ABUJA - Nigeria will be hosting the World Economic Forum for Africa this week, drawing more than 1,000 delegates, including many heads of state. But with hundreds of schoolgirls still held captive by Islamist militants, some activists say security forces should not be focused on protecting the capital. The activists are planning an online protest to out-Tweet the forum.
Schools and government offices in the Nigerian capital will be closed for three days this week during the World Economic Forum for Africa - commonly referred to as WEFA.
Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala says security will be on high alert, after nearly 100 people were killed in two bombings at a bus station in the past month just outside the city.
“We are going to do the maximum necessary to make sure that our guests are safe and protected," she promised.
April 15 was also the day more than 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped by Islamist militants. Most of them remain missing.
Okonjo-Iweala says, like most Nigerians, she is more concerned with the rescue of the girls than the outcome of the forum.
“We are all saddened as a nation that our girls are missing," she said. "For me personally as a mother of four children, including one girl, and as a Nigerian this is painful for us to bear. And I want to tell you a far more important issue to us than anything else.”
Distraction from real problems
But some activists say the forum is a distraction from Nigeria’s real problems, especially the missing girls.
Executive Director Yemi Adamolekun, of the Nigerian human rights organization Enough Is Enough, has been demanding the rescue of the girls. She says the forum should be postponed until the girls are found.
“It is very important for us that we do send a strong message that WEFA cannot be more important than the lives of Nigerians. Even if it is one girl,” she said.
Militants known as Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings. The group has been blamed for thousands of deaths in the past five years, mostly in the northeast. And despite almost a year of emergency rule in the region, the violence appears to be spreading.
To protest the World Economic Forum for Africa, Adamolekun says her group plans to out-Tweet the forum, hoping to keep hashtag #WEFA from "trending", which means becoming one of the hottest topics on Twitter.
"For us we believe in the power of social media," she explained. "A lot of people say ‘Oh you are just chatting online.’ But we do believe that its extremely powerful and we have seen it work. It is a space that we control and we tend to do that. For WEFA for example one of our things we plan to do is to make sure that WEFA does not trend."
Enough is Enough has been tweeting hashtag #BringBackOurGirls to its nearly 47,000 followers.
The hashtag (#), one of several associated with demands to rescue the girls, has reached tens of millions of people and drawn international attention to the kidnapping. Adamolekun says she hopes hashtag #BringBackOurGirls will be re-tweeted more than hashtag #WEFA during the forum.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has promised to save the girls. He says Nigeria is seeking international assistance to address its security problems.