The Nigerian girls are still missing

It is to be hoped that President Jonathan is still being advised by British and other experts on how to deal with Boko Haram

Saturday 28 June 2014 20:52 BST

How quickly the outrage passes on from the front pages. A month or so ago much of the world seemed united in its condemnation of the kidnapping of more than 200 girls by Boko Haram, the Islamist sect, in Nigeria. But despite Hollywood stars and Michelle Obama taking pictures of themselves holding up placards saying "Bring Back Our Girls", it has proved impossible to return them to their families.

As the complexities of the security situation in northern Nigeria became apparent, the campaign's intensity has weakened. At an early stage, it was reported that 300 people were killed in a Boko Haram attack near Chibok, the town from where the students were taken, because the Nigerian security force protecting the mostly Christian population had been deployed to join the search.

Then it seemed that a deal might have been concluded to release the students, but Goodluck Jonathan, the President of Nigeria, was persuaded by the US, Israeli, French and British foreign ministers that if a deal were done with terrorists it would encourage more kidnappings. Two days later, the Nigerian chief of defence staff said his forces had located the abducted students, but that a rescue attempt would be too dangerous.

That was more than a month ago. Since then the bodies of two of the students were reported found, and there have been reports, sometimes disputed, of more kidnappings, although none on the scale of the Chibok attack. Boko Haram continues its campaign of intimidation and murder – it was probably responsible for a bombing on Friday in Bauchi that killed at least 10 people in what is believed to have been a brothel.

Today, we report from Kaduna about the wider problem of girls' education in Nigeria. In the desperately poor Muslim north of the country, about half of girls are married before the age of 15, which usually means that they come out of school – if they were among the two-thirds in school in the first place. Education is widely considered to be incompatible with the submissiveness required of a good wife. Our report quotes the 27-year-old former husband of Maimuna, who ran away from him aged 14, as saying: "She had too much ABCD. Too much ABCD."

Boko Haram is, therefore, the extreme manifestation of attitudes that are common in Nigeria. The girls were kidnapped to be converted to a local absolutist form of Islam and to be taken as wives by militia members.

There are two separate problems highlighted by the Chibok kidnappings, then. One is the security situation in northern Nigeria; the other is the widespread attitude towards women and girls as possessions to be married off, for a dowry, at puberty.

International opinion must continue to exert pressure on President Jonathan, and it is to be hoped that he is still being advised by British and other experts on how to deal with Boko Haram. It is hard to maintain the interest of outsiders when easy results seem unlikely, but The Independent on Sunday will do what we can to continue reporting, and to increase understanding about the wider questions behind the kidnapping.

Just as we will try to keep the focus of international attention on the crises in Egypt and Ukraine too. Plainly, we cannot report on, and the international community cannot act on, every problem in the world, but it is worth trying to sustain the pressure on the few worst cases, and to guard against the temptation to lose interest if immediate results are not forthcoming. It may not be possible to "Bring Back Our Girls" soon, but the more we understand about Nigeria's problems, about Boko Haram, the better.

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