ABUJA, Nigeria — Nigerians staging a daily protest in the capital said Saturday they are fed up with their government’s indifference to the abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls, even as the Nigerian president once again promised to bring them home.
For 11 days, the protesters in Abuja have demanded Nigeria do more to rescue the girls, who were kidnapped more than three weeks ago by the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram. They vow to sit every day until the girls are rescued.
“We need to keep this up every day,” protest organizer Rotimi Olawale told CNN. “We are saying that we want our girls alive.”
Saturday, President Goodluck Jonathan said he was worried about the girls and he thanked other countries, including the United States, that have pledged support in finding them.
“We promise the world that we must get these girls out,” Jonathan said.
U.S. support for Nigeria
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama on Saturday condemned the “unconscionable” kidnapping of the girls, saying in the White House weekly radio address it was the work of “a terrorist group determined to keep these girls from getting an education.”
Earlier this week, Obama tweeted a photo of herself with a sign that said #BringBackOurGirls.
U.S. and British officials are in Abuja to help Nigeria’s government look for the girls, plan rescue missions and advise on ways to subdue Boko Haram.
President Barack Obama has directed his administration to do everything possible to help the Nigerian government, the first lady said.
‘Nothing has been done’
Scrutiny of the Nigerian government’s response to the kidnappings has escalated. A report Friday from Amnesty International says authorities knew at least four hours before the attack that Boko Haram was on its way to raid the girls’ boarding school in the northeastern town of Chibok.
The report’s findings echo accounts of a number of the girls’ parents and villagers, who have described to CNN an ineffective military response in the days and weeks after the girls were taken.
“Nothing on the ground. Nothing,” a Nigerian father told CNN. “(For) 21 days, nothing has been done.”
A young mother from Chibok said all that families have left is hope.
“If 23 years ago somebody had abducted me, taken me away and killed my dreams, where would I be today? I might be dead,” Aisha Yesufu said. “And for those kids, for nobody to care?”
Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, took credit for the mass kidnappings in a video that surfaced this week. He said he planned to sell the girls into slavery.
In a published interview Friday with Al-Hayat, a semiofficial Saudi newspaper, Saudi Grand Mufti Abdulaziz Bin Abdullah Al-Sheikh, a key religious leader in the Muslim world, condemned Boko Haram as a terrorist organization.
He described it as an organization “set up to smear the image of Islam” and said the group is “not right and misguided, because Islam is against kidnapping, murder and aggression.”
Not enough troops to respond?
The Amnesty International report alleges that after Nigerian commanders were informed of the pending attack, they were unable to raise enough troops to respond.
A military contingent of between 15 and 17 soldiers and a handful of police officers in Chibok were unable to fend off as many as 200 Boko Haram fighters who stole the girls from their beds, the report says.
The Nigerian government claims it responded with troops, helicopters and airplanes in the immediate aftermath of the mass abduction.
“It is a very painful period for all of us,” Nigerian Defense Minister Musiliu Olatunde Obanikoro said. “We’ve had sleepless nights trying to bring this to an end. Right now our primary concern is how that can be achieved and not disclose the details of where they are and whether they are in units or they are in one central location.” Nigerian officials have frequently been criticized for failing to prevent Boko Haram’s deadly attacks, particularly in the terror group’s stronghold of northeastern Nigeria.
At least 2,000 people have died in violence in northern Nigeria this year alone, Amnesty said. The most recent Boko Haram attack killed at least 310 people in a town that had been used as a staging ground for troops searching for the missing girls.