With kidnappings and violent attacks almost a daily occurrence in Nigeria, the disappearance of an American missionary appears to have stirred a new wave of outrage among the international community at the worsening conditions in the West African country, once considered a rising star and the largest economy on the continent.
Phyllis Sortor, a reverend with the Free Methodist Church USA, was taken from Hope Academy in Kogi state, central Nigeria, where she had been working since 2005.
The kidnapping was probably not the work of Boko Haram, said Philip Obaji Jr., a freelancer and founder of 1 GAME, an advocacy group that fights for the right to education for disadvantaged children in northeastern Nigeria.
Kogi state police commissioner Adeyemi Ogunjemilusi announced that a ransom of around $300,000 had been demanded by Tuesday afternoon, barely 24 hours after the kidnapping, which is not typical for Boko Haram.
“Kidnapping is big business here in Kogi. Most of the times, ransoms are paid to secure the release of abductees,” Ahmed, a local journalist, said in an interview. “I wouldn’t be surprised if a ransom is paid to secure Ms. Sortor’s release.”
On the same day as Sortor’s kidnapping, a Chinese construction worker was abducted from his work site by armed men. All of southern Nigeria is prone to kidnappings, and public officials, their relatives, and foreign workers are regularly abducted for ransom. An estimated 1,500 kidnapping cases are reported every year.
Meanwhile, it has been nearly one year since over 270 schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in Chibok, Nigeria.
Local activists have been stepping up their demands that the government make the disappearance of the Chibok girls the top priority. “Our rallies are the reason why [the government] remembers,” organizer Funmi Adesanya told TIME magazine, “but I don’t think they are really doing anything about it.
While Pres. Goodluck Jonathan and his national security advisor promised to end the Boko Haram threat before elections now scheduled for March 28, the new multinational force of Cameroon, Chad and Niger appears to be drawing new and dangerous fire from the insurgents.
On Saturday, some 5,000 Cameroonians marched in their capital, Yaounde, and denounced the violence caused by Boko Haram.
“It was important to tell Cameroonians that we are at war and a part of the country is suffering,” newspaper editor Gubai Gatama told Al Jazeera news wire. “About 150,000 people have been displaced by the conflict, some 200,000 Nigerians are in refugee camps and 170 schools in Cameroon have been closed,” he said. “I am sure Boko Haram has got the message that the people are united against them.” Two hundred Cameroonian soldiers have been killed in the cross-border skirmishes so far.