UK

Nigerian Women Set To Protest In Fury Over Girls Taken By Boko Haram - But Where Is Western Coverage?

30/04/2014 14:31 BST | Updated 30/04/2014 14:59 BST
ASSOCIATED PRESS
FILE - In this Thursday, June 6, 2013 file photo Nigerian soldiers stand guard at the offices of the state-run Nigerian Television Authority in Maiduguri, Nigeria. An environmental department official said Friday, Sept. 20, 2013 that workers combing bushes have recovered the bodies of at least 143 civilians killed by suspected Islamic militants in a Tuesday night attack on a major highway and Benisheik village, in Borno State, northeastern Nigeria. A soldier speaking on condition of anonymity Thursday said that extremists disguised in military fatigues attacked in 20 pickup trucks firing anti-aircraft guns that overwhelmed soldiers using automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell, File)

Twice in two months, more than 200 people suddenly went missing, their fate shrouded in mystery. One incident has received round-the-clock media coverage, the other has had a cursory mention.

Reporters from around the globe were flown out to Kuala Lumpur to monitor every last squeak of the churning rumour mill in the search for the Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. More than 6,000 miles away in Nigeria, frantic parents of 200 missing schoolgirls abducted by Islamist rebels Boko Haram hope they will get answers that the families of MH370 have not.

But no global TV crews are stationed outside Chebok secondary school in Borno state, where the girls were taken a fortnight ago.

It took the regional governor eight days to visit the village. Parents of the girls, mostly Christians, raised money themselves from the local community to search the Sambisa forest where the pupils were purportedly held.

The parents were then warned the girls would be killed if they continued.

In the fortnight since the disappearance, few human stories have emerged of the girls themselves, their names or faces, only that they had been recalled to sit a physics exams, while other schools closed because of terror threats. Around 50 have been released now, but a reported 273 are still held, though even the numbers are disputed.

On Tuesday former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, now a UN envoy, said he feared "the girls will either be used as sex slaves or be murdered." The jihadist group has executed hostages in cold blood previously, when rescue attempts were staged by the military.

Senior community leader Dr Pogu Bitrus told Channel 4 News that he believed many of the girls, aged between 16 and 18, were compelled to convert to Islam and "forcibly married off with a bride price of just 2,000 Naira [less than £10]." He did not cite his sources.

But a source leading the hostage negotiations told Channel 4 News that he believes the girls will be returned safely for a ransom. "It would not be hard to engineer a deal. It looks like they want to release them," he said.

The handling of the crisis, both by the government, the military, foreign and local media has been sharply criticised, with journalists accused of ignoring developments and the authorities of not following up credible leads, such as a sighting in the nearby area of Gwoza.

Mausi Segun, Human Rights Watch's researcher in Abuja, said there was growing fury about the lack of verifiable information. "Much of what we know comes from individuals in the area making a telephone call, it is a very remote area, there is no information even from the internet. Authorities are worried even to go there because of the security situation."

The information could be credible, she added, and that was the job of the security services to find out. "But there is no co-ordination, there has been no information, no meeting of the parents. We do not know if they are acting on any of these tip-offs or not. But it is their job to have their ear to the ground."

Much of the lack of information could be because of the embarrassment suffered by authorities when the military reported last week that all but eight of those abducted had been rescued. "It turned out not to be true, and that means they have been very tight-lipped on anything they are doing," Sebun said.

The Sambisa forest is now well-known to be the hideaway for Boko Haram, but considered too dangerous to penetrate.

“The girls will be moved tactically from one base to another mostly in the night so that they cannot recognise where they were. They will finally end up in Sambisa or Algoni, the two most dreaded bases remaining for the managers of the nation’s security to bring down,” an intelligence source told the Guardian.

On Wednesday, Nigerian women are to stagea 'million-woman' protest in Abuja to press for the release of the girls.

“I want to use this opportunity to appeal to wives of security chiefs at the national and state levels to mount pressures on their spouses to intensify effort to rescue our dear children," the First Lady of Borno State, Hajiya Nana Kashim Shettima told a meeting convened to organise the march.

“Let us all put our differences aside irrespective of our faith, or ethnicity, let us all join hands together to rescue these girls."