Nigerians hold second day of protests over mass abductions, US offers to help, another bomb goes off in the capital

A protest in Abuja, Nigeria, over the government’s failure to rescue scores of girls kidnapped by Boko Haram.

Hundreds of protesters marched in the streets of the Nigerian capital on Wednesday, demanding that the government do more to find scores of schoolgirls abducted by armed militants more than two weeks ago. Parents of the girls have turned up sick in hospitals, overcome with worry. Some have even gone into the bush to search for the girls themselves, armed only with bows and arrows in the heartland of an Islamist insurgency.

“We were more than two, three days in the bush, looking for our daughters,” said the father of Ayesha, an 18-year-old who is still missing. “But we were told, ‘If you enter this area they will bomb you, they will kill you.’ ”

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The girls — roughly 275, although the authorities and parents differ on the number — were kidnapped April 15 in the country’s far northeast, where the Islamist group Boko Haram has been active for three years. The girls were taken from a state school in the town of Chibok by armed and uniformed men, and were loaded into trucks and driven into a dense forest at night.

No one has claimed responsibility, and military efforts to find the girls have been unsuccessful.

The Nigerian Army initially announced that it had rescued the captives, but issued a retraction. About 40 girls managed to escape on their own, a local official said on Wednesday in a telephone interview.

Members of various civil society organisations (CSOs) protest against the delay in securing the release of the abducted schoolgirls who were kidnapped (Reuters)

“They are still looking for the students,” Hajiya Asabe Ali Kwambula, the principal of the school, said in a phone interview from the state capital, Maiduguri. “The security men are doing their efforts.”

Ms. Kwambula said that 53 girls had escaped, and that 223 were still missing.

The mass abduction has become a rallying point for many Nigerians. Several hundred women marched on the Parliament building in the capital, Abuja, in driving rain on Wednesday, demanding that the girls be found and criticizing the government’s handling of the situation. It was the second day of protests.

“We are trying to bring the plight of the Chibok girls to the attention of the government,” the protest leader, Hadiza Bala Usman, said. “We see the Nigerian government not showing enough concern.”

“Two hundred thirty-six girls were abducted in an area where there is emergency rule,” she added, referring to the government campaign to fight the insurgency. “It brings to mind a lack of commitment by the army.”

Boko Haram has attacked state schools in the past, but girls have usually been spared.

“Everybody is worried,” said the father of Ayesha. “People are not even eating. Some of the parents are admitted into hospital.”

The girls are believed to have been split into groups, a local official said Wednesday, citing villagers who saw them. Some may even have crossed the border with Cameroon, he said.

“These people have been moving around with these girls,” said Pogu Bitrus, chairman of a development association for the Chibok area. “So their location cannot be determined. People have sighted the terrorists moving around with them in parts of the Sambisa Forest, and even in Cameroon.”

Villagers also told Mr. Bitrus that some of the girls had been “auctioned off to Boko Haram members for 2,000 Naira” — about $12.

Members of Parliament contend that some girls have been forced into marriage by Boko Haram militants. A cousin of some of the kidnapped students said in a phone interview that some hostages had been forced to cook for their abductors, while others had been asked to fetch water. “They were assigned to various housewife tasks, asked to fetch wood,” he said.

The cousin, who asked that his name not be used, said the town was in despair. “It’s a pathetic situation, helpless. They are crying and praying to God to save their daughters. If it was your child, how would you feel?”

Ms. Usman, the protest organizer, said the demonstrations in the capital would continue.

“If this abduction of 236 girls happened anywhere else in the world, the nation would be at a standstill,” she said.

Related: U.S. offers to help Nigeria in hunt for abducted girls: (Reuters) – The United States said on Thursday it had offered to help Nigeria in its search for around 200 girls abducted by Islamist militants from a school in the northeast of the West African country.

“We have been engaged with the Nigerian government in discussions on what we might do to help support their efforts to find and free these young women,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told a daily briefing. “We will continue to have those discussions and help in any way we can.”

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As much as I can imagine how devastated the relatives must feel, the main problem is Islam. Because its scriptures permit, even encourage, violence, there will always be a group of people in any Muslim society that is very happy to carry out this violence.

Although I doubt that Islam alone can make a person violent if that is not already in their nature, there are violent men in every society on the planet. Therein lies the danger of Islam: it appeals disproportionately to these men.

This situation in Nigeria is steadily deteriorating. I am not sure why or who is arming them.

Another story from today: Suspected bomb on edge of Nigerian capital kills at least 15: (Reuters) – A suspected car bomb exploded on the outskirts of Nigeria’s capital Abuja on Thursday, killing at least 15 people a week before the city was to host a conference of leaders and business executives focused on Africa’s growth prospects, witnesses said.