News / Africa

Both Sides Say 'Don't Play Politics' with Nigerian Girls

Women sing slogans during a demonstration calling on the government to rescue the kidnapped girls of the government secondary school in Chibok. Abuja, Nigeria, May 28, 2014.
Women sing slogans during a demonstration calling on the government to rescue the kidnapped girls of the government secondary school in Chibok. Abuja, Nigeria, May 28, 2014.
Anne Look
— Nigeria's government is accusing the political opposition of exploiting the issue of the more than 200 kidnapped schoolgirls for political gain, but members of the Bring Back Our Girls protest movement say that's an attempt to distract from the issue at hand - and that is, where are the girls?   

"Don't play politics" with the girls.  That's something you hear from all sides of this crisis in Nigeria.

Authorities accuse the opposition of backing the Bring Back Our Girls movement to make the president look bad ahead of next year's election.

The government's inability to halt the now five-year insurgency in the northeast will likely be a key campaign issue.

Activists say the government sent a group of "thugs" and "hooligans" to disrupt their rally in Abuja Wednesday, snatching phones and purses and smashing plastic chairs.

The coordinator of the Bring Back Our Girls movement, Hadiza Bala Usman, had this to say:

"We have no political intonation.  The question is about the Chibok girls.  What is the Nigerian government doing about their rescue?  Where are we on it?  It's 44 days now.  So the distraction about trying to insinuate that the movement is being driven by politics is what we question.  The point is, let's talk about the Chibok girls," said Usman.

Boko Haram militants grabbed 276 teenage schoolgirls from their dormitory in the northeastern town of Chibok.

Some escaped, but 219 girls are still missing.

At a rally Thursday in Abuja, the several hundred people gathered repeated the movement's mantra.

"What are we demanding?  Bring back our girls now and alive.  What are we asking?  The truth, nothing but the truth," they chanted.

The movement's rallies tend to be small - just a couple hundred people many days - but they also launched the social media campaign about a month ago that got the world, and the Nigerian government, talking about the Chibok girls.

The movement's leaders say they spurred authorities into action.  The presidency says that it has been on the case from day one but didn't have time to "dance to emotions."

Nigeria's military now says it "knows where the girls are" but that a military rescue would be too dangerous.  President Goodluck Jonathan says he will not barter with militants for the girls.   

It's an impasse that has left many here wondering what the third option is if both force and negotiations are ruled out.

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