TIME Nigeria

Nigeria Says Boko Haram Cease-Fire May Lead to Release of Kidnapped Girls

Kidnapped schoolgirls are seen at an unknown location in this still image taken from an undated video released by Boko Haram
Reuters Kidnapped schoolgirls are seen at an unknown location in this still image taken from an undated video released by Boko Haram.

More than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped in April, sparking the #BringBackOurGirls campaign

A top military official in Nigeria was reported Friday to have announced a cease-fire between the government and the military group Boko Haram, igniting both skepticism and hopes that more than 200 schoolgirls who were kidnapped in April would be released.

The truce was announced by Air Marshall Alex Badeh, Nigeria’s chief of defense, the BBC reports. The release of the girls is still being negotiated, Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade added, according to the Associated Press, but the cease-fire would begin immediately and could take take several days to reach the groups of militants.

“Already, the terrorists have announced a cease-fire in furtherance of their desire for peace. In this regard, the government of Nigeria has, in similar vein, declared a cease-fire,” said Mike Omeri, a government spokesman on Boko Haram, at a news conference. The AP adds that Omeri confirmed negotiations about the girls’ potential release were held throughout the week.

“They’ve assured us they have the girls and they will release them,” government aid Hassan Tukur told the BBC. “I am cautiously optimistic.” He also said that final negotiations are scheduled to take place next week.

There was no announcement immediately released by the insurgent group, according to the New York Times.

Reports of the deal were met with hesitation by those who have followed the saga since the girls were abducted from their school in Chibok on April 14. The Nigerian government has in the past misled the public about the girls’ status; its fight against Boko Haram has been fraught with challenges since the militant group rose up in 2009, from inefficiency and corruption in the military to lax local support in the northern communities that are threatened most.

Boko Haram, which released a video in May that claimed responsibility for the girls’ abductions and vowed to “sell them on the market, by Allah,” has previously demanded the release of rebel prisoners in exchange for their freedom. But Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who has faced intense global pressure to free the students, said that’s a trade he will not make.

In August, the Wall Street Journal reported that American surveillance planes spotted groups that appeared to be the missing girls, suggesting that not all of them had been sold into marriage or slavery — as feared — and that some were perhaps being kept as a bargaining tactic.

TIME Nigeria

Why the Girls Kidnapped by Boko Haram Still Aren’t Home

Experts say the plight of the girls are "symbolic" of the larger problems in Nigeria's fight against the militant group

A lot has happened since April 14th. Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down in Ukraine; the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) seized vast swathes of Iraq; and Ebola has killed thousands in Africa, and spread to at least two other continents. In our hyper-speedy news cycle, six months passes in a blink of an eye. But for the schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants when they struck the northeastern Nigerian village of Chibok in April, it probably feels like a lifetime. The militants abducted 276 girls; six months on, more than 200 remain in captivity.

Why haven’t they been rescued yet? Largely, observers say, because of Nigeria’s failure to effectively counter Boko Haram, which has claimed thousands of lives over the years in its violent campaign to carve out a hardline religious state in the north of the country. “The problem is that the girls are symbolic,” says Adotei Akwei, managing director for advocacy for Amnesty International USA. “They’re part of a larger human rights catastrophe, a bad situation in Nigeria.”

“Nigeria’s military strategy isn’t working well,” he continues. “We clearly have not been able to get the girls back, or to change the mindset or approach of the Nigerian government in terms of how it responds to Boko Haram or how it protects its citizens”

Carl LeVan, a professor at American University in Washington D.C. who writes about Nigeria, adds that many civilians consider the Nigerian military almost as bad as Boko Haram when it comes to human rights violations, even as the rebels continue their reign of terror in the north.

Akwei says the problems with the Nigerian military also hinder international efforts to lend a hand. “The Nigerian military has got such a bad reputation that even the US military is concerned about how much they can cooperate because of the kind of abuses we’ve documented,” he explains. “There’s no transparency, no accountability whatsoever.”

