Nigerians protest government inaction over kidnapped schoolgirls
People attend a demonstration calling on the government to rescue the kidnapped girls of the government secondary school in Chibok, in Abuja, Nigeria, Thursday, May 22, 2014. (AP / Sunday Alamba)
Andrew Drake, The Associated Press
Published Thursday, May 22, 2014 3:30PM EDT
ABUJA, Nigeria -- Scores of protesters chanting "Bring Back Our Girls" marched Thursday to Nigeria's presidential villa to demand more action to free nearly 300 schoolgirls abducted by Islamic militants, but President Goodluck Jonathan did not meet with them, leaving a proxy to deliver a lecture that further angered the demonstrators.
"Another small window for Jonathan and he refuses to use it!" one protester yelled. "What a stupid move!"
The protesters complained of the insensitivity of Jonathan, who did not even met some of the parents of abducted children, who came to Nigeria's capital specially to see him earlier this month.
Many schools across the country also closed Thursday to protest the abductions, the government's failure to rescue them and the killings of scores of teachers by Islamic extremists in recent years.
In Maiduguri, the northeast city that is the birthplace of Boko Haram, protesting teachers says they "can no longer tolerate government insensitivity to the plight of the girls and the education sector."
In Abuja the marchers sang "All we are saying is bring back our girls," to the tune of John Lennon's iconic "Give Peace a Chance."
They were accompanied by police in riot gear as far as a road leading to the presidential villa, where a fire engine with water cannon was on standby.
Cabinet ministers and aides told the small crowd of about 300 people that Jonathan was not home. A message from the president was read urging Nigerians to unite and stop criticizing the government.
Murmurs of disagreement rose as they were told "The people of Afghanistan do not blame the government, they blame the terrorists."
Civil society groups were counselled to "encourage Nigerians to supply useful information to the security services."
That inflamed the crowd since that is exactly what residents of Chibok did, and if the military had responded to their warnings, the girls might never have been kidnapped.
Chibok local government chairman Bana Lawal told The Associated Press that he warned the army of an impending Boko Haram attack two hours before the rebels arrived. Reinforcements never arrived, leaving the road open to the school, where the extremists abducted more than 300 girls and young women. Fifty-three escaped and 276 remain in captivity, according to police.
Residents reported a similar lack of action that could have helped avert at least one of two bomb blasts Tuesday at a bustling marketplace in the central city of Jos. The death toll has risen to at least 130, making them the deadliest bombings yet committed by the Boko Haram extremists, though they have not claimed responsibility.
Market vendors said their suspicions were aroused by a white van that had been parked for hours under a pedestrian bridge, according to Mark Lipdo of the Christian charity Stefanos Foundation. He said they warned soldiers at a nearby checkpoint, but nothing was done. The van contained the first bomb.
Lipdo said there was no apparent security response to the arrest on Saturday of a man wearing a suicide bomber vest who told police that many Boko Haram fighters had orders to plant bombs at churches and public places in Jos.
On Thursday, family and friends continued the search for victims missing in the blast.
Many of the dead may never be identified, University of Jos student leader Dickson Odeh told The Associated Press after his group searched several hospital mortuaries. They were able to identify the bodies of seven students, some only from ID papers on mutilated bodies, but still are searching for others, he said.
"It's horrible," Odeh said in front of the Jos University Teaching Hospital. "Many bodies are burned beyond recognition."
Inside the hospital, 23-year-old survivor Franklyn Anderson cried into her mother's shoulder "Mommy, mommy that fire was terrible!"
She said she got hit by the blast because she had a yen for fried yams and wandered into the market.
Lying beside a young woman whose leg was blown off, Anderson, a drama student, thanked God for her survival, intact. "I'll pull through ... because I know God is here for me, He gave me another chance, He gave me another life," she said.
President Goodluck Jonathan and his administration are accused of showing irresponsible indifference to the plight of the abducted students and others kidnapped as well as the tragedies suffered by citizens arbitrarily targeted by the Islamic extremists and abusive Nigerian security forces. The U.N. Human Rights Commissioner has warned that it is the government's responsibility to protect its citizens.
For years, Jonathan and his military leaders have been saying that victory is at hand against the Islamic uprising, even as the 5-year insurgency has grown ever deadlier. More than 2,000 people have been killed this year, compared to an estimated 3,600 in the four previous years.
Boko Haram -- the nickname means "Western education is forbidden" -- blames Western influences for endemic corruption that keeps most Nigerians in poverty despite the country's wealth of oil, minerals, agriculture and thriving movie industry.
National and international outrage at his government's failure forced Jonathan to accept international help this month to rescue the kidnapped schoolgirls, mainly technical, intelligence-gathering and surveillance expertise.
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama on Thursday said the mass abduction was a "tragic reminder" of what happens to girls around the world. She spoke at a White House meeting to discuss furthering education for girls in the U.S. and abroad.
Eighty U.S. Air Force personnel have arrived in neighbouring Chad and begun their mission manning a Predator drone system to help locate the girls, a U.S. military spokesman said Thursday. Manned U.S. aircraft also are searching from a base in neighbouring Niger.
The U.N. Security Council was expected Thursday to declare Boko Haram a terrorist group and impose sanctions on the extremists. Nigeria, which is serving a two-year term on the council, asked the committee monitoring sanctions against al-Qaida to add Boko Haram to the list of organizations subject to an arms embargo and asset freeze. Unless any of the 14 other council member object by a Thursday afternoon deadline, Boko Haram will be added to the al-Qaida sanctions list.