Sun, Apr 15, 2018 - Page 4 News List

New calls for schoolgirls’ release

AFP, LAGOS, Nigeria

Women raise their fists and chant slogans calling for the release of the remaining 112 out of 219 kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls on Friday ahead of the fourth anniversary of their snatching during a vigil in Lagos, Nigeria.

Photo: AFP

Nigeria yesterday marked four years since Boko Haram abducted more than 200 schoolgirls from the remote town of Chibok, with renewed calls for their release and that of thousands of others seized in the bloody conflict.

A total of 219 girls were taken from the Government Girls Secondary School in the remote town in Borno State on the evening of April 14, 2014, and have become an enduring symbol of the Islamic insurgency.

Four years on, 112 are still being held.

On Friday night, about 100 people attended a vigil in Lagos under a busy flyover whose pillars are now adorned with brightly painted murals of the missing girls.

“We are here to show [the] government that we are still missing our sisters,” said Zakaria Galang, a brother of one of the students who has yet to return.

Further events were planned in the capital, Abuja.

Former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan was heavily criticized for his response to the abduction, but the man who replaced him, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, has had more success.

Since 2016, 107 girls have been found, released or escaped as part of a government deal with Boko Haram and the administration has said that back-channel talks are ongoing for further releases and a possible end to the wider conflict.

Activist Habiba Balogun said she hopes that would happen after nearly nine years of violence that has left at least 20,000 dead and made more than 2.6 million homeless.

“The government has said that they are ready to negotiate,” she said. “They want to bring this nightmare to an end.”

Buhari told the Chibok girls’ parents that their daughters “will never be forgotten or abandoned to their fate” despite the time that had passed.

The former military ruler has repeatedly claimed Boko Haram was virtually defeated, but while there have been clear army gains, security threats remain.

In February, fighters loyal to a Boko Haram faction headed by Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi seized 112 schoolgirls and one boy from the town of Dapchi, in Yobe State. Last month, 107 were returned. Five reportedly died, while one girl — the only Christian in the group — is still being held.

Buhari said the return of so many students “should give confidence that all hope is not lost” and showed the government was “doing its very best.”

However, Amnesty International Nigeria director Osai Ojigho said the Chibok abduction was a small part of a bigger issue.

“Far more support must also be provided for past victims,” she said, proposing a register for abducted people.

Meanwhile, the International Crisis Group said the copycat abduction in Dapchi showed more needed to be done to protect schoolchildren in the region.

“[The abductions] throw into doubt the government’s claim to have defeated the movement; instead, insurgents may be newly emboldened to keep fighting,” it said in a report published on Thursday.

“The kidnappings cast a pall over education, particularly of girls, and thus the prospects for socio-economic development of the region,” it added.

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