Abstract: Nearly four years since Boko Haram’s kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria, Nigerian jihadis again carried out a mass kidnapping—this time of more than 100 schoolgirls in Dapchi in February 2018. The behind-the-scenes maneuvering of the Abubakr Shekau-led group in the aftermath of the Chibok kidnapping showed even the most hardline jihadis were prepared to negotiate. The group behind the new kidnapping—reportedly the Islamic State’s Wilayat West Africa led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi—took a different approach than the mercurial and publicity-hungry Shekau. Among other reasons, the Dapchi girls, unlike most of the Chibok girls, were Muslim who from the group’s point of view needed to be ‘rescued’ from and warned about their ‘Western’ education. With Wilayat West Africa’s release of almost all of the girls taken from Dapchi one month after the kidnapping, it has carried out one of the most effective—and most surprising—propaganda coups in the history of the jihadi insurgency in Nigeria while also solidifying its position as the preeminent jihadi force in Nigeria.

More than 15 years ago, in 2002, Abubakr Shekau was among the first members of Boko Harama to retreat from urban society to the rural village of Dapchi, Yobe State, Nigeria, after his co-religionists declared takfir (infidelity) on the entire Nigerian population.1 After clashing with villagers there over fishing rights, Shekau’s group retreated to another village called Kanama in Yobe State. In late 2003, however, Nigerian security forces in consultation with Nigerian salafis who originally supported Boko Haram destroyed the group’s encampment in Kanama after they realized the group was in contact with al-Qa`ida and the Algerian GSPCb and was training for jihad in Nigeria.2 The village of Dapchi, which had faded into anonymity since 2002, made international headlines after it was confirmed that 111 girls were kidnapped from a school there in February 2018.3 Four years since Boko Haram’s kidnapping of 276 girls in Chibok in April 2014, another hostage crisis played out in Nigeria.

This article provides a chronology of the Chibok kidnapping from the day it occurred through the release of more than 100 girls in October 2016 and May 2017 and explains Boko Haram’s internal motivations for negotiating their release. It then makes a number of observations about the more recent Dapchi case. The Dapchi girls were reportedly held by the Islamic State’s Wilayat West Africac—and not ‘Boko Haram’ fightersd under the leadership of Abubakr Shekau, who held the Chibok girls—and this resulted in a very different approach than Boko Haram’s in the Chibok kidnapping.

Chronology of the Chibok Kidnapping
This section provides a chronology of five phases of the Chibok kidnapping.

Phase 1: Kidnapping 
On April 14, 2014, Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from their school dormitory in Chibok, Borno State, Nigeria. The jihadis presented themselves as Nigerian soldiers seeking to protect the girls from a Boko Haram attack in order to convince them to leave the school. In the ensuing hours, Boko Haram took the girls in a convoy toward the group’s base in Sambisa Forest, Borno State. Fifty-seven of them immediately escaped from the group’s convoy when they suspected the “soldiers” were really Boko Haram, but the other 219 schoolgirls were taken to a Boko Haram camp in Sambisa Forest.4

Phase 2: Publicity 
On May 5, 2014, while international media was focused on a missing Malaysia Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, Shekau issued an hour-long video in which he said he would “sell” the girls as “slaves in the market.”5 He also justified slavery in Islam and his opposition to “the religion of nationalism, democracy, the constitution, Western education, and all other acts of polytheism.”6 The international media soon took notice of his claims about the girls as “slaves” and shifted its attention to Boko Haram; three weeks after the actual kidnapping, it became the world’s top news story.7 Various world leaders and celebrities, among others, promoted a campaign calling for the girls’ freedom, #bringbackourgirls, including most prominently U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama on May 10, 2014.8

On May 12, 2014, Boko Haram released a second split-screen video showing Shekau and about 50 of the girls for the first time since the kidnapping.9 In it, Shekau said, “You [the international community] make noise about Chibok, Chibok” and added that “Allah said we should enslave them.”10 He also repeated calls that he had made since 2013 for the Nigerian government to release imprisoned Boko Haram members.11 In the portion of the video showing the girls, they were wearing niqabs, reciting Islamic prayers, and holding the rayat al-uqab flag while a uniformed Boko Haram member asked them their names and hometowns and why they had converted to Islam.

Shekau next spoke about the schoolgirls in a July 2014 video mocking the #bringbackourgirls campaign and the Nigerian army by chanting “bring back our [Nigeria’s] army!”12 In another video in November 2014, Shekau told the parents of the schoolgirls “not to worry” and said in third-person that, “those girls who Shekau abducted and took to his place six months ago” converted to Islam and “memorized several sections of the Qur’an.”13 Shekau added that “we have married them off, and they are in the houses of their husbands.”14

Phase 3: Proof-of-Life
The first time the Chibok girls were seen or heard from publicly after May 12, 2014, was on the two-year anniversary of the Chibok kidnapping on April 14, 2016, when CNN showed an unbranded video of 12 girls wearing black niqabs in front of a wall of a mud-brick house.15 In this video, like the one on May 12, 2014, the girls stated their names to a uniformed Boko Haram member. They also said that the date was Christmas Day, December 25, 2015.

The next ‘sighting’ of the girls after April 14, 2016, was four months later in a Boko Haram-branded video on August 14, 2016. In that video, a uniformed Boko Haram member spoke in front of about 40 of the girls, one of whom had a baby, and asked some of them to state their names.16 The Boko Haram member also said some of the girls were killed in Nigerian airstrikes. The video then showed footage of a Nigerian air force plane in the sky and blurred images of dead bodies of girls’ corpses on the ground. It could not be confirmed, however, that the corpses were the Chibok girls, despite the claims of the Boko Haram member.