The military has an embarrassing track record when it comes to fighting the militant group. Earlier this year, they claimed to have rescued the girls the day after the abduction, but then had to retract that claim. In late May, they released a statement saying they knew where the girls were being held, but wouldn’t use force to rescue them. And in a tragic incident early last month, several Nigerian troops were killed by their own airstrikes aimed at Boko Haram.

U.S. planes spotted large groups of girls in early August that might have been the kidnapped students. Time, however, continues to drag on without a rescue—and, says Jennifer Cook, the director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the longer they stay in captivity, the harder it becomes to bring back the missing girls.

“With hostage situations with this many people, to bring one set back without endangering another set is very difficult,” says Cooke. “In some cases, there’s a pretty good idea of where they are, but extricating them from a group of armed criminals who have so little respect for life is a difficult negotiation process. And the longer they’re there, the greater likelihood they become dispersed, and the more difficult they are to track down.”

According to Cooke, the big-picture strategy for fighting the insurgency would involve capturing key Boko Haram leaders and cutting off funding sources to weaken the militant group. But it’s also important for the government to win the support of communities in that part of the country, where many feel both abandoned by the administration and terrorized by Boko Haram.

“A lot of civilians are feeling pinched between the terror of Boko Haram and the misbehaviors of the Nigerian military,” says LeVan, whose book on Nigeria, Dictators and Democracy in African Development, is set to be released later this month. “They said ‘we’re trapped, we’re fleeing Boko Haram but we also don’t have anywhere to go because our military is suspicious of us.'”

Winning the hearts of northern Nigerians is crucial to stopping the violence and finding the girls, but some communities are reluctant to support the government for fear of violent reprisals from Boko Haram, and because they don’t trust the government to protect them. Cooke says that “fundamental distrust” in the north is one of the government’s biggest impediments to finding the girls, because it makes it much more difficult to get accurate information. In the meantime, the girls are no better off. “These girls are being held under absolutely horrific circumstances, subjected to sexual violence and rape, forced into servitude,” she said. “There are reports that some have become pregnant.”

If those reports are true—and there’s a good chance they are, based on Boko Haram’s history of impregnating abducted women—the pregnant girls could face even greater challenges down the road. Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe runs the Saint Monica Girls’ Tailoring Center in Uganda, where she helps girls who have been victims of sexual violence rebuild their lives with their children, who are often outcasts in their communities. “Because the situation they are taken in, I would not be surprised if a good number of them are pregnant,” she says. “Raising the child of a person who has been maltreating you is always [hard.] That is why there is violence and anger returned on these children. Because they give [the mother] that reminder of the pain they have gone through.”

Sister Rosemary says that if the girls are ever released, they may have trouble re-joining their families and communities. That’s why continuing their education will be crucial for helping them move forward.

“If we leave these kids and say, they cannot catch up, I think we just are going to destroy them more.”

But before anybody can worry about education and rehabilitation, the girls have to come home. “Our world must not forget these adolescent girls,” says Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women and a United Nations Under-Secretary-General. “The world must come together and make every possible effort to rescue these girls and bring their captors to justice. We cannot and must not move on with this humanitarian tragedy still unresolved.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 15

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Americans are often oblivious to the role of farming in their lives. To get the smart policies needed to feed our nation and the world, we must reconnect people to agriculture.

By Ian Pigott in the Des Moines Register

2. Even employer-paid health insurance can worsen poverty and increase inequality.

By David Blumenthal in Commonwealth Fund

3. Is “feminist marketing” an oxymoron?

By Chandra Johnson in the Deseret News

4. Helsinki has a plan cities everywhere could try: Combine the sharing economy, transit and mobile technology to eliminate cars.

By Randy Rieland in Smithsonian

5. America’s best bet in Africa is a strong relationship with Nigeria.

By Daniel Donovan in Foreign Policy Blogs

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME ebola

WHO: Nigeria, Senegal Days Away From Being ‘Ebola Free’

Ebola in Nigeria's main agenda
Mohammed Elshamy — Anadolu Agency / Getty Images Ebola Virus news are the top stories on Nigeria's agenda on August 7, 2014.

