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Be it Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iraq or any other site of war or human tragedy, the blow falls heaviest on women and children. Various African nations, whether fighting colonizers, warlords or insurgents, have testified to this truth, and so does Nigeria again. Almost four weeks ago, close to 300 schoolgirls were abducted from the north-eastern town of Chibok by Boko Haram insurgents, who followed this up by repeated attempts at similar kidnappings in the adjoining areas, although with less success. Human rights experts suspect that by now, many of these girls will have already been subjected to sexual abuse by their abductors, who have also stated their plan of selling them off in lots. Given Nigeriaís porous borders with Cameroon and Chad, and the impenetrable Sambisa forest that shelters the Boko Haram militants, the government in Nigeria faces an unenviable imperative of recovering the girls. That it took three weeks for the government of President Goodluck Jonathan to acknowledge the abduction shows that its task is also impeded by its own attitude. The presidentís wife, in spite of having no formal role in government, has gone public with her warning against a conspiracy to defame the government. The Jonathan governmentís steadfast refusal, first, to acknowledge the crisis, and then to welcome international help in tracing the girls shows that it is treating the recent spate of abductions more as bad publicity prior to the World Economic Forum in Abuja than a serious domestic crisis.

It is perhaps this refusal to admit to the challenge represented by Boko Haram that has been the bane of the Jonathan government. While it has dismissed the group as one of religious fanatics, downplaying the governmentís responsibility in curbing the groupís actions, the world has sought to focus on the insurgencyís connection to poverty while downplaying its religious overtones, for obvious reasons. But Boko Haramís insistence on dishonouring women and condemning them to the role of sexual slaves has been echoed by Islamist insurgencies elsewhere in Africa and the world. Perhaps this is why an all round condemnation of Boko Haramís action, especially from Islamic nations and groups, is necessary. Unfortunately, that is slow to come. But unless that happens, groups such as Boko Haram will find it easy to label the outrage against their action as West-inspired hoopla.