ABUJA, NIGERIA - Grief-struck and angry parents met with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan Tuesday, demanding answers about efforts to rescue the more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by Islamist militants three months ago.
The April kidnapping of the girls from Chibok has rattled the Jonathan government, underscoring problems of funding and competency among Nigerian security forces. It also highlighted the potency of threat from the group Boko Haram, which has terrorized much of northeastern Nigeria.
About 200 people from Chibok traveled to the capital Abuja, about 500 miles to the southwest, to meet with Jonathan at the presidential office. More than 50 girls who escaped the militants shortly after their abduction were also among the group.
Government officials refused to let reporters talk to the parents at the site afterward, though Western and local news reports quoted participants as saying it was an emotional meeting.
“Mr. President’s primary concern is one, to ensure the release of the girls. And also secondly to defend the integrity of the Nigerian state, and that is why the operation against terror is a continuous one, it is a determined one,” presidential spokesman Reuben Abati said. “And no part of Nigeria will be allowed to be over taken by terrorism.”
Tuesday’s meeting was re-scheduled from last week, when a smaller group of parents refused to meet Jonathan, saying they wanted a larger group to represent their community, among other reasons. The Nigerian government blamed activists, accusing them of coercing the families to pull out of the meeting to make Jonathan look bad politically.
Boko Haram, an increasingly well-organized group that has vowed to fight against what it sees as insidious Western influences, has ratcheted up its terror campaign in recent years. At least 2,000 people have been killed this year alone.
The April 14 abduction of the schoolgirls stunned Nigerians and sparked a viral Internet campaign called “#BringBackOurGirls” that highlighted the girls’ plight and the threat posed by Boko Haram.
Over the weekend, Nigerian media reported that the region of Damboa, which neighbors Chibok, had been overrun by Boko Haram. Militants reportedly hoisted black flags over the town on Friday after killing more than 100 people and burning houses.
Abati denied those reports, as did a Nigerian military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade.
"The Nigerian military will not concede any portion of this country to terrorists or any such group. We are farming out our deployments in the entire general area," he said. "Our patrols are also active and extending all their activities to reverse every form of insecurity that is noted around there."
Doctors, meanwhile, warn that the continuing terror campaign is causing lasting psychological scars on the Chibok community and elsewhere. Grief counselors have been trained to help the community, Dr. Danladi Saledrissa, but Boko Haram attacks have prevented those outside Chibok from moving in.
“The problem is overwhelming and the support is very limited for now,” he said. “But we want to believe that before time runs out more hands will come into it and we are going to have a proper counseling team that will help the community.”