WHO officials tout a rare bit of "welcome news" in the battle to contain the virus

Nigeria and Senegal are days away from being declared Ebola-free, the World Health Organization said Tuesday, highlighting a rare patch of good news amid a sharp rise of new cases in nearby West African countries.

WHO officials said that Nigeria and Senegal have nearly reached 42 days without detecting any new Ebola cases, at which point both countries would be officially declared free of the disease. Senegal could reach that designation by Friday, and Nigeria by Monday. Both countries would then be relieved from active surveillance.

The WHO credited “a piece of world-class epidemiological detective work” in which officials traced 100% of the people known to have contact with an infected patient in Nigeria and 98% of the people known to have contact with Ebola patients in Senegal.

“The anticipated declaration by WHO that the outbreaks in these two countries are over will give the world some welcome news in an epidemic that elsewhere remains out of control in three West African nations,” read an official statement from the United Nations health agency.

Nonetheless, a surge of new cases in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra had officials warning that the virus could rapidly spread across the worst-hit countries. “WHO epidemiologists see no signs that the outbreaks in any of these three countries are coming under control.”

TIME portfolio

A Truth Beyond Photojournalism: Cristina de Middel’s Nigerian Journey

Until 2013, Spanish photographer Cristina de Middel had never been to Africa, despite producing the critically acclaimed book, The Afronauts, a work of photographic fiction based on the true story of Zambia’s 1960s failed space program. “I was talking about Africa without having ever been,” she tells TIME. So, when the Lagos Photo Festival offered to show her work in Nigeria, she jumped at the opportunity. “They invited me to stay as much as I wanted, and asked me whether I’d consider doing another project about Africa.”

Following the success of The Afronauts, “a lot of people started sending me references for books to read about the continent,” she explains. “And one of these books was Amos Tutuola’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts.”

The book, published in 1954, follows a young Nigerian boy forced to escape from his village, which has come under attack by soldiers. “The only way he can survive is by entering the Bush, this magical territory where no humans are allowed and where all the Yoruba spirits live and fight,” says de Middel. “This kid spent 30 years in the Bush, trying to find his way back home. He was married twice, became a king, a slave, a cow, a jar, a horse, a goat, ate gold, silver and bronze, snakes and snails. He fought two wars and was sentenced to death half a dozen times. All in just a hundred pages.”

In her new photographic series, called This is What Hatred Did, de Middel transposes Tutuola’s story to today’s world. “When I was reading Tutuola’s book, I was drawing sketches of how I would translate it into photographs,” she tells TIME. “I was thinking that, at some point, I’d visit a place where I’d be able to do this project.” That place ended up being Makoko, a slum in Lagos and one of the city’s most popular destinations among photojournalists. “If you’re in Lagos and you want to take pictures of poverty with beautiful light, smoke everywhere and dark waters, that’s where you go.”

De Middel could see and feel the “excitement” when she toured Makoko with other photographers during the Lagos Photo Festival. “It’s a very scary place, and I felt it had a lot of similarities with the Bush, this magical, forbidden place in the jungle. I decided Makoko would make for a great metaphor for the Bush.”

The photographer spent two weeks designing and producing props. “The most difficult part was to get the right birthday cake in Lagos,” she explains. Then, she had to seek permission from the community leaders, or “Kings,” in parts of Makoko before producing, composing and shooting her images.

“This work is a game, but it’s a game I couldn’t play alone,” she tells TIME. “I needed people to take part in it, to understand what I was doing. I was very interested in how the community would participate in the making of their own portraits. Sometimes they did things I didn’t know would happen, and that was the best part of the shoot. That’s what I wanted. In effect, I was generating the performance before acting as a photojournalist by taking pictures of what was happening in front of me.”

