ABUJA — More than a week after some 230 teenage girls were kidnapped from their schoolhouse in a remote region of northern Nigeria, frustration is mounting.
While dozens of the abductees managed to escape, fleeing to safety through the bush, authorities say at least 190 are believed to remain captive deep within the Sambisa Forest, where Boko Haram Islamist militants are known to hide out.
While no one has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, it's widely believed the extremist group is holding the girls as spies, servants or sex slaves.
As Nigerian governors met with President Goodluck Jonathan to address the country's growing security crisis, female leaders spoke out, blaming central government officials for failing to rescue the girls.
Dressed in black to show solidarity with grieving families, Aishatu Ngulde, a northern human rights activist, called the federal government's failure to locate the girls tantamount to complicity in the crime.
"Are you telling me that Borno state [forest] is so thick that no plane can see the ground?" she said. "Why is that not being done in Borno? Our children, they have been taken. We are all mothers. If it is Jonathan's daughter that has been stolen today, would the country sleep? It would not."
Officials say security forces are using all means at their disposal to rescue the girls. Yan St-Pierre, the CEO of Berlin-based security-consulting firm MOSECON, says if the Nigerian military launched a direct assault in the forest to rescue the girls, they might kill more girls than they save.
"The forests there are really dense, and geography and all the elements that really make it hard to prepare a proper operation the way the Nigerian Army wants to conduct it," he said. "So a full-scale attack that would make them look good and show strength is simply not feasible. You would end up with many, many more civilian casualties than you would Boko Haram fighters."
The Nigerian military has been silent in recent days, after retracting an initial report that most of the girls had been freed.
St. Pierre says although a rescue would go a long way to improve the image of the Nigerian security forces, it would require negotiations accompanied by precision operations.
"For the girls right now, it's finding the proper back-channels that would allow for negotiations, that would allow the girls to be freed," he said. "They would then save face."
Nigeria has been mired in the Boko Haram insurgency for almost five years and three northeastern states have been under emergency rule for almost a year.
Boko Haram has been blamed for thousands of deaths in attacks on churches, mosques, schools, market places, government facilities, and most recently a bus station bombing in the capital that killed 75 people.
Things are getting worse, with rights groups recently reporting that 1,500 people were killed in the first three months of 2014 alone, and that some weeks see daily reports of attacks, though many go unreported.
Despite the chaos, Gambo Mamman Gusau, another leading northern human rights activist, says the girls will not be forgotten.
"Let them release the pure children, poor children," she said. "If they're not going to release them, we women of Nigeria are going to gather ourselves and march."
Besides air support and resources, female activists in Maiduguri called on Boko Haram militants to negotiate with the government, promising the militants "motherly support towards rehabilitating them when the need arises."
- Abdulkareem Haruna contributed to the report from Maiduguri. Ibrahima Yakuba contributed from Kaduna.