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Nigerians See Cynicism in Army’s Speculation of Chibok Girls’ Rescue

The Nigerian Army announced Tuesday that it rescued hundreds of women and girls from a Boko Haram camp in northern Nigeria. But its decision to clarify that it wasn't clear whether some were the missing Chibok girls sparked anger on social media.

NIGERIA-UNREST-KIDNAP
Members of civil society groups sit to protest the abduction of Chibok school girls during a rally pressing for the girls' release in Abuja on May 6, 2014, ahead of World Economic Forum. Members of civil society groups marched through the streets of Abuja and to the Nigerian defence headquarters to meet with military chiefs, to press for the release of more than 200 Chibok school girls abducted three weeks ago. Suspected Boko Haram Islamists have kidnapped eight more girls from Nigeria's embattled northeast, residents said on May 6, after the extremist group's leader claimed responsibility for abducting more than 200 schoolgirls last month and said in a video he was holding them as "slaves" and threatened to "sell them in the market". AFP PHOTO/PIUS UTOMI EKPEI (Photo credit should read PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images)

The Nigerian Army announced on Twitter Tuesday that its troops had rescued 200 girls and 93 women from a Boko Haram camp in the Sambisa Forest. It added, however, that the military “could not confirm if the Chibok girls are in the group,” sparking a flurry of angry responses on social media that the schoolgirls abducted last year are being used in a cynical media campaign by Nigerian authorities.

A year ago this month, more than 260 students were kidnapped from their boarding school in Chibok, Borno State, by the militant group. Though Boko Haram had been carrying out violent attacks since 2009, the incident forced the extremist group onto the West’s radar screen and sparked a movement for the girls’ safe return that crystallized in the viral hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

The Nigerian Army announced on Twitter Tuesday that its troops had rescued 200 girls and 93 women from a Boko Haram camp in the Sambisa Forest. It added, however, that the military “could not confirm if the Chibok girls are in the group,” sparking a flurry of angry responses on social media that the schoolgirls abducted last year are being used in a cynical media campaign by Nigerian authorities.

A year ago this month, more than 260 students were kidnapped from their boarding school in Chibok, Borno State, by the militant group. Though Boko Haram had been carrying out violent attacks since 2009, the incident forced the extremist group onto the West’s radar screen and sparked a movement for the girls’ safe return that crystallized in the viral hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

Millions of people and world leaders, including, famously, First Lady Michelle Obama, participated in the social media campaign, which succeeded in raising awareness of the girls’ plight but did next to nothing to secure their return.

For many Nigerians, the schoolgirls have become both a symbol of Boko Haram’s depravity and the West’s ignorance of Boko Haram and its many other victims. Since the group launched in 2009 an insurgent movement to establish a caliphate in northeastern Nigeria, it has been responsible thousands of deaths and kidnappings across the Lake Chad region. Only a small group of those victims, however, have received the attention of a viral social media campaign.

On Tuesday, many saw the Nigerian military’s willingness to advertise the unlikely possibility of the Chibok girls’ rescue as a brazen appeal to the West. Some Twitter users even referred to the girls as “supervictims,” who are treated differently in the eyes of the media and the general public because of the wide coverage of their kidnappings, when many others suffered a similar fate but were ignored.

Others argued the Nigerian military clarified that the identities were not yet available in order to control assumptions by the media that any mass rescue was related to Chibok.

Former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan’s inability to locate the girls or effectively beat back the group, which has made broad territorial gains in northeastern Nigeria, undermined his March re-election bid. Despite military successes against the group in the run-up to election day, Jonathan lost in a landslide to retired Gen. Muhammadu Buhari.

On Tuesday, the Nigerian Army followed up their initial tweet with two others, one claiming that they also destroyed three Boko Haram camps, and another saying troops were working to identify those they rescued. “We will bring you details later,” it said. “#NeverAgain.”

PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images

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