Protesters in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, have taken to the streets over the government’s failure to rescue scores of schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram Islamists two weeks ago.
Singing and chanting, the protesters made their way to the country’s National Assembly, where they handed over a letter to complain the government was not doing enough.
“May God curse every one of those who has failed to free our girls,” said Enoch Mark, whose daughter and two nieces were among the more than 100 students abducted from the Government Girls Secondary School in the Chibok area of the northeastern state of Borno.
The attack was one of the most shocking in Boko Haram’s five-year uprising, which has claimed thousands of lives across northern and central Nigeria.
The outrage that followed the mass abduction has been compounded by disputes over how many girls were seized and criticism of the military’s search-and-rescue effort.
Borno officials have said 129 girls were kidnapped when gunmen stormed the school after sundown on April 14 and forced the students — who are between 12 and 17 years old — onto a convoy of trucks. Officials said 52 have since escaped.
Locals, including the school’s principal, have rejected those numbers, insisting that 230 students were snatched and that 187 are still being held hostage.
Mark told AFP that his wife has hardly slept since the attack, lying awake at night “thinking about our daughter”.
Pogo Bitrus, leader of a Chibok elders group, told AFP that locals had been tracking the movements of the hostages with the help of “various sources” across the northeast.
“From the information we received yesterday from Cameroonian border towns our abducted girls were taken… into Chad and Cameroon,” he said.
The girls were then sold as brides to Islamist fighters for 2,000 naira ($12) each, Bitrus added.
Boko Haram’s name translates as “Western education is forbidden”, and it has repeatedly attacked schools during an insurgency aimed at creating a strict Islamic state in mainly Muslim northern Nigeria.
The Islamists have set schools on fire, massacred students in their sleep and detonated bombs at university campus churches.
Locals have scoured the bushlands of the remote region, pooling money to buy fuel for motorcycles and cars to conduct their own rescue effort, saying they have no confidence in the military’s search.