LAGOS (AA) – One hundred days since their abduction from a government school in the Chibok area of Nigeria’s northeastern Borno State, the fate of scores of schoolgirls snatched by Boko Haram remains uncertain.
The frustration overshadowed the first meeting between President Goodluck Jonathan and the girls’ parents on Tuesday in capital Abuja.
“We presented everything as it is. We were very frank and candid with the president,” Lawan Rabana, spokesman for the Chibok community, told Anadolu Agency of the close-door meeting with the president.
Some 170 people from the community attended the meeting, according to Rabana.
He said ten people had spoken at the meeting, including parents, community leaders and three of 57 abducted girls who managed to escape from their Boko Haram captors.
“The core of our message to the president was the ordeal of the girls in the hands of the abductors as narrated by the three girls,” Rabana said.
“The girls were very particular about asking the president to speed up whatever effort was being done towards releasing their colleagues, who are still in Boko Haram custody,” he added.
“The president was also told to do all he can to rehabilitate them [the rescued girls] and assist them to go back to school,” Rabana noted.
On April 14, Boko Haram militants abducted 276 schoolgirls in Borno State’s town of Chibok, according to official accounts.
Boko Haram kingpin Abubakar Shekau later claimed responsibility for the abductions, offering to trade the kidnapped girls in return for some of his fighters held by the Nigerian authorities.
While 57 of the girls later managed to escape from their captors, a presidential fact-finding committee says 219 girls are still missing.
-Action not words-
As activists and other interest groups marked 100 days since the girls’ abduction on Wednesday, Rabana said the mood in Chibok was one of “disappointment and trauma” as they live in fear of further calamity.
At least seven parents of the abducted girls are now dead, having been unable to cope with the trauma and psychological pain that came with their daughters’ abduction.
“A medical doctor who was attending to the parents and who was among our team [that met with the president] stressed this point at the meeting,” Rabana said.
“He is the chief medical director at Chibok. He said they [parents] were diagnosed with hypertension and trauma,” he added.
All these points were impressed on President Jonathan at the meeting.
“Everyone at the meeting was passionate; tears flowed freely in the course of the presentation by the parents, especially the mothers,” Rabana recalled. “It provoked tears from all, including from the high [the president’s] table.”
Parents and community leaders made it clear that only “concrete actions, not promises” could bring back the missing girls.
“We hope they [the authorities] will give us a concrete reason why we should have confidence in them,” Rabana said.
He added that the community leader had told the president that “without real and concrete steps” being taken by the government, “our doubts remain.”
“We are still giving them the benefit of the doubt,” he went on to say of the meeting.
President Jonathan, for his part, assured parents and community leaders of his government’s commitment to securing their daughters’ release.
The president made it clear, however, that he would avoid any measures that might endanger the kidnapped girls’ lives.
“We have heard these promises before,” Rabana said on behalf of the community. “But these promises must be followed with concrete steps; only concrete action can bring back the girls.”
Nevertheless, Rabana said the president’s response to their appeals had been reassuring.
“He identified with the community on the challenges we are facing and promised to do his best to ensure the girls are rescued and bring succor to the bereaved community,” the community spokesman added.
Asked if the president or Nigerian security chiefs had said when to expect the girls’ release, Rabana said: “He [Jonathan] wasn’t specific about the timeframe.”
None of the parents or community leaders pressed the president or security chiefs to provide a deadline for the release of the girls.
“But we want him to understand that time is of the essence, because the longer they remain in captivity the greater the puzzle,” Rabana asserted.
He added: “So we made the president understand that it is an urgent situation… and he said he would do what he could within the shortest time possible to ensure the girls are brought back.”
And while the specter of the April 14 mass abductions still lingers, the threat of attack by Boko Haram militants continues to hang over Chibok.
“We told the president that there is a continuous security threat in Chibok as neighboring communities are being ransacked and attacked on a regular basis,” Rabana told AA.
“There was a letter sent to the community of a pending Boko Haram attack. Anytime they do that, they normally follow up that threat with an actual attack,” he added.
“So we told the president that our society had been attacked quite a number of times and that a number of villages had been raided, looted and burnt – and that it is getting more deadly by the day,” the community spokesman lamented.
“We told the president that many people in the community were now sleeping in the bush because everyone is afraid of sleeping in their homes for fear of being trapped and killed [by Boko Haram],” he said.
“We told him that Damboa, which is about 50km from Chibok, was attacked and Boko Haram took it over completely and hoisted their flag,” Rabana said.
Nigerian authorities have remained quiet over recent reports that Boko Haram militants had captured Damboa, a major settlement, following a Friday morning raid in which a number of villagers were killed.
Neither the police nor the military have commented on the reports.
AA’s attempts to reach defense spokesman Chris Olukolade for comment on Tuesday were unsuccessful.
“When your next-door neighbor [Damboa] is being controlled by these thugs, you can imagine the next target will be your community,” Rabana asserted.
“The situation has become desperate and requires urgent attention,” the community spokesman added.
National outrage, meanwhile, has persisted over the girls’ ongoing detention by Boko Haram.
From capital Abuja to the southwestern city of Ibadan to commercial nerve-center Lagos, activists continued to express solidarity with the girls on the 100th day of their captivity.
“To amplify our voices in demanding that these girls are brought home now and alive, on the 100th day, there will be a variety of activities around the world,” Nigeria’s BringBackOurGirls campaign said in a late Tuesday statement.
“As days become weeks and months and our girls are separated from their parents and their community, our singular focus remains their safe return in the shortest possible time,” it added.
With the government and campaigners accusing one another of “politicizing” the issue, rallies across the country on Wednesday could heighten tensions between both sides and lead to arrests.
Most observers, for their part, say such an outcome would not be in the government’s interest.
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