Nigerian protesters marched on the National Assembly Wednesday to demand the government and military do more to rescue scores of schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram gunmen at Government Girls Secondary School, in Chibok,Borno State, more than two weeks ago.
Dubbed “a million woman march” and promoted on Twitter under #BringBackOurGirls, the protest was not expected to draw a massive crowd and turn-out was hindered by heavy rain in the capital Abuja.
But several hundred women and men, mostly dressed in red, marched through the rain towards the National Assembly carrying placards that read “Find Our Daughters.”
Protest organiser Hadiza Bala Usman had earlier said that the size of the protest was less important than raising awareness about the plight of the hostages whose April 14 abduction at gunpoint from their school in the northeast has outraged Africa’s most populous nation.
“The government has to understand that we are not going to allow this silence to continue,” Usman said.
In the northern city of Kano, roughly 100 people dressed in black marched towards the state governor’s office, calling for the girls’ immediate release.
The mass kidnapping in the Chibok area of northeastern Borno state was one of the most shocking attacks in Boko Haram’s five-year extremist uprising, which has killed thousands across the north and centre of the country.
The leader of Chibok’s elders forum, Pogu Bitrus, told AFP that he had received information indicating the girls were trafficked into neighbouring Cameroon and Chad and sold as brides to insurgents for 2,000 naira ($12).
Parents have voiced fury at the military’s efforts, accusing the security services of ignoring their daughters’ plight.
Former World Bank vice president Obiageli Ezekwesili, also an ex-Nigerian cabinet member, has emerged as a leader of the #BringBackOurGirls movement and addressed protesters at Unity Fountain in Abuja as the march kicked off.
She accused the military of having “no coherent search-and-rescue” plan.
“We are going to the National Assembly because that is where each of these girls has a representative,” she said.
Bitrus said it was “unbelievable” that the military, which claims to be working around-the-clock to find the hostages, had not yet tracked down any of the kidnappers.
Locals have scoured the bushlands of the remote region, pooling money to buy fuel for motorcycles and cars to conduct their own rescue effort.
Usman condemned what she called the official complacency which has followed the abductions.
“If this happened anywhere else in the world, more than 200 girls kidnapped and no information for more than two weeks, the country would be brought to a standstill,” she told AFP.
Usman said she had been promised that the House Speaker Aminu Tambuwal and perhaps even President Goodluck Jonathan will speak to the protesters.
“We have booked an appointment,” she said. “We expect (both men) will come out and address us.”
Jonathan has faced scathing criticism over his handling of the Boko Haram conflict, which has already killed more than 1,500 people this year.
Speaking by phone from Chibok, a father of one of the kidnapped schoolgirls voiced hope that attention to his nightmare from protesters near the seat of government could make a difference.
“We are poor with no influence whatsoever, which we believe is the reason the government does not care about our girls,” said the father, requesting anonymity.
“We believe if Nigerians, the high and the low, raise their voices from different quarters it will make the government sit up and do the right thing to free our girls.”
.Reported by AFP