Phase 4: Deal-Making
Negotiation breakthroughs occurred on October 13, 2016, when Boko Haram exchanged 21 of the Chibok girls, and on May 7, 2017, when Boko Haram again exchanged 82 of the girls.17 The 57 girls who escaped in the days immediately after the kidnapping, the 103 girls released in these two exchanges, and three other girls who were found separately with infants outside of Sambisa Forest are the only Chibok girls to have gained their freedom since the kidnapping on April 14, 2014.18 Because around 10 girls are believed to have died in airstrikes, from disease, or during childbirth, there are about 100 remaining girls in Boko Haram captivity.

Phase 5: Psychological Operations (Psyops)
Five days after the second exchange for the girls, on May 12, 2017, Boko Haram released a new Boko Haram-branded video of four of the girls wearing black niqabs and face coverings.19 One of the girls, Maida Yakubu—who in the August 14, 2016, video asked the girls’ parents to “beg” the Nigerian government to release Boko Haram members from prison and spare the girls more pain, suffering, and bombardments—held a gun in this new video and said they did not want to return to their families.20 She also called on her parents to convert to Islam.

The May 12, 2017, video was released alongside another Boko Haram-branded video of five militants training in uniform who said the Chibok girls were exchanged for them along with money provided to Boko Haram, which the Nigerian government had initially denied.21 One of those five militants, Shuaibu Moni, who called the Nigerian government “liars” and promised “no dialogue (sulh)” in the May 12, 2017, video, released another video on March 7, 2018.22 In that video, he stood in front of several dozen fighters, called the government “liars” again, and said that Boko Haram was still “fully in control of Sambisa Forest.”23

The most recent ‘sighting’ of some of the remaining 100 girls in captivity was in a Boko Haram-branded video on January 15, 2018, showing about 20 of the girls and some of them wearing blue and black niqabs.24 As in the May 12, 2017, video, one of the girls said she did not want to return home and that “we thank our father, Abubakr Shekau, he is the one who married us to our husbands. We are all living here with dignity. We lack nothing because he gives us everything we want. May Allah accept his devotion; may he die as a faithful Muslim.”25

Boko Haram Behind-the-Scenes 
This section discusses Boko Haram’s strategic calculus in the five phases discussed in the previous section.

Phase 1: Kidnapping
The current evidence about the Chibok kidnapping suggests that the Boko Haram militants deliberately targeted the dormitory where the girls were sleeping overnight in order to steal appliances, such as a generator, but they made the decision to kidnap the girls on the spot. Nevertheless, since Boko Haram’s convoy was large enough to take away 276 girls, presumably the militants anticipated they would also have an opportunity to kidnap a large number of girls.

While at the school, the militants discussed amongst themselves that they would take the girls to Shekau in Sambisa Forest and that Shekau would know what to do with them.26 In contrast, in prior attacks at boys’ schools, Boko Haram had killed all the boys.27 The Boko Haram commanders may have considered that kidnapping the girls would be acceptable to Shekau because in the months prior to the Chibok kidnapping, he had threatened to target women and had claimed kidnappings of wives of government officials in purported retaliation for the military imprisoning wives of Boko Haram members.28

Phase 2: Publicity
After Boko Haram kidnapped the Chibok girls, there is little indication that the group intended to use them for propaganda; they were to spend their next few years quietly in custody as Boko Haram used them as wives or “slaves.” Shekau’s video on May 5, 2014, for example, mentioned “enslaving” them in passing, and his justification of slavery in that video was only one of several themes along with condemning homosexuality and democracy. This suggests he knew about the kidnapping after they were taken to the Boko Haram camp in Sambisa Forest but did not initially intend to feature them prominently in propaganda.

The timing of Shekau’s second video on May 12, 2014, only two days after the international uproar about the Chibok kidnapping reached its peak, suggests that the split-screen video with 50 of the girls was a response to international condemnation of the kidnapping.e This type of response was not uncharacteristic for Shekau. He also, for example, declared in a video that President Obama was a “terrorist in the next world” weeks after the United States designated Shekau a terrorist on June 21, 2012.29 Since there is little evidence that Boko Haram was actively negotiating terms for the girls’ release by May 12, 2014, it is likely that the split-screen video with Shekau and the Chibok girls was related more to Shekau’s megalomania and desire for publicity than as a tactic to pressure the government to negotiate for the girls.30

Phase 3: Proof-of-Life
CNN’s obtaining of the video clips of the 12 girls, which it showed on the two-year anniversary of the kidnapping on April 14, 2016, followed the Nigerian government reaching out to one of the few Nigerians who had Boko Haram’s trust, Ahmed Salkida.f Salkida is a convert to Islam and a journalist who reported on Boko Haram from before the start of the insurgency in 2009. He returned from exile in the United Arab Emirates to Nigeria and became the first non-Boko Haram member to arrange a face-to-face meeting with Shekau at the Boko Haram camp in Sambisa Forest and to see the Chibok girls.31 It is unclear whether the April 14, 2016, video released by CNN was taken during Salkida’s visit, but he did bring back to the Nigerian government several videos of the girls, including some Boko Haram-branded videos of them that the group has not publicly released.32

One of Salkida’s main points of contact in Boko Haram had been a militant called Abu Zinnira. Salkida established contact with Abu Zinnira from before the start of the insurgency in 2009. At that time, Abu Zinnira was a follower of Shekau’s predecessor and the Boko Haram leader from 2004 until 2009, Muhammed Yusuf, and Yusuf was so fond of Salkida that he wanted Salkida to not just cover Boko Haram as a journalist but to also be the group’s media head.33 Abu Zinnira was the Boko Haram member who likely also interviewed the girls in the May 12, 2014, Boko Haram-branded video and the April 14, 2016, CNN-released video, especially considering the voice, tone, and style of the interviewer were similar in both videos, and Abu Zinnira was the only spokesperson who Shekau explicitly designated for that position after 2013.g

