NIGERIAN President Goodluck Jonathan has told security, school and state officials that “everything must be done” to free the 276 girls held captive by Islamic extremists.
The move came amid growing national outrage at the government’s response to the abduction - and as he said that he believes Nigeria is winning its war against an Islamic uprising.
Two bomb blasts in three weeks that have killed about 100 people and injured more than 200 in the capital, Abuja, “does not mean the situation is worsening,” Mr Jonathan said.
“I believe we are succeeding,” he said, though the death tolls tell a different story.
More than 1,500 people have died in the insurgency this year, compared to an estimated 3,600 between 2010 and 2013.
Both of the Abuja blasts are blamed on Boko Haram, the Islamic terrorist network.
Mr Jonathan said he has been asking for and getting help from the US but that President Barack Obama has expressed concern to him about allegations of gross human rights abuses by security forces accused of summary executions and the killings in detention of thousands of people.
US Secretary of State John Kerry over the weekend promised help.
“The kidnapping of hundreds of children by Boko Haram is an unconscionable crime, and we will do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and to hold the perpetrators to justice,” he said.
Mr Jonathan’s meeting was the first time the president had met all those most involved, including the principal of the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School in north-eastern Nigeria where the girls and young women were kidnapped in a pre-dawn raid on April 15.
Nigerians’ anger at the failure to rescue the students, and protest marches last week in major Nigerian cities as well as New York City, have spurred to action Mr Jonathan’s government, which many see as uncaring of the girls’ plight.
“These girls must be brought back to safety.”
“The president has given very clear directives that everything must be done to ensure that these girls must be brought back to safety,” his spokesman said.
The police said last week that the actual number abducted had risen to more than 300 and that 276 remain in captivity.
It said 53 students managed to escape their captors. None have been rescued by the military, which initially said it was in hot pursuit of the abductors.
Some of the girls have been forced into “marriage” with their abductors and were paid a nominal bride price of 12 US dollars (£7), according to a federal senator from the area whose report is unverified.
Some of the young women have been taken across Nigeria’s borders to Cameroon and Chad, parents said last week, quoting villagers.
Child marriage is common in northern Nigeria, where it is allowed under Islamic law that clashes with the country’s Western-style constitution.
Anguished parents in Chibok town, who have lost confidence in the government and military, have been begging for international help.
Suicide bombers foiled
In north-eastern Nigeria, police yesterday morning foiled an attack by suicide bombers who had packed a pick-up vehicle with explosives and petrol, the defence ministry said.
Police arrested one of the culprits, who said the target was a police post in the centre of Damaturu, the capital of Yobe state, said spokesman Major Gen. Chris Olukolade.
In a further indication of security threats confronting Nigeria, the US Embassy on Friday warned Americans that “groups associated with terrorism” may be planning “an unspecified attack” on a Sheraton hotel in Nigeria’s commercial centre, Lagos.
The city, on the Atlantic Ocean, has never been attacked, though police last year arrested six suspected extremists on popular Bar Beach.
Meanwhile, a leader of a protest march said First Lady Patience Jonathan accused them of fabricating the abductions to give Nigeria’s government and her husband “a bad name.”
The protest leaders also said she ordered two of them arrested.