announced that it had reached a cease-fire agreement with the group, Boko Haram went on a house-to-house search for young women in two Nigerian towns, taking 60. Last weekend, Boko Haram kidnapped 30 teenagers, including girls as young as 11 years old.
A horrible fate awaits the abducted, as documented by Human Rights Watch in a report published this week. Boko Haram singles out mostly Christians, threatening them with death if they do not convert to Islam, and forcing teenagers into “marriages” with Boko Haram fighters. The captives are treated as slaves, and they are raped, beaten and tortured.
More than 7,000 Nigerians have died since Boko Haram began its insurgency in 2009. In the first six months of this year, the group killed 2,053 civilians. Nigeria’s minister of foreign affairs, Aminu Wali, claimed on Monday that negotiations between his government and Boko Haram were continuing and that a deal would be reached soon. Nigerians have heard such promises before.
The government and army are part of the problem. The government has failed in its fundamental duty to protect some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens and help the victims who have escaped Boko Haram recover from their trauma. The army — corrupt, ill-equipped and understaffed — has proved to be no match for the extremist group and has itself committed grave human-rights abuses. The Nigerian government must ensure that perpetrators of abuse on both sides are called to account.
President Goodluck Jonathan is expected to announce soon that he will run for re-election in February. Securing the captives’ release would obviously give Mr. Jonathan’s candidacy a boost. But to break Boko Haram’s murderous sway over one of Nigeria’s poorest regions — nearly 70 percent of the people in northeastern Nigeria live below the poverty line — Mr. Jonathan must figure out ways to distribute the nation’s oil wealth more fairly and provide the jobs, education and vital services many Nigerians lack. These are long-term tasks, but even signs of a genuine effort to address inequality and reform the army.