The April 14, 2016, proof-of-life video ended up making it into the hands of a select group of organizations involved in the negotiations or efforts to treat the Chibok girls before being released by CNN, including the Embassy of Switzerland and Médecins Sans Frontières.34 The proof-of-life video confirmed to Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari that the Chibok girls were alive. Buhari then authorized a ransom payment for the Chibok girls under the condition it would lead to a comprehensive peace agreement.35

Phase 4: Deal-Making 
At the time that CNN made public the two-year anniversary proof-of-life videos of the Chibok girls on April 14, 2016, the Swiss government had started a track of negotiation in coordination with Nigerian barrister Zanna Mustapha, who had been introduced to the Swiss.36 Mustapha was the former lawyer of Muhammed Yusuf and ran an orphanage and school that even aided children of Boko Haram members. Therefore, like Salkida, he had the contacts and trust of Boko Haram members.37

By 2016, key changes in group dynamics were unfolding that had a significant impact on the negotiations. The origins of these changes dated to as early as February 2015 when former al-Qa`ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)-aligned Boko Haram members, such as Mamman Nur, threatened to split from Boko Haram if Shekau did not pledge loyalty to the Islamic State.38 After receiving this threat, Shekau made the pledge to the Islamic State in March 2015, which led to the group’s rebranding as Wilayat West Africa.

In August 2016, however, Wilayat West Africa itself split, and Shekau was demoted from the leadership of Wilayat West Africa by the Islamic State.39 One reason for the demotion was that Shekau engaged in the kidnapping of Muslims, which Mamman Nur told Shekau was unacceptable according to the guidance from the Islamic State.40 According to Nur, the Islamic State ordered Wilayat West Africa to only kidnap “unbelievers,” such as the Christian Chibok girls, but that Muslim men or women who committed apostasy, such as voting in democratic elections, could only be killed if they did not repent.41

Nur and Shekau both submitted their theological arguments on “slavery” and other issues to the Islamic State. The Islamic State agreed with Nur’s interpretations, which is one reason why the Islamic State named Nur-allied Abu Musab al-Barnawi, who is Muhammed Yusuf’s son, as the Wilayat West Africa “governor” on August 3, 2016.42 Notwithstanding Shekau’s complaints that Abu Musab al-Barnawi—who controlled the communication line to the Islamic State—had blocked Shekau’s messages to the Islamic State, which meant the Islamic State could not hear his side of the story, Shekau accepted the demotion while still professing loyalty to Abubakr al-Baghdadi. Shekau then immediately revived Boko Haram on August 3, 2016, after it had ceased to exist since March 2015. He thus became the Boko Haram leader again.43

It was less than two weeks after Shekau’s demotion that the August 14, 2016, video of the girls was released. It was the first time the girls had appeared publicly in a Boko Haram-branded video since May 12, 2014. The close timing of Shekau’s demotion from Wilayat West Africa and the release of this video suggests that the two incidents were related. Moreover, because the voice, tone, and style of the militant who interviewed the girls in the video on August 14, 2016, resembled that of the May 12, 2014, Boko Haram video and April 14, 2016, unbranded CNN-released video, it possible that Abu Zinnira produced all three videos.

One possibility is that after Shekau’s demotion from Wilayat West Africa, he needed money and ordered Abu Zinnira to issue the video of the girls on August 14, 2016, in order to pressure the Nigerian government to make a financial exchange for them. Another possibility is that Abu Zinnira was among the Boko Haram fighters who were leaning toward defecting to Wilayat West Africa under the leadership of Abu Musab al-Barnawi after Shekau’s demotion on August 3, 2016, and that he was holding some of the girls independent of Shekau’s authority. He may have then issued the video without Shekau’s approval to either receive money for himself or for Wilayat West Africa to which he intended to defect and because, like Wilayat West Africa, he found it unacceptable to keep Muslim girls as “slaves.” Consistent with this latter possibility is the fact that by December 2016, Shekau told his commanders in an audio that has since been leaked that he killed Abu Zinnira for “conspiring” with Mamman Nur.44

While there is no direct evidence Abu Zinnira unilaterally released the footage on August 14, 2016, in the period prior to the video’s release Shekau was struggling to maintain full control of even his loyalists. The barrister Zanna Mustapha, for example, had learned that Shekau was fearing being assassinated by his commanders.45 In the December 2016 audio from Shekau to his commanders, Shekau seemed paranoid and even said that he believed Mamman Nur implanted a tracking device on him to assassinate him and Shekau admitted he was having problems with his deputy, Man Chari.46 Shekau’s demotion from Wilayat West Africa leadership on August 3, 2016, was also preceded by Abu Musab al-Barnawi- and Mamman Nur-loyal fighters clashing with Shekau loyalists with a reported 400 militants killed.47

Further circumstantial evidence pointing to the possibility that it was militants other than Shekau who released the video on August 14, 2016, was the fact that Shekau loyalists who remained in Boko Haram, such as Abu Zinnira, were considering a mutiny over Shekau’s refusal to exchange the girls.48 They were increasingly concerned that the girls (and their infants) were a drain on the group because they required food, lodging, medical treatment, and transport during periods of military pressure, especially those who did not convert to Islam and take husbands.49 In sum, although Shekau has always dominated Boko Haram media and appeared in virtually all of the group’s videos, the August 14, 2016, video may be one of the few that did not receive Shekau’s approval. Rather, Abu Zinnira may have released the video because he wanted to renew attention on the girls and prove they were alive so a deal could be made.

