LAGOS: Two months since the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls, the teenagers appear no nearer being found and freed, despite international support and media attention.
As interest in the girls’ plight tails off after a viral social media campaign and street protests, Nigeria’s government is facing mounting pressure over its failure to stop Boko Haram’s relentless violence.
On the streets, ordinary Nigerians — awakened to the wider Boko Haram insurgency because of the abduction — have begun expressing doubts about their leaders’ ability to end the bloodshed.
Nigeria’s media had previously relegated Boko Haram down the news agenda but its activities began moving to the front page even before the mass kidnapping on April 14.
Nduka Obaigbena, head of the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria, said the turning point was an attack on a boarding school in February, when more than 40 boys were slaughtered in their sleep.
“Certainly, it (the girls’ abduction) brought home the crisis of terrorism and continuing killing,” he told AFP.
“We were optimistic that they (the girls) were alive but right now that hope is fading... because the government and the international community seem powerless.
“There are no reports of any negotiations... There’s been nothing really.”
Nigeria’s military last week began seizing and searching newspaper deliveries on unspecified security grounds after increasing media criticism of the counter-insurgency effort.
One daily likened the action to the days of military rule while the Nigerian Press Organisation called it an affront to free speech. The police in Abuja have also tried to block further marches by the Bring Back Our Girls group, whose supporters have demonstrated in the capital almost daily.
One of the group’s lawyers, Femi Falana, said they were undeterred and the protests would continue pending the outcome of a legal challenge to a ban, which sparked widespread condemnation. “The government can easily forget (the kidnappings) unless we have this pressure,” he said, adding that “the issue of the girls has generated a lot of sympathy and interest in the enormous security challenges in Nigeria.” President Goodluck Jonathan’s government was forced into accepting foreign military help to try to locate and free the girls, after condemnation of its initial silence and slow response.
Unmanned US drones have been flying over northeast Nigeria from Chad, while Nigeria has successfully secured the help of neighbouring countries to tackle the Boko Haram threat. On the diplomatic front, the UN Security Council has designated Boko Haram an Al-Qaeda-linked group. Both the African Union and regional bloc ECOWAS have called for a wider response to the crisis.
But the girls have not been found — despite claims by Nigeria’s military that they knew where they were being held — and attacks by Boko Haram Islamists have increased.
Last week, hundreds were feared killed when militant fighters went on the rampage in at least four villages in the remote Gwoza district of Borno state. The Islamists were also suspected of kidnapping at least 20 young mothers from a nomadic tribe near the schoolgirls’ home town of Chibok last weekend. For Nigerians — even those in the south, which has until now been untouched by the violence — a feeling of mistrust in the current government has been growing. Abeke Olawore, a trader in the Oshodi district of Nigeria’s financial capital Lagos, said it was “inexplicable” that the issue of the abduction had not been resolved after two months. “Nigerians are aggrieved,” she said. “It appears the government is losing fast its credibility by each passing day as the 2015 (general) election approaches. “Trust is not elastic. He who is called upon to be a hawk must be able to catch a chicken. I don’t see the government doing that.”
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