The end result, she says, is not a Westerner’s take on Nigeria. “My images include the people’s beliefs, rituals, religions. This is trying to understand from the inside.” Of course, de Middel admits, the final edit will reflect her opinion on her subject’s stories—whether real or imagined—especially when they are compiled in a photobook to be published by the Archive of Modern Conflict in early 2015.

In the meantime, the former photojournalist has no regrets about leaving the world of news behind. “In fact, I wish I’d done The Afronauts ten years ago,” she says. “Now I feel like I’m really documenting places. I feel like I’m finally understanding the stories I’m documenting. The way I approach these subjects is much deeper, and I feel that, as a result, my ideas are much more truthful then when I was a photojournalists. They are less superficial. They are deeper. I’m sure there are a lot of photojournalists who can understand and can explain a situation in their images, but I wasn’t one of them.”


Cristina de Middel is a documentary photographer and artist based in Spain. Her book The Afronauts was awarded the Infinity Award for a Publication in 2013.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent


TIME ebola

Patient Admitted to D.C. Hospital With Ebola-Like Symptoms

The patient had recently traveled to Nigeria

A patient with Ebola-like symptoms who recently traveled to Nigeria has been admitted to Howard University Hospital in Washington D.C., according to a Howard spokesperson, but the person has not yet been confirmed to be infected with the disease.

“In an abundance of caution, we have activated the appropriate infection control protocols, including isolating the patient,” said Howard spokesperson Kerry-Ann Hamilton in a statement.

Hamilton declined to identify the patient, citing privacy concerns. The hospital is working closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other health officials, she said.

This week marks a dramatic escalation in the spread of the deadly Ebola outbreak, which has killed more than 3,000 people in West Africa. If confirmed, the D.C. patient would be the second person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. Earlier this week, a Liberian man was diagnosed with the disease and is currently being treated at a hospital in Dallas.

TIME Disease

What It Will Take to End Polio

President Franklin D. Roosevelt leaves his home at 49 East 65th Street for a short visit to his family estate at Hyde Park, north of New York City on Sept. 27, 1933.
Martin Mcevilly—NY Daily News/Getty Images President Franklin D. Roosevelt leaves his home at 49 East 65th Street for a short visit to his family estate at Hyde Park, north of New York City on Sept. 27, 1933.

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

Franklin Roosevelt never knew the Pakistani babies battling polio today, but he knew their pain. The world is fighting to end that suffering forever

You can still see the ramps and rails at Franklin Roosevelt’s house on East 65th Street in Manhattan—even though they’ve been gone for decades. They’re easily visible in the pictures that decorate the home. They’re visible, too, in the popular iconography of Roosevelt, who was photographed standing countless times after being paralyzed by polio in 1921, but always with a hand on a bannister, an arm on an aide, a cane in his grip—and ramps and rails at the ready.

The six-story Roosevelt house, where the family lived from 1908 until their move to the White House in 1933, is now owned—and was restored—by New York’s Hunter College. These days it’s a place of learning and policy conferences. But it is also a place of historical serendipity.

“When the house was built, it was one of the first private residences in New York that had its own elevators,” Hunter president Jennifer Raab told me as we toured the building this morning. Those became indispensable once FDR became paralyzed, and it was in that house that his kitchen cabinet thus gathered in the four months between his election in 1932 and his inauguration 1933. “The New Deal was born here,” Raab says.

For FDR, there were abundant compensations for polio. As Ken Burns’ documentary The Roosevelts makes clear, the disease deepened and grounded him. It made him a champion of children with polio—an effort that led to the March of Dimes and the later Salk and Sabin vaccines—and for that matter a champion of all people who suffered hardship. It was polio that gave Roosevelt a fuller temperament—and in turn gave the nation a fuller Roosevelt.

There are no such compensations for the handful of children around the world who still contract the crippling disease. On the same morning I was making my visit to the Roosevelt house, word came out of Pakistan that the country is on target to top 200 polio cases in 2014, its biggest caseload since 2000. Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world where polio remains endemic—the other two are Afghanistan and Nigeria, with 10 and six cases respectively so far this year—and it’s the only one in which the caseloads are moving in the wrong direction.