The actual deal to release the first 21 girls in October 2016 was approved by Shekau in an exchange to Boko Haram for one million euro.50 (Boko Haram added one extra girl from the original 20 as a goodwill gesture for barrister Zanna Mustapha’s caring for children of Boko Haram members.) That the negotiations continued despite Shekau’s killing of Abu Zinnira indicates there were others in contact with negotiators beyond Abu Zinnira. Since Abu Zinnira was one of Salkida’s main points of contact, it may therefore have been Zanna Mustapha’s contact who liaised with Shekau on the final terms of negotiation.

The second group of 82 girls released in May 2017 reportedly included all of the remaining girls who ‘wanted’ to leave Boko Haram and was a follow-up to the ‘trust-building’ of the first exchange in October 2016. In this exchange, Zanna Mustapha collected the girls from a group of uniformed Boko Haram fighters in the bush near a Boko Haram camp, and the group received two million euro and five Boko Haram imprisoned commanders, including Shuaibu Moni. Ahmed Salkida selected Moni and the four other commanders for their low enough standing in Boko Haram so as to not threaten Shekau’s leadership but not so low that Shekau would lose face for receiving “nobodies” in exchange for the Chibok girls.51 h It seems likely given the delicate dance required to win the release of the girls that Zanna Mustapha and Salkida were coordinating together throughout the negotiation process, although likely indirectly at most times, as well as with the Embassy of Switzerland and International Committee of the Red Cross, which accompanied Zanna Mustapha to the bush to retrieve the girls.52 After the exchanges, Zanna Mustapha said in an interview that Salkida was like his “younger brother.”53

Phase 5: Psychological Operations (Psyops)
If there was any element of truth in Boko Haram’s claim that all the Chibok girls who wanted to leave the group did so in the second exchange (the second deal was intended to achieve the release of all girls who wanted to leave), then the Boko Haram-branded videos on May 12, 2017, and on January 15, 2018, featuring girls who said they did not want to return home could reflect at least some of the girls’ genuine feelings, even if they have Stockholm Syndrome.i The latter occurred with some girls kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda and was experienced by some freed Chibok girls, according to psychologists who work with them.54 Some of the girls who did leave have said that the girls became divided in the Boko Haram camp, with some girls marrying Boko Haram members to get better treatment and giving birth to children, for example, and then reporting on violations committed by the “unmarried” and still Christian girls, such as their writing in diaries.55 Nevertheless, the May 12, 2017, and January 15, 2018, videos could also signal to potential negotiators that the negotiations are now closed because Boko Haram is unwilling to even consider exchanges of “wives” of Boko Haram members who now also have children.

A soldier from the 7th Division of the Nigerian Army stands amidst the ruin of the Government Girls Secondary School Chibok in Borno State in northeastern Nigeria on March 25, 2016. (Stefan Heunis/AFP/Getty Images)

The Dapchi Girls 
In light of the above review of the Chibok kidnapping, it is worth examining how the Dapchi case played out, including the operation, the perpetrators, the benefits accrued to Wilayat West Africa, and the long-term implications of how it came to an end. First, the operation to kidnap the Dapchi girls on February 18, 2018, was eerily similar to the Chibok kidnapping and may possess some ‘institutional memory’ of that operation. As in Chibok, the Dapchi kidnapping occurred when a convoy of trucks rolled into the school and militants in army fatigues tricked the girls by saying, “Stop, stop! We are not Boko Haram! We are soldiers, get into our vehicles. We will save you” from an alleged imminent Boko Haram attack.56 While some girls suspected a ruse when they saw “Allah Akhbar” written on one of the vehicles in the convoy and escaped over the school’s walls, over 100 other girls were not so fortunate.57

The Nigerian government’s response in Dapchi was also similar to the Chibok kidnapping. Officials initially claimed that all girls in the school escaped or were rescued, but they later admitted to the media and the girls’ parents that 111 girls were kidnapped from the school.58 This also suggests crisis communications, let alone the defense of schools, has not improved much, if at all, since the Chibok kidnapping.

Second, although the perpetrators in Dapchi may have duplicated some aspects of the Chibok kidnapping by Boko Haram, the location of Dapchi in Yobe State is relatively far from Chibok and suggests this kidnapping was more likely Wilayat West Africa than Boko Haram.j In addition, although Shekau in previous years claimed direct command over attacks in Yobe State, since the Wilayat West Africa split and Shekau’s revival of Boko Haram on August 3, 2016, Wilayat West Africa has been the primary jihadi actor in Yobe State and the Dapchi environs. On January 5, 2018, for example, Wilayat West Africa released photos of a raid on a barracks in Kanama—the village near Dapchi where the Nigerian security forces destroyed Boko Haram’s encampment in late 2003—after the Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency claimed the raid on January 1, 2018.59 Wilayat West Africa also claimed killing 12 soldiers in another attack in Kanama on October 26, 2017.60 Wilayat West Africa has also claimed a number of raids in Niger, including killing 25 and 15 Nigerien soldiers in Toumour and Chetimari, Diffa Region, in January 2018, which are not far from the Nigerian border and towns such as Kanama and Dapchi.61 In contrast, Boko Haram militants in videos since August 3, 2016, such as with Shuaibu Moni, have purported to be in Sambisa Forest, and their recent attacks outside of Sambisa—often suicide bombings— have extended only as far as Maiduguri in Borno State.

If Wilayat West Africa indeed carried out the Dapchi operation, it could suggest that the kidnappers who have ‘institutional memory’ of the Chibok kidnapping are former Boko Haram members who chose to join Wilayat West Africa after the split on August 3, 2016. This could also explain why Shekau appears to no longer have fighters in Yobe State.

