What's The Outlook For Nigerian Girls Kidnapped By Boko Haram?

Renee Montagne talks with former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell for an update on the 200 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped in April by the extremist group Boko Haram.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In the three months since more than 200 girls were kidnapped from a school in Nigeria, that country appears to have made little progress in either freeing the girls or driving back the extreme Islamist group that captured them, Boko Haram. The group has continued its attacks in the north of Nigeria and there are reports that Boko Haram is flying its trademark black flag over several towns in the region. Human Rights Watch estimates that just since January, attacks by the group have left more than 2000 people dead. For an update, we reached John Campbell. He's a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, welcome.

JOHN CAMPBELL: Thank you very much. It's good to be with you.

MONTAGNE: To your knowledge, has the government of Nigeria made any progress getting these young women, these girls back?

CAMPBELL: Well, I think we have to look at the results. And as of right now, the only kidnapped girls who have been freed are those who have escaped. Now, the Nigerian government says that there is a lot going on behind the scenes and over the past few days, certain Nigerian officials have been making optimistic statements about the possibility of the girls being released. But that remains to be seen.

MONTAGNE: One thing that's interesting is that it wasn't until this week that President Goodluck Jonathan even met with the families of the girls. Why was that?

CAMPBELL: It would seem to me that the president has not handled this very well. It also might be worth noting that kidnapping is ongoing. The scale is not as large, but there are periodic reports of girls being kidnapped by Boko Haram. The lack of specific information, to me at least, is really quite puzzling. One would have thought that there would be lists of kidnapped girls with their photographs being circulated all over the place with the hopes that somebody might recognize them.

MONTAGNE: Well, the campaign Bring Back Our Girls, a social media campaign, it has drawn a lot of attention to a story that was already getting a lot of attention when this kidnapping first happened. Of course, very recently a few days ago, the head of Boko Haram also taunted the government by way of this campaign. He was saying something like bring back our girls, well, bring back our soldiers.

CAMPBELL: That's right.

MONTAGNE: Because that's what he wants out of this as he says. What about that campaign and what about the effect that, as you see it, it's made?

CAMPBELL: I think I would make a distinction between the campaign in the United States and the campaign in Nigeria. The campaign in the United States - it certainly is not front and center now the way it was. But the campaign in Nigeria continues. And there, I think, it's extraordinarily interesting because those who are active in the campaign are mostly women that cross ethnic and religious divisions in that country. It's fairly rare. And broad-based political movements in Nigeria that cross ethnic and religious divisions is a positive development.

MONTAGNE: Just one last question - you know - in a sense not that long, the fate of these girls seemed like a very high priority for the international community. It has now been pushed off the front pages if you will. What do you think is the outlook for these girls for their futures?

CAMPBELL: My hypothesis is that the girls are no longer in one place. Some of them may manage to escape at some point in the future. Some may indeed have been married off. I suspect that their fates will be highly variable.

MONTAGNE: Ambassador Campbell, thank you very much for joining us.

CAMPBELL: Thank you so much for having me.

MONTAGNE: John Campbell is a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria. He is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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