ABUJA— More than five days after the abduction of more than 100 teenage girls in Northeastern Nigeria, 85 girls remain missing, believed to be deep within a dangerous forest.
Women leaders in the north are outraged, threatening to march into the forest themselves to recover the girls. Authorities say they are working around the clock to recover the girls, and so far 44 have escaped.
On Monday, one woman’s niece was kidnapped from her schoolhouse with more than 100 other girls.
“I’m a mother, and I feel it. I feel it. I feel very sad because we don’t know where they takes all these children for," she asked. " What are they doing to our children? We don’t know, that’s out thinking. So we are very sad. We are not happy,” she said.
No one has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping, but it is widely believed they were taken by Boko Haram, an Islamist insurgent group that has killed thousands of people in the past four and a half years, including scores of school children.
In the past, female students have been spared by militants, who say girls should go home and marry, in accordance to their own version of Islamic law.
But Boko Haram has also been known to kidnap girls and women, forcing them to be their ‘wives.’ Northern women say they are angry at the kidnappers, and at security forces.
“If care is not taken definitely all the mothers of Nigeria will rally out. Definitely. Please, we are now pleading. We are now pleading,” said Maryan Abubakar, a president of the Peace Revival and Reconciliation Foundation of Nigeria.
The Nigerian military says it is making “ongoing frantic efforts” to rescue the girls and authorities have promised to use every resource available to help.
Authorities say vigilante groups and hunters are also searching the forest, where insurgents are believed to be hiding out. Kashim Shettima, the governor of Borno State, where the girls were abducted, has offered a $300,000 reward for any information leading to their rescue.
But Pastor Julie Dauda in the northern city of Kaduna says it’s not enough:
“They should double their effort and make sure that something is done immediately. Unless they may be thinking that their children are safe? It may turn to be… their children tomorrow," she said.
Last month, schools in Borno, one of three northeastern states that have been under emergency rule for a year, closed after dozens of children were shot or burnt to death. Despite the shut down, the girls abducted from Chibok reportedly turned up to take their exams.
Ayuba Tula, the spokesperson for African Youth Corp in Nigeria, says attacks on schools are destroying northern parents’ chances of educating their children.
“The rate at which things are going, everybody’s so scared, you know? Nobody would like to give up his own child at the end of the day," said Tula. "You don’t even know the whereabouts of the child. You don’t even know if the child is killed. You don’t even know if the child is being molested.”
Tula says armed guards should surround all schools in Nigeria.
Boko Haram means “Western education is a sin” in the Hausa language, and the group says children should be forbidden to study anything but the Koran.
Islamic scholars in Nigeria say the group is criminal in its actions and ideology, not Muslim.
Ibrahima Yakubu contributed to this report from Kaduna