Third, the timing of the Dapchi kidnapping less than one year after the second Chibok girls’ exchange and amid growing media reports of the three million euro ransom to Boko Haram could suggest that the perpetrators recognized the financial benefit they could receive for ransoming the schoolgirls.62 While Wilayat West Africa receives income from taxing fisheries along Lake Chad, the group does not appear—at least from the existing evidence, including some of its now public internal communications with the Islamic State—to be receiving any substantial or consistent funding from the Islamic State.63 If Wilayat West Africa is short on funds, then one of the purposes of the Dapchi kidnapping may have been to provide a financial boost for the group. The government’s history of retracted denials on numerous issues during the Chibok kidnapping and the first days of the Dapchi kidnapping creates questions about its current denials of unconfirmed reports that it paid five million euro and released Wilayat West Africa prisoners in exchange for Wilayat West Africa releasing the Dapchi girls.k

Moreover, even before the Dapchi kidnapping there was precedent for Wilayat West Africa kidnapping-for-ransom operations. The group kidnapped professors from University of Maiduguri in 2016 who were on an oil exploration mission north of Maiduguri and exchanged them for an undisclosed sum of money only one week before the Dapchi kidnapping.64 This could have inspired the group to continue kidnappings, albeit with a more ‘lucrative’ target in Dapchi—the schoolgirls.

Despite the obvious financial incentives, arguably Wilayat West Africa’s main benefits from the Dapchi kidnapping came from a weeklong ceasefire with the Nigerian government, holding out the possibility for a longer-term arrangement that would take the pressure off the group and allow it to consolidate its position in its strongholds in northeastern Nigeria. Another benefit was the positive publicity the group received after freeing the girls, which differed from the way that Boko Haram freed the girls in the Chibok kidnapping. If Wilayat West Africa held hostage the Dapchi girls indefinitely, it would have faced an ideological conundrum because all but one of the girls in Dapchi were Muslim, unlike the Chibok girls who were primarily Christian. Mamman Nur, the formerly AQIM-aligned and now Wilayat West Africa mentor of Abu Musab al-Barnawi, for example, told Shekau before the August 3, 2016, split that the Islamic State disapproved of Boko Haram “enslaving” Muslim women (only Christians could be “enslaved”), which means that Wilayat West Africa could only justify the Dapchi kidnapping on the grounds that the group “rescued” the Muslim Dapchi girls from Western education.

To live up to its purported ideology, Wilayat West Africa, therefore, released all of the surviving girls (five girls reportedly suffocated in a vehicle immediately after the kidnapping), except the one Christian girl, back to their families in Dapchi and warned the villagers to “not ever put their daughters in school again.”65 Wilayat West Africa kept the Christian girl hostage because in their view it is permissible to “enslave” her until she converts to Islam which, according to reports of the freed Dapchi girls, she has refused.66 It is also possible that Wilayat West Africa leaders, such as Mamman Nur and Abu Musab al-Barnawi, are based in the group’s strongholds in Borno and a faction of the group (perhaps the formerly Shekau-loyal fighters in Yobe) conducted the kidnapping just as Boko Haram had in Chibok. The leadership of Nur and Abu Musab al-Barnawi may have then demanded that the faction release the girls, while also seeking some compensation in return. In addition to reported ransom money and released prisoners, this included the weeklong ceasefire.67

The camera-shy Abu Musab al-Barnawi, who unlike Shekau has never revealed his face (Nur has also not revealed his face since 2009), did not need to boisterously claim the Dapchi kidnapping like Shekau did in the Chibok kidnapping to also score a major propaganda victory. Instead when his fighters returned to Dapchi to free the girls they received “praise” and a “rousing reception,” according to headlines in Nigerian publications that linked to a video clip and photograph of villagers racing toward the convoy of uniformed Wilayat West Africa soldiers dropping off the girls.68 This is the first time since the start of the insurgency in 2009 that the jihadis have mingled so publicly and so ‘positively’ with villagers in Nigeria, especially in areas that are clearly held by the government. In a November 22, 2014, message, members of Abu Musab al-Barnawi’s media team in Boko Haram had written to Islamic State intermediaries to convey they took a “hearts and mind” approach to the civilian population and distanced themselves from some Shekau-claimed attacks.l This appears to have been borne out in Abu Musab al-Barnawi’s ‘softer’ handling of the Dapchi kidnapping compared to the way Shekau approached the Chibok kidnapping.69

That Wilayat West Africa held the Dapchi girls for one month and moved them around without detection, reportedly even up to or across the border with Niger, also suggests that the jihadis have high maneuverability and are far from being on their “last legs,” as President Buhari claimed in December 2017.70 A government ceasefire with Wilayat West Africa could also serve to further allow the group to consolidate its presence in territories in Yobe and Borno. Paradoxically, if as a result of a longer term ceasefire with Wilayat West Africa, the Nigerian army focuses on Shekau, it could even lead fighters who are frustrated with Shekau to defect to Wilayat West Africa, thus strengthening Abu Musab al-Barnawi’s hand.

