Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, has promised that more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamist militants would “soon” return home, teenage Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai said after meeting him yesterday.
Ms Yousafzai, who became a global celebrity after surviving being shot in the head by the Taleban for campaigning for girls’ education in her home country, was visiting Nigeria to support an international campaign for the release of the teenagers abducted in mid-April by the Islamist insurgent group Boko Haram.
At the weekend, the Pakistani teenager – who turned 17 on Saturday – met parents of the schoolgirls snatched from the north-eastern village of Chibok by Boko Haram fighters.
The Nigerian girls’ plight triggered an international Twitter campaign, #BringBackOurGirls, supported by high-profile figures including Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie.
With the girls still missing three months after their 14 April kidnapping, Mr Jonathan faces criticism at home and abroad for his government’s inaction in that case, and over the deteriorating security situation in the country more widely.
“The president promised me … that the abducted girls will return to their homes soon,” Ms Yousafzai – who has called the 219 missing students her “sisters” – said after a 45-minute meeting with Mr Jonathan at the presidential villa. She also pressed him to meet the girls’ families, which he has yet to do.
Nigeria is receiving intelligence and surveillance assistance from the United States, Britain, France and other international allies, but has so far shown little progress in getting the Chibok girls back.
Ms Yousafzai said she would hold the Nigerian leader to his pledge, saying: “I will from now be counting days and will be looking. I can’t stop this campaign until I see these girls return back to their families and continue their education.”
She added that Mr Jonathan had promised that once the girls were rescued, they would be given scholarships to go to school in any part of Nigeria.
Ms Yousafzai also said Mr Jonathan had described the girls’ situation as “complicated” and said their lives could be put at risk by a military rescue attempt, but she added: “The president said these girls are his daughters and he is pained by their sufferings, and that he has his own daughters and he can feel what they are feeling.”
Ms Yousafzai, who was accompanied on her Nigeria trip by her father, Ziauddin, was targeted by members of the Pakistani Taleban for her advocacy of education for girls in the country. She was airlifted to Britain for treatment, and has since become a symbol of defiance against the militants.
Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is sinful”, has killed thousands of people in a string of attacks in the country, and abducted hundreds more since launching an uprising in 2009. The group is now considered the main security threat to Nigeria.