KANO // Boko Haram on Sunday released a new video claiming to show some of the schoolgirls kidnapped by the extremist group from the Nigerian town of Chibok more than two years ago.
The footage was issued just days after embattled Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau denied claims that he had been replaced as the head of the Nigeria-based group.
The kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in April 2014 provoked global outrage and brought unprecedented attention to Boko Haram and its bloody quest to create a fundamentalist state in northeastern Nigeria.
While Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari has said that the group is “technically defeated” his government has struggled to find the girls, in a political embarrassment for the leadership highlighting Boko Haram’s continued presence in the region.
“They should know that their children are still in our hands,” said a man whose face was covered by a turban in the video posted on YouTube.
The video was attributed to Boko Haram, not the group’s new name of Islamic State West Africa Province (Iswap), suggesting it was released by Shekau’s faction. Boko Haram adopted this new name in April last year, shortly after Shekau pledged allegiance to ISIL. Since then, division has emerged within the group.
“There is a number of the girls, about 40 of them, that have been married,” said the man in the 11-minute video, which shows girls with veils sitting on the ground and standing in the background.
“Some of them have died as a result of aerial bombardment.”
The man calls on the Nigerian government to release Boko Haram fighters in exchange for the girls.
“This focuses on using the girls as a bargaining chip,” said Ryan Cummings, director at intelligence firm Signal Risk. “The video shows that the war effort is hurting the operations of the group.”
“It does have a sense of almost desperation from Boko Haram.”
Last week, Shekau appeared in a video vowing to fight on amid a leadership scuffle between him and new ISIL-backed rival Abu Musab Al Barnawi.
Al Barnawi has criticised Shekau’s indiscriminate and brutal leadership in Nigeria that has seen Boko Haram fighters kill thousands of people in mosques and markets and raze entire cities to the ground.
Throughout 2015, the Nigerian military announced the rescue of hundreds of people, most of them women and children, who have been kidnapped by Boko Haram.
But the missing Chibok schoolgirls were not among them, despite several unconfirmed sightings.
Hadiza Usman, a leader of the Bring Back Our Girls movement, said he had seen the video and is contacting parents in order to confirm the identities of the girls.
“What we are doing at the moment is to get some relatives and the family to confirm fully that some of those girls were abducted,” Mr Usman said.
Boko Haram has been blamed for some 20,000 deaths and the displacing of more than 2.6 million people since it launched a brutal insurgency in Nigeria in 2009.
* Agence France-Presse