Despite their rivalry and mutual rejection of the name “Boko Haram” that is ascribed to them, Wilayat West Africa and Boko Haram (whose real name is Jama`at Ahl al-Sunna li-Da`wa wa-l-Jihad) agree on certain fundamentals, including the impermissibility of Western-style education and what they perceive as Christian proselytizing through international humanitarian organizations.71 The attacks of both groups are having a significant impact on both of these institutions in northeastern Nigeria. Recently, for example, an attack in Rann, Borno State on March 2, 2018, killed three International Organization for Migration (IOM) employees and forced the IOM to halt operations there.72 And after the Dapchi kidnapping, boarding schools in 25 of 27 local government areas inn Borno (all except for Maiduguri and Biu) were reportedly shut down for fear of another “Chibok” or “Dapchi.”73

This means both groups are shaping the environment in northeastern Nigeria through a mix of violence and threats while Wilayat West Africa introduces people in its territories to the theology of Abu Musab al-Barnawi (and therefore also the Islamic State) and exposes ‘students’ to jihadi military education from a young age.m These are among the reasons why Wilayat West Africa poses the main long-term threat in Nigeria compared to Boko Haram. Nigerian scholar Moses Ochonu articulated most precisely the threat of Wilayat West Africa on the day of the release of the Dapchi girls when he wrote:

“Abu Musab al-Barnawi is infinitely more dangerous and more threatening to Nigeria’s sovereignty than Shekau, who is his own enemy and is wont to self-destruct. With today’s release, similar acts of pretend goodwill in the past, and by refraining from wanton killings and embarking on community reassurance gestures, al-Barnawi is quietly normalizing … Boko Haram, or at least his faction of it [Wilayat West Africa]. His jihad has the potential to become mainstreamed, rehabilitated, accepted at the Muslim grassroots, and eventually naturalized. That would be a nightmare scenario for Nigeria.”74     CTC

Jacob Zenn is an adjunct assistant professor at Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program and a fellow of African and Eurasian Affairs at The Jamestown Foundation. He conducted an organizational mapping project on Boko Haram with the Embassy of Switzerland in Nigeria in 2015. Follow @Bokowatch 

Substantive Notes
[a] The group was then commonly called the “Yobe Taliban.”

[b] The GSPC is an acronym for Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, which was the predecessor to al-Qa`ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and was active from 1998 to 2007.

[c] Islamic State’s Wilayat West Africa is also referred to as Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP) or Wilayat Gharb Ifriqiya in Arabic.

[d] Shekau’s fighters operated under the name Jama`at Ahl al-Sunna li-Da`wa wa-l-Jihad from 2009 until Shekau’s pledge to the Islamic State in March 2015 when Jama`at Ahl al-Sunna li-Da`wa wa-l-Jihad ceased to exist and became Wilayat West Africa. After the Islamic State promoted Abu Musab al-Barnawi to be the new “governor” of Wilayat West Africa and Shekau was demoted in August 2016, Shekau revived Jama`at Ahl al-Sunna li-Da`wa wa-l-Jihad, which was not part of the Islamic State but has still expressed loyalty to the Islamic State. However, since 2009 Jama`at Ahl al-Sunna li-Da`wa wa-l-Jihad has almost universally been known in the popular press and government circles as “Boko Haram” (which means “Western education is sinful” in the Hausa language). Prior to 2009, the group did not have a consistent name, but was often referred to as the “Yobe Taliban” or “Nigerian Taliban.”

[e] Google trends, for instance, show that searches for “Chibok” only began rising on April 28, 2014, and reached a peak on May 10, 2014, when U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama showed support for the “#bringbackourgirls” campaign. “Michelle Obama raises pressure over kidnapped schoolgirls,” Guardian, May 11, 2014.

[f] The author has viewed the original full versions of two videos of the Chibok girls, which were condensed into one shorter clip that CNN showed on April 14, 2016. Joe Parkinson and Drew Hinshaw, “Nigeria Brought Back Its Girls—Now Comes the Hard Part,” Wall Street Journal, February 2, 2018; Joe Parkinson and Drew Hinshaw, “Freedom for the World’s Most Famous Hostages Came at a Heavy Price,” Wall Street Journal, December 22, 2017.

[g] The author learned from his involvement in an organizational mapping project about Boko Haram that Salkida’s main point of contact was Abu Zinnira and that Abu Zinnira had been a member of the group since before Muhammed Yusuf’s death in July 2009. Shekau had announced Abu Zinnira as the new Boko Haram spokesperson in March 2013 in a split-screen video that Boko Haram released showing Shekau and a French family of seven who were kidnapped in Cameroon and subsequently exchanged for $3 million to Boko Haram. Abu Zinnira subsequently released Boko Haram videos on YouTube in his name, including one in February 2015 just before Shekau’s pledge to the Islamic State and another as late as September 2016. Presumably, the relationship between Abu Zinnira and Ahmed Salkida developed as a result of their mutual media acumen. “New Boko Haram video released of kidnapped French family emerges,” YouTube, March 21, 2013; Tim Cocks, “Nigerian Islamists got $3.15 million to free French hostages: document,” Reuters, April 26, 2013.

[h] Shuaibu Moni said in the May 12, 2017, Boko Haram video that “I was captured by you infidels in Gombe because I detonated bombs in your infidel lands,” but there are no other details on when he was arrested or what his specific role was in Boko Haram.

[i] Stockholm Syndrome is a condition experienced by people who are held hostage for a long period of time, during which they become attached to their captors as a survival mechanism. This attachment is based on the often unconscious idea that the captor will not hurt them if they are cooperative and even supportive. Els de Temmerman, “When captives get attached to captors,” New Vision, May 20, 2006.

[j] This would also be consistent with the fact that some individuals close to Boko Haram reported that Wilayat West Africa carried out the kidnapping in Dapchi. “Mama BokoHaram begs Abu Musab Al-Barnawi to release Dapchi Girls,” Vanguard, February 27, 2018.

[k] As of March 22, 2018, one Christian girl was still in custody. “Nigerian Govt Lied, 5 Million Euros, Boko Haram Fighters, Swapped for Dapchi Girls,” Sahara Reporters, March 21, 2018; “Dapchi girls: 5 of our students died on day of attack – Fasima, released girl,” Vanguard, Mach 22, 2018.

[l] Abu Musab al-Barnawi was the self-declared Boko Haram “spokesperson” by November 22, 2014, although Abu Zinnira was still Shekau’s personal ‘spokesperson’ at the time. Though Abu Musab al-Barnawi and Shekau were both in Boko Haram and Shekau was the recognized group leader, they were in different factions of Boko Haram even then.