As recently as 2005, Pakistan’s case count was down to just 28, helping to push polio to the brink of eradication. That same year, however, religious leaders in northern Nigeria declared a boycott of the vaccine, claiming that it contained HIV and was intended to sterilize Muslim girls. This led to a wildfire spread of the Nigerian strain that stretched as far southeast as Indonesia.

But Nigeria got its house in order, and the hot zone now—a more challenging one—has shifted to Pakistan, particularly in the tribal areas in the north and in the mega-city of Karachi. Some of the problem is simply the crowded, unhygienic conditions in Karachi. But the bigger piece is the fighting in the tribal regions, which have made vaccinations difficult or impossible. That’s been exacerbated by Taliban gunmen, who have shot and killed 59 polio field workers and police officers trying to protect them since 2012.

“It’s a very sad thing,” Aziz Memon, head of Rotary International’s PolioPlus team, told TIME by phone from Pakistan today. “We’re trying to get vaccinators on the ground and into the field despite the ban. And now rains and flooding that have broken 100-year-old records are creating more problems.”

Rotary, which has been the point-organization for the eradication of polio for more than 25 years, is being assisted by the Gates Foundation, Save the Children and multiple other international groups, all working to push back against the Taliban blockade. Vaccinators routinely wait at bus stops around Pakistan, climbing aboard and looking for kids who have no vaccination records and administering the drops on the spot. Refugee camps in the war torn tribal regions provide another way of standing between the virus and the babies.

“When the virus is contained like this it’s a good opportunity to step in and control it,” says Memon. “We can also take advantage of the low-transmission season, which starts soon.”

The effort to snuff out polio altogether is more than merely the moral thing, it’s also the practical thing. Bill Gates repeatedly stresses that $1 billion spent per year over the next few years can save $50 billion of the next 20 years, money that would otherwise be spent treating polio and constantly fighting the brushfire war of vaccinating against outbreaks. Eliminate the disease for good and those costs go with it. What’s more, the delivery networks that are put in place to do the job can be easily repurposed to fight other diseases.

None of this long-range thinking makes a lick of difference to the 187 Pakistani children—or the 10 Afghanis or six Nigerians—who forever lost the use of their legs this year. They are paralyzed, as they will be for life. For them, there is no offsetting wealth, no townhouse with an elevator, no path to global greatness. There is only the disease—a pain FDR recognized and fought to fix. In Pakistan, that same fight is being waged today.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME ebola

Ebola Outbreak Contained in Nigeria, Officials Say

After a total of 19 cases and seven deaths

The Ebola outbreak in Nigeria appears to be contained, health officials said Tuesday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that due to a very rapid local and international response, the country may have fully contained its Ebola outbreak. The 21-day incubation period for the disease has passed.

Nigeria saw its first confirmed case of Ebola on July 17 when a Liberian-American man collapsed at a Nigerian airport after traveling from Liberia. The man infected the health workers who treated him, and the country experienced a total of 19 cases and seven deaths. Unlike in other countries like Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, where it took months for Ebola to be recognized, the Nigerian government quickly declared a public health emergency when it discovered the traveler may have come in contact with 72 people at the airport and hospital.

The Nigerian government coordinated the outbreak response with state and national networks and rolled out a massive public education initiative, with trained “social mobilizers” who were deployed to do house to house visits in areas where an Ebola contact resided. Nigeria also recently worked to eradicate polio, and the country tapped into those strategies as part of their response.

Still, if there’s a lesson to be learned from Ebola thus far, it’s not to overestimate containment. As TIME reported last week, there was a period in April when it appeared Guinea’s outbreak had subsided. In actuality, there were several unreported and hidden cases that re-ignited the outbreak with an even greater wave of infections.

