Frustrated Nigerian citizens will march today through the capital city of Abuja, demanding the government take stronger action to rescue more than 200 girls, aged 16 to 18, who were abducted by militants more than two weeks ago.
The girls were taken in an attack on a school in Chibok just as they were about to take a final exam. Boko Haram, a violent militant group that is against Western education and has threatened to capture women and girls in the past, is suspected to have carried out the abductions. The group has not taken responsibility for the act, but no one has seen them since.
A local Chibok official said that 43 girls escaped and have "regained their freedom," and that 230 remain with the militants. Official reports on the situation, however, have been unreliable in the past, and the Nigerian public is understandably skeptical of official figures.
Hadiza Bala Usman, who organized today's demonstration, told the BBC that the delay is inexcusable, and points to negligence. She said:
It is not clear why the rescue operation is not making headway considering the fact that there's a clear idea of the perimeter area where these kids were taken in the first week: to the Sambisa forest. And the camps of the insurgents are within the Sambisa forests. Information is coming out that our own soldiers are not well equipped, that they do not have the ammunition required to do this -- how come our soldiers are having some of these challenges in the field?
Usman adds that the attack will also deter likely families from sending female children to school in the future. "There will be a whole generation of girls who will not be educated [in the north-east]," she said.
There is also the more immediate fear for the fate of the girls. Families have heard reports that they are being sold into marriage across state borders, or are being forced to live as the wives of members of Boko Haram. The Guardian describes the scene as Samson Dawah, uncle of the abducted Saratu, shared the news with his family:
"We have heard from members of the forest community where they took the girls. They said there had been mass marriages and the girls are being shared out as wives among the Boko Haram militants," Dawah told his relatives. Saratu's father fainted; he has since been in hospital. The women of the family have barely eaten. "My wife keeps asking me, why isn't the government deploying every means to find our children," Dawah said. The marriage reports have not been confirmed officially, and rely on eyewitnesses.
Anger over the situation has also prompted an online movement calling on the government to #BringBackOurGirls.
The tragedy is that the question is not: 'Will they find them?' but instead 'Are they looking for them?' #BringBackOurGirls— tolu ogunlesi (@toluogunlesi) April 30, 2014
One soldier told the Guardian that it seems Boko Haram has information on the army's tactics, and has been giving them the slip. "We are trying, but our efforts are being countered in a way that it is very clear they are being tipped off about our movements. Any time we make a plan to rescue [the girls] we have been ambushed," he said, adding that 15 soldiers were killed by insurgents in one skirmish. But some suspect the unsuccessful operation is a result of leaders playing politics:
I asked a military man why nothing is being done to #BringBackOurGirls. He said the power "at the top" are using the issue to play politics.— STER Initiative (@AyodejiOsowobi) April 30, 2014