[m] Wilayat West Africa’s Telegram account has released audio sermons by Abu Musab al-Barnawi in which he interprets sermons from the Islamic State in Hausa language to local audiences in Borno. Abu Musab al-Barnawi’s media team also released photos of children training in shooting guns in the run-up to Shekau’s pledge to the Islamic State.

[1] “Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II): The Boko Haram Insurgency,” Africa Report 216 (2014).

[2] Andrea Brigaglia, “The Volatility of Salafi Political Theology, the War on Terror and the Genesis of Boko Haram,” Diritto e Questioni pubbliche 15:2 (2015); Andrea Brigaglia, “A Contribution to the History of the Wahhabi Da‘wa in West Africa: The Career and the Murder of Shaykh Ja‘far Mahmoud Adam (Daura, ca. 1961/1962-Kano 2007),” Islamic Africa 3:1 (2012). See also Jacob Zenn, “Demystifying al-Qaida in Nigeria: Cases from Boko Haram’s Founding, Launch of Jihad and Suicide Bombings,” Perspectives on Terrorism 12:6 (2017).

[3] “Nigerian government admits 110 girls still missing after Boko Haram raid,” Associated Press, February 25, 2018.

[4] Monica Mark, “Chibok girls who escaped Boko Haram defy militants by returning to school,” Guardian, February 3, 2015.

[5] “Boko Haram Leader Shekau Releases Video On Abduction Of Chibok Girls,” YouTube, May 5, 2014.

[6] Ibid.

[7] “The biggest news of 2014,” Mashable, December 22, 2014.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Message About the Girls,” YouTube, May 12, 2014, via “New video message from Boko Haram’s (Jama’at Ahl al-Sunnah li Da’wah wa-I-Jihad) Shaykh Abu Bakr Shekau: ‘Message about the Girls,’” Jihadology, May 12, 2014.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Jacob Zenn and Elizabeth Pearson, “Women, Gender and the evolving tactics of Boko Haram,” Journal of Terrorism Research 5:1 (2014).

[12] “Boko Haram mocks international ‘Bring Back our Girls’ campaign,” CBS This Morning, July 14, 2014.

[13] “Boko Haram Leader Shekau Speaks on Ceasefire Talks and Abducted Chibok Girls,” YouTube, November 1, 2014.

[14] Ibid.

[15] “New hope for Nigeria’s missing schoolgirls,” CNN, April 14, 2016; Mark Joyella, “How CNN’s Nima Elbagir Got ‘Proof of Life’ Video Exclusive,” adnews.com, April 15, 2016.

[16] “Boko Haram Claims Many Chibok Girls Married Off, Says Some Dead in Air Strikes,” SaharaTV, August 14, 2016.

[17] “Nigeria exchanges 82 Chibok girls kidnapped by Boko Haram for prisoners,” Reuters, May 7, 2017; “How did Nigeria secure the 21 Chibok girls’ release from Boko Haram,” BBC, October 15, 2016.

[18] “Photos of Chibok Girl Rescued, Her Baby and Boko Haram ‘Husband,’” Sahara Reporters, May 18, 2016; Opeyemi Kehinde, “#BringBackOurGirls lauds Buhari, Army for rescue of another Chibok girl,” Daily Trust, November 5, 2016; “Rescued Chibok girl identified as Salomi Pagu,” Vanguard, January 4, 2018.

[19] “Chibok Girls Explain Why They Refused to Return To Their Parents,” Sahara Reporters, May 12, 2017.

[20] “Boko Haram shows ‘Chibok girls’ in new video,” thenewsnigeria.com.ng, August 14, 2016.

[21] “Boko Haram Commanders Released in Exchange for 82 Chibok Girls Threatens to Bomb Abuja,” SaharaTV, May 12, 2017.

[22] “Negotiating with terrorists is a mistake Nigeria cannot afford to keep making,” thecable.ng, March 7, 2018.

[23] Ibid.

[24] “Shekau Releases New Videos, Parades Chibok Girls and Policewomen Kidnapped By His Sect,” SaharaTV, January 15, 2018.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Joe Parkinson and Drew Hinshaw, “Nigeria Brought Back Its Girls—Now Comes the Hard Part,” Wall Street Journal, February 2, 2018; Joe Parkinson and Drew Hinshaw, “Freedom for the World’s Most Famous Hostages Came at a Heavy Price,” Wall Street Journal, December 22, 2017.

[27] Joe Hemba, “Nigerian Islamists kill 59 pupils in boarding school attack,” Reuters, February 26, 2014.

[28] Zenn and Pearson.

[29] “Terrorist Designations of Boko Haram Commander Abubakar Shekau, Khalid al-Barnawi and Abubakar Adam Kambar,” Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism, June 21, 2012; “Boko Haram leader criticises Obama over ‘terrorist’ label,” Vanguard, August 5, 2012.

[30] “Letter from Khalid al-Barnawi to Abu al-Hasan al-Rashid al-Bulaydi, 2011, Mu’assasat al-Andalus,” Jihadology, April 2017.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid. Ahmed Salkida, “Reporting Terrorism In Africa: A Personal Experience With Boko Haram By Ahmad Salkida,” Sahara Reporters, April 19, 2012; Ahmed Salkida, “I Am Not A Member Of Boko Haram – Ahmed Salkida Speaks On ‘Conversations With Mercy Abang,’” ynaija.com, April 22, 2013.

[34] Parkinson and Hinshaw, “Nigeria Brought Back Its Girls—Now Comes the Hard Part;” Parkinson and Hinshaw, “Freedom for the World’s Most Famous Hostages Came at a Heavy Price.” The author also met with Embassy of Switzerland officials and Médecins Sans Frontières officials who said they saw the videos and showed the author that the videos were in their possession.

