RELATIVES of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted at gunpoint by Islamist militants have vowed to search a forest where it is feared they are being held hostage.
Families of the 230 pupils in Borno state said they were prepared to scour the remote Sambisa forest reserve amid frustration over government and military inaction and growing concerns for their children’s safety.
The mass abduction of the teenagers, all aged between 16 and 18, took place on 14 April after militants overpowered a guard at their boarding school in Chibok, north-east Borno.
No-one has claimed responsibility for the abduction, but suspicion has fallen on the radical Boko Haram jihadist group, which has launched attacks on schools and colleges across north-east Nigeria in opposition to western education, and in particular women’s education. Over the past year, the group has focused its kidnapping attempts on schools, in particular female pupils, who are often forced to convert and are married off to Boko Haram fighters.
It believes women should stay at home to support their husbands and families, meaning that schools which teach girls are seen as targets.
Although around two dozen girls were able to escape after jumping off lorries on which they were being transported into the forest, the families of those still unaccounted for said they were becoming increasingly desperate.
Danuma Mpur, chair of the local parent-teacher association and whose two nieces are among the missing, said: “We pinned our hopes on the government, but all that hope is turning to frustration. The town is under a veil of sorrow.”
President Goodluck Jonathan convened an emergency security council on Thursday attended by state governors, security officials and spiritual leaders straddling Nigeria’s largely Christian south and mostly Muslim north, with a goal of bringing an end to the Islamists’ five-year insurgency.The government has said its priority is to rescue the girls but it has been nearly a fortnight since they were last seen.
Speaking after the meeting in Abuja, Kayode Fayemi, governor of the Christian-majority Ekiti state to the south of the country, said: “We must do everything to ensure that the abducted children are retrieved and rehabilitated and returned to their parents, and the military assured us that they are working on it.”
Despite the promises from the Nigerian government, the families are increasingly taking action to locate their loved ones, alongside an intensifying social media campaign using hashtags such as #BringBackOurGirls and #WhereAreOurDaughtrs.
Hamma Balumai, a farmer whose daughter, Hauwa, was abducted, pooled his savings with other parents and embarked on a two-day trek into the forest, near the border with Cameroon. However, the group was forced to turn around after being warned by other communities in the reserve that they would be at risk from the armed militants.
Mr Balumai said: “Even my wife was begging to come as she is so disturbed she hasn’t been able to eat anything. Our daughter, Hauwa, is only 16 years old and she has been missing for 11 days now.”
Professor Hauwa Abdu Biu, co-ordinator of the Baobab women’s rights group, told a press conference in Maiduguri that more could have been done to aid the initial search by family members. He asked: “What stopped security men from giving back-up to parents to go further into the bush?”
Mathieu Guidere, professor of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies at the University of Toulouse, said: “Within communities of Borno province there is much sympathy for parents, but not a huge degree of shock. This is just the latest in a series of attacks blamed on one outfit, Boko Haram.”