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Scepticism grows over would-be suicide bomber's Chibok girl claim

There has been a better cooperation between the Nigerian and Cameroonian forces in their fight against Boko Haram. AFP PHOTO / REINNIER KAZE

Scepticism is mounting in Cameroon over claims by a would-be suicide bomber to be one of over 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014. Cameroonian authorities have raised doubts about the girl's claims. Meanwhile a delegation from Nigeria, including parents of the Chibok girls, is in Yaounde to meet with her.

"When I heard the age mentioned by the Cameroonian authorities [between 9 and 12], my first reflection went to the fact that when the Chibok girls were abducted, they were in their final senior year - that girl should be at least 18 years," Hamsatu Allamin, the director of Nigeria's Regional Stability Programme, told RFI by phone.

Allamin is not the only one to express doubt. Nigerian authorities said on Sunday that the would-be suicide bomber appeared too young, concerns echoed the following day by Cameroon.

The girl in question was found carrying explosives along with another accomplice on an apparent suicide bombing mission in Yaoundé last Friday.

The government of Nigeria has sent a delegation to Cameroon to verify the claims.

Whether true or false, they at least have the merit of putting the plight of the missing Chibok girls back in the spotlight, less than a month before the second anniversary of their abduction, which sent shock waves around the world.

They nevertheless accentuate fears that Boko Haram may be using kidnapped girls as suicide bombers.

"It's not a complete surprise," Nana Ampofo of the Songhai Advisory Board told RFI in relation to the claims.

"It's been part of their operational process that civilians have been compelled to take part in these attacks so it fits in with Boko Haram's strategy," he said.

"What's positive is the improving coordination of information and relations between Cameroon and Nigeria, so i'ts a good thing that even though they have competing theories about who the suicide bomber is, it's good they're communicating diplomatically," Ampofo added.

This joint coordination has also been welcomed in Nigeria, but for figures like Hamsatu of the Regional Stability Programme, Abuja should adopt Yaoundé's same approach.

"I'm impressed by the Cameroonian authorities for reporting this and communicating this information. In Nigeria, we hear about suicide bombers one day and never again...there's no accountability, no one talks about them."

Abduction strategy is sign of desperation

This blackout over Nigeria's reporting of abduction cases has also been criticised by Human Rights Watch. In a new report released on Tuesday, the organization accuses the Nigerian government of failing to secure the release of 300 other primary school students from the town of Damasak in Borno State last year.

"Boko Haram has stepped up suicide bomb attacks because their ranks have been depleted," Mausi Segun of Human Rights Watch told RFI from Abuja.

"They're resorting to abduction, including of children to train them in their ideology so that they can continue their warfare."

Once these children are released however, the challenge facing the Nigerian authorities is managing their re-integration afterwards, Segun adds: "It will include all sorts of intervention, including deradicalisation, it's a process that the government needs to take on board seriously."

These potential ramifications might explain why Nigerian authorities are treading carefully. If it is confirmed that the suicide bomber is indeed one of the Chibok girls, it will of course give hope to the Chibok community that other girls are still alive, but it also opens up a can of worms as to what to do with them afterwards, if and when they come home.