John Campbell

A former United States Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, has expressed concern that the public attention given to kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls in 2014 by Boko Haram is beginning to fade.

There are still 112 Chibok girls in captivity.

In one of his current posts on the website of Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), 'Five Years After Kidnapping, Nigeria’s Chibok School Girls Fade From International Scene', Campbell said the initial outrage, condemnation and rally for support had gradually waned.

The former American ambassador explained: "In April 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 female students gathered in Chibok to sit for high school examinations. The international community responded with outcry and condemnation. At the time of the abduction, female empowerment and education in the developing world was widely discussed in the United States. 

"The story and efforts of a young charismatic Pakistani activist, Malala Yousafzai, drove interest in the topic, and Chibok fed into those concerns. First Lady Michelle Obama joined many celebrities in an international “bring back our girls” campaign. In Nigeria, the Jonathan administration, at first, did not take action. The Nigerian first lady characterized the kidnapping as a hoax. But Nigerian civil society, led by former education minister Oby Ezekwesili, among others, successfully pressured the Jonathan administration to take action, though to little avail."

In the last five years, some of the schoolgirls have escaped and some have been rescued by the Nigerian troops. 

"But 112 remain in captivity. The kidnapping has largely disappeared from the western public’s attention," said Campbell. "The five-year anniversary in April was marked by no celebrity tweets."

Meanwhile, according to the ex-diplomat, Boko Haram seems to be gaining strength in northwest Nigeria.

He attributed the wane in interest in the plight of the girls still held by Boko Haram to "fatigue".

"How to account for the fading of international interest in Chibok? Part of it is compassion fatigue," he reasoned.

"Even though the girls were mostly Christian, the western churches are now largely silent, unlike their activism during the “lost boys of Sudan” episode in the late 1980s and 1990s, when celebrities kept their attention focused. By contrast, celebrity interest in Chibok has waned. It has not helped that the re-integration of rescued Chibok school girls has proved to be difficult and expensive. 

"Further, the Nigerian government downplays Boko Haram and more or less continually claims that its destruction is at hand—assertions too often uncritically accepted outside Nigeria," he added.

Meanwhile, Boko Haram has morphed into factions, some of which have links to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Islamic State, and remains deadly Campbell said: "Nobody really knows how many have died in the fight between the Nigerian state and Boko Haram, though there are credible estimates of more than 30,000. And the killing continues."

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