Two incidents in Nigeria’s north — the reported kidnapping of more than 25 girls and a bomb blast on Wednesday killing at least five — have cast further doubt on government reports that a cease-fire deal with Boko Haram had been reached that would lead to the release of more than 200 girls taken in April.
Hopes had been raised that talks between the Nigerian government and members of the feared armed group in neighboring Chad last week appeared to mark a turning point in efforts to return the schoolgirls, who were taken from a school in Chibok in April.
But local residents in northeastern Nigeria said that rather than release those abductees, Boko Haram had in fact kidnapped at least 25 additional girls after the truce had supposedly been reached.
John Kwaghe, who witnessed the attack and lost three daughters to the abductors, and Dorathy Tizhe, who lost two, said the kidnappers came late in the night, forcing all the women to go with them, then later releasing the older ones.
"We are confused that hours after the so-called cease-fire agreement has been entered between the Federal Government and Boko Haram insurgents, our girls were abducted by the insurgents," Kwaghe said. "We urge the government to please help rescue our daughters without further delay, as we are ready to die searching."
In a separate attack, a bomb blast at a bus station in the northern state of Bauchi, late on Wednesday night, killed at least five people and wounded 12, according to police.
While no one claimed credit for the attack that took place in the town of Azare, speculation has immediately turned to Boko Haram.
The ongoing campaign against civilians despite the cease-fire talks in Chad, which have been held under a veil of secrecy, have led some analysts to suggest that the Nigerian government announced the deal prematurely, possibly to help bolster the government of President Goodluck Jonathan ahead of national elections in February.
"I sense Nigeria rushed to announce the deal with electoral-political calculations in mind," Mark Schroeder, vice president of Africa Analysis at the Stratfor consultancy, told Reuters. "Getting a victory with the schoolgirls and a short-term truce with Boko Haram could be positive for President Goodluck Jonathan's campaign," he said.
Boko Haram, which only communicates messages via videos of a man claiming to be its leader, Abubakar Shekau, has not yet commented on the alleged cease-fire.
The group, whose name roughly translates to “Western education is forbidden,” has conducted a violent insurgency against the Nigerian government in hopes of carving out a state based on its own extremist interpretation of Islam.
The insurgents, who have repeatedly bombed public places, have stepped up their campaign this year, setting off deadly blasts that have killed hundreds.
The increasing attacks have raised doubts over the cease-fire, although some analysts say Boko Haram is so factionalized it is possible a truce has been reached with one group while others continue their violence.
Al Jazeera and Reuters