[35] Parkinson and Hinshaw, “Nigeria Brought Back Its Girls—Now Comes the Hard Part;” Parkinson and Hinshaw, “Freedom for the World’s Most Famous Hostages Came at a Heavy Price.”

[36] Ibid.

[37] Yemisi Adegoke and Torera Idowu, “Zannah Mustapha: The Nigerian man saving Boko Haram orphans,” CNN, September 21, 2017.

[38] “New Boko Haram Leader, al-Barnawi Exposes Abubakar Shekau,” SoundCloud, August 4, 2016.

[39] Al-Naba, Issue 41, Islamic State, August 3, 2016.

[40] “New Boko Haram Leader, al-Barnawi Exposes Abubakar Shekau.”

[41] Ibid.

[42] Al-Naba, Issue 41.

[43] “Message from the Soldiers,” Jihadology, August 7, 2016.

[44] The author obtained this audio independently. The translation is available in Abdulbasit Kassim and Michael Nwankpa, The Boko Haram Reader: From Nigerian Preachers to the Islamic State (London: Hurst, 2018).

[45] Parkinson and Hinshaw, “Nigeria Brought Back Its Girls—Now Comes the Hard Part;” Parkinson and Hinshaw, “Freedom for the World’s Most Famous Hostages Came at a Heavy Price.”

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Ibid.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Ibid.

[52] “Our role in release of Chibok girls, others – Red Cross,” Vanguard, February 23, 2018.

[53] Parkinson and Hinshaw, “Nigeria Brought Back Its Girls—Now Comes the Hard Part;” Parkinson and Hinshaw, “Freedom for the World’s Most Famous Hostages Came at a Heavy Price.”

[54] Ibid.; Adaobi Nwaubani, “Chibok girls changed by shame, Stockholm syndrome – experts,” Reuters, January 18, 2018.

[55] Parkinson and Hinshaw, “Freedom for the World’s Most Famous Hostages Came at a Heavy Price.”

[56] “‘We are soldiers! We will save you’: how Boko Haram tricked Dapchi schoolgirls,” Guardian, March 8, 2018.

[57] Ibid.

[58] “Nigerian government admits 110 girls still missing after Boko Haram raid;” “Like Chibok like Dapchi,” New Telegraph, March 6, 2018.

[59] “Fleeing Boko Haram attack military base in Yobe,” nationonlineng.net, December 31, 2017; “IS’ West Africa Province Publishes Photos from Raid on Nigerian Army Barracks in Kanama,” SITE Intelligence Group, January 5, 2018.

[60] “IS’ West Africa Province Claims Killing 8 Nigerian Soldiers, Capturing 4 Vehicles in Yobe State,” SITE Intelligence Group, October 26, 2017.

[61] “IS’ West Africa Province Gives Photo Report on Attack in Toumour (Niger),” SITE Intelligence Group, January 24, 2018; “IS’ West Africa Province Claims Killing 15 Nigerien Soldiers in Raid on Barracks,” SITE Intelligence Group, January 30, 2018.

[62] For example, the Wall Street Journal article “Freedom for the World’s Most Famous Hostages Came at a Heavy Price” was published in December 2017, and its contents were duplicated in Nigerian media. “Report: Buhari paid 3m euros for release of Chibok girls,” thecable.ng, December 23, 2017.

[63] “A Modified Emergency Market Mapping Analysis (EMMA) and Protection Analysis: Smoked fish and dried red pepper income market systems in Diffa Region, Eastern Niger,” reliefweb.com, December 2016; “Communiques to Africa Media, 18 November 2014–9 February 2015,” Africa Media, February 23, 2015.

[64] Tonye Bakare, “Boko Haram releases kidnapped UNIMAID lecturers,” Guardian, February 10, 2018.

[65] Lanre Babalola, “Boko Haram Warns Parents to Not Put their Daughters in Schools Again,” Sahara Reporters, March 21, 2018. The video is available at “Dapchi residents jubilate, praise Boko Haram,” YouTube, posted by Premium Times, March 21, 2018.

[66] “I’m happy my daughter didn’t denounce Christ – father of ‘only Dapchi girl in captivity,” Vanguard, March 21, 2018.

[67] “FG declared one-week ceasefire to secure Dapchi girls’ freedom – Lai Mohammed,” punchng.com, March 25, 2018“Dapchi: Kidnap release in Nigeria raises truce hopes in jihadist revolt,” Vanguard, March 26, 2018.

[68] Mohammed Lere, “Dapchi residents jubilate, praise Boko Haram,” premiumtimesng.com, March 28, 2018.

[69] Jacob Zenn, “Boko Haram’s Conquest for the Caliphate: How Al Qaeda Helped Islamic State Acquire Territory,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism (2018); “Communiques to Africa Media, 18 November 2014–9 February 2015,” jihadology.net.

[70] “Boko Haram Returns Dozens of Schoolgirls Kidnapped in Nigeria,” New York Times, March 21, 2018; “Nigeria replaces commander in fight against Boko Haram after six months,” Reuters, December 6, 2017.

[71] “Interview with Abu Musab al-Barnawi,” Al-Naba Magazine #41, August 3, 2016, available at jihadology.net.

[72] “UN Migration Agency Deplores Attack in Nigeria That Has Taken the Lives of Two Colleagues,” ion.int, March 2, 2018.

[73] “Borno Closes Schools as Buhari’s Ransom Payments Sparks Fears Of More Boko Haram Abductions,” Sahara Reporters, March 12, 2018.

[74] The message was posted on Ochonu’s Facebook page on March 22, 2018.

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