The return of the kidnapped Dapchi schoolgirls indicates a change in Boko Haram’s tactics under the new leadership of Abu Musab al-Barnawi.
The militant group has split into two factions, one led by its old commander Abubakar Shekau and the other led by al-Barnawi who has the support of the Islamic State militant group.
In the past, Shekau refused to negotiate with the Nigerian government, most notably over the release of the Chibok schoolgirls who Boko Haram kidnapped in 2014.
It’s clear that this time al-Barnawi’s faction were willing to negotiate with the government and would definitely have got something in return.
The problem is that going forward, nothing stops the IS-linked militants from raiding another institution or community and abducting another set of people with the hope of once again hitting the jackpot.
It obviously does not help to bolster the very group you are trying to defeat by paying them ransoms and/or returning their imprisoned commanders, but the Nigerian government would rather avoid the kind of global disrepute that plagued the administration of the former president Goodluck Jonathan following its poor response to the kidnapping of the Chibok Girls.But Dapchi operation has not been without its own blunders.
The authorities first denied there was an abduction (even threatening girls’ parents who disputed the claims) and then stated the students had been rescued.
This sparked anger in the affected communities. President Buhari responded by visiting the area and promised that his government would do everything possible to secure the girls’ release.
Resolving the Dapchi abduction would bring relief to the girls, their families and other well-wishers but it indicates only a small public relations victory for the government.
This jihadi militants likely suffered no losses in the process and Boko Haram remains a scourge in Nigeria and across the borders in the Lake Chad Basin.