President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday promised the Pakistani girls’ education activist Malala Yousafzai that he would meet with families of the girls held captive by Boko Haram militants for the past three months.
The meeting was scheduled for Tuesday in Abuja, but families of the missing girls canceled at the last minute.
Doyin Okupe, a public affairs assistant to the president, blames Bring Back Our Girls, an activist group that rallies almost every day to demand the girls’ rescue.
“My priority and responsibility and duty is the safe return of these girls," said a statement released by Jonathan. "Unfortunately, political forces within the Nigerian chapter of Bring Back Our Girls have decided to take this opportunity to play politics with this situation and the grief of the parents of these girls.”
Okupe accuses Bring Back Our Girls of being in league with opposition politicians seeking to unseat Jonathan in elections next year, echoing government accusations that the organization is playing “shameful and disgusting games.” A government statement also repeated a promise to find the girls and end the Boko Haram insurgency.
But activists gathered at a Bring Back Our Girls rally in Abuja say the decision has nothing to do with politics.
Mia Muna, one of about 20 activists who arrived to chant and hear speeches in the rain, says families of the Chibok girls canceled the meeting on their own, partially due to security concerns.
She says they were insulted that Malala had to ask the president to see them, rather than having Jonathan make the offer on his own.
“We did not even need to tell them not to go," said Muna. "They themselves refused to go because they fear that if they are shown on TV all the time, these Boko Haram will still come after them. That was the fear.”
After the rally, Jeff Okoroafor, founder of Opinion Nigeria, an activist group that is part of the Bring Back Our Girls network, says the parents wanted to see the president, but felt it was wrong to visit him in the capital when he has not visited them in their home village, Chibok.
He blames the government for trying to distract the public from the real issue of the missing girls by going after Bring Back Our Girls.
“The truth is the government for a very long time has been coming up with a lot of excuses. The government has been coming up with a lot of distractions for the group," he said. "But the world can testify to what we are doing. We are open and that is why we are in an open space. Our conduct has been very civil.”