On the same day that a man looking nearly identical to Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a video of 100 girls kidnapped byhis group – the official Nigerian response in the nation’s capital was to claim that Mr. Shekau is dead.
Actually, the government’s position is that Shekau has been dead for some time – a position widely seen here as a form of counter-propaganda designed to dispirit Boko Haram members.
“Boko Haram is a franchise,” Nigerian security spokesperson Marilyn Ogar told a room of local and foreign reporters here for the kidnapping story and who sought details about the video and its call to trade the girls for Boko Haram prisoners. “Anybody can assume any name. The person that is the National Leader of Boko Haram has just adopted the name Abubakar Shekau.”
Nigerian authorities also said today that its security forces are “interacting with experts … all over the world” to find the girls. Yet they remained unable to say how many girls were missing: “The federal government is setting up a committee” to find out the number, said one official in Abuja, Mike Omeri.
Such lack of information a month into the kidnapping of the girls as they were taking exams, combined with claims of Shekau’s death – viewed with skepticism – have fanned indignation at the government and brought ongoing protests.
Indeed, the story of the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls in mid-April continues to horrify the world. For all the urgent headlines and advocacy, however, what is still missing are basic facts. It is unclear how many girls were abducted, who they are, who did it, at what time, and exactly how – a dearth of solid information that has deepened the distress and anger in Nigeria and spurred global calls for action.For starters, the number of girls taken away by the self-described Islamist radical Boko Haram and later rescued keeps changing. First it was 129 girls rescued. Then 121 were rescued and 8 were missing. The next day, none had been rescued at all. No collective set of photos of the girls appears to exist, or even all their names (some websites with photos of the girls have used photos lifted from elsewhere)