Friday Puzzler: The Mystery of the Un-Recovered Nigerian Girls

Protesters gather in New York City in May. By Michael Fleshman.

By Barbara F. Walter

Protesters gather in New York City in May. By Michael Fleshman.
Protesters gather in New York City in May. By Michael Fleshman.

Today’s puzzler is short and sweet:  How is it possible that no government, including the United States, has been able to recover the 276 Nigerian school girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram in April?

  1. How about, No one really wants to? For instance, from the point of view of the United States, the girls are (1) far away, (2) Black, and (3) not Americans or related to Americans. If only slavery had not been abolished! Then they might be seen as valuable commodities.

  2. Well, they are far away, in an area that has difficult terrain, which militants not the state largely control, near porous borders with several other states, and they have by all account been split up or even “sold off” individually. Negotiation has the potential to recover some of them, but there is not much that Nigeria or others like the US can offer as leverage in a deal.

  3. Even though the US was offering technical assistance, the Nigerian military ultimately had to recover the girls itself. However, it can rarely prevent Boko Haram from taking territory, its primary purpose, and so it’s not surprising its underpaid soldiers were unwilling/unable to undertake a risky search and rescue mission. State penetration is so weak in northeastern Nigeria that Boko Haram has thousands of square miles in which to hide the girls.

    As Andy pointed out, Boko Haram has likely already split the girls into smaller groups, and identifying them and recovering them in a very violent war zone is near impossible. Finally, Boko Haram is a very diffuse organization, so negotiations were unlikely to succeed; it’s not clear any one person can speak for all of Boko Haram or even most of it.

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