TIME ebola

CDC: Cases of Ebola Could Double Every 20 Days

Members of a burial team wearing protective suits bury an Ebola victim in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
Samuel Aranda—The New York Times/Redux Members of a burial team wearing protective suits bury an Ebola victim at King Tom Cemetery, which is bitterly resented by residents of the adjoining slum, called Kolleh Town, in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Sept. 21, 2014.

A new CDC report predicts the enormous cost of delayed response to Ebola

If Ebola conditions continue without a scaled-up effort, the CDC estimates that cases of Ebola in West Africa will double every 20 days — and in an absolute worst-case scenario without any intervention, numbers could reach 1.4 million by Jan. 20.

Using a new Ebola Response prediction tool, the CDC has published results that show that if current trends continue unimpeded, Liberia and Sierra Leone will have approximately 8,000 total Ebola cases, or 21,000 if the tool accounts for underreporting, by Sept. 20. Liberia will account for about 6,000 of those cases.

The numbers are frighteningly high, but it should be noted that it’s a prediction of a hypothetical situation in which absolutely no intervention were to happen. That won’t be the case if many countries and the UN keep their promises. The model also shows that a big response could turn the outbreak around. In another hypothetical situation, the outbreak could ease up and eventually end if 70% of people with Ebola are placed in medical care facilities, Ebola treatment units, or somewhere where transmission could be contained.

“The model shows that a surge now can break the back of the epidemic,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC, in a press conference. “The importance of implementing effective programs rapidly cant be over-emphasized. The cautionary finding of the modeling is the enormous cost of delay.”

During the press conference, Dr. Frieden said the outbreak is very fluid and changing, but that he does not think West Africa will meet their worst case scenario predictions. “If you get enough people effectively isolated, the epidemic can be stopped…Even in dire scenarios, if we move fast enough we can turn it around. I do not think the most dire circumstances will come to pass,” he said.

The CDC report comes out on the same day the World Health Organization released their reports on the outbreaks at six months in all affected countries, and it appears that cases in Nigeria and Senegal have stabilized “for the moment.” Last week, President Obama announced a deployment of 3,000 U.S. military personnel and over $500 million in defense spending to go to West Africa, and the UN announced a new task force called the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response. The hope is that an exponentially increased response will prevent these possible scenarios.

TIME ebola

There Could Be 20,000 Ebola Cases by November if More Isn’t Done Now

Ebola Lessons
Michael Duff—AP Nurses train to use Ebola protective gear with World Health Organization, WHO, workers, in Freetown, Sierra Leone on Sept. 18, 2014.

Public-health experts warn that the epidemic could turn from “a disaster into a catastrophe”

A new study by the World Health Organization released on Tuesday warned of 20,000 Ebola cases worldwide in just over a month’s time if authorities failed to ramp up efforts to combat the growing epidemic.

“We estimate that, at the current rate of increase, assuming no changes in control efforts, the cumulative number of confirmed and probable cases by November 2 will be 5,740 in Guinea, 9,890 in Liberia, and 5,000 in Sierra Leone, exceeding 20,000 cases in total,” read the report published in the New England Journal of Medicine this week.

The Ebola virus is spread primarily through exposure to body fluids of symptomatic patients. Transmission of the virus is prevented through early diagnosis, contact tracing, patient isolation and infection control along with the safe burial of those killed by Ebola.

However, the virus has primarily hit impoverished West African communities, where many of these protocols are difficult or impossible to enforce.

“If we don’t stop the epidemic very soon, this is going to turn from a disaster into a catastrophe,” Christopher Dye, a co-author of the study and director of strategy at the WHO, told reporters in Geneva. “The fear is that Ebola will become more or less a permanent feature of the human population.”

The publication of the new report comes as Sierra Leone concluded an ambitious lockdown of the country for three days by effectively asking its 6 million residents to stay at home while approximately 30,000 volunteers and health officials canvassed the country to distribute soap and instructions on how to prevent contraction of the virus.

There are currently 5,833 recorded cases of Ebola across six African nations. The disease has killed at least 2,833 people.

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