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Missing girls: Protesters boosted by military claims

28 May 2014, 06:28

Abuja - Protesters campaigning in support of more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram militants on Tuesday welcomed military claims that they had located the teenagers.

The comments by Chief of Defence Staff Alex Badeh on Monday that they had located the girls was the talk of activists and pressure groups who gathered for their regular march in Abuja.

"When the defence chief said that we have identified the location and the camp of these terrorists, hope was restored," said the head of the National Youth Council of Nigeria, Abdullahi Abdulmajeed.

Atoye Ariyo Dare, secretary-general of the Grand Alliance Against Terrorism, agreed, saying they were "reassured, hopeful, happy".

The development lifted the mood among those who may have begun to fear the worst, with the hostage crisis now in its seventh week and no apparent end in sight.

But Dare said that while the news had helped people's spirits, it was only the "second-to-last step".

"The last step is our prayers. Our hope is that these girls will be released, secure, back home, hale, hearty and alive," he added.

Badeh's comments came as it emerged that former president Olusegun Obasanjo had held talks with people close to Boko Haram in an attempt to broker the girls' release.

The government's official position has been not to negotiate with the militants over a proposed prisoner swap.

A statement from the president's office on Tuesday said that government's priority was to ensure the safe return of the girls.

It also dismissed as "false and baseless" reports that it has been trying to recruit an international public relations firm to clean up its image after accusations it initially mishandled the kidnapping.

"The federal government's topmost priority for now is not public relations or image laundering but national security and the ongoing effort to ensure the safe return of the abducted college girls," the statement said.

Abdulmajeed and Dare said that "all options" should be considered, including dialogue, to end the hostage ordeal.

Hadiza Bala Usman, the coordinator of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign which has drawn global backing using social media, said the news they had been found added weight to protesters' calls for advocacy.

But she said the government still had to give more answers.

"It's a question we need to throw back at them, so they can clarify," she said.

"Is there any middle ground between 'we are not negotiating' and 'we are not embarking on a combat (mission)'? I don't know what that means.

"But it's good for the chief of defence staff to clarify to Nigerians what he means when he says that on the one hand the government is not going to negotiate and on the other hand the government is not going to use force."

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