Nigeria schoolgirl kidnap: Only four of the 276 girls missing identified by relatives shown Boko Haram propaganda video
Families wait for news as fears grow that most of the Chibok schoolgirls were not shown
Emily Dugan is social affairs correspondent for The Independent, i and Independent on Sunday. She was previously a news reporter for The Independent on Sunday. Her investigations into human trafficking have twice been awarded Best Investigative Article at the Anti-Slavery Day Media Awards and her human rights journalism was shortlisted for the Gaby Rado Memorial prize at the 2012 Amnesty Media Awards.
Tuesday 13 May 2014
Fraught relatives of almost 300 schoolgirls abducted in Nigeria have identified only four of the young women in a propaganda video published by their captors.
The recording, released by Boko Haram on Monday, showed more than 100 young women in black and grey veils chanting verses from the Koran. The Islamic extremist group’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, said they were the schoolgirls captured from Chibok in the north-east of the country last month and that they had been “liberated” and converted to Islam.
However, a community leader from Chibok, whose younger sister is among the missing, said that despite successive screenings of the video to parents and classmates since Monday, only four girls had been identified as being among the 276 who were seized from their boarding school.
Allen Manasseh said: “They started bringing parents to see the video. We had to have a good look at it together with parents and classmates and only a few of the girls were identified as the students of the secondary school. So far only four are identified without any doubt but the remaining ones are not clear.”
A committee has been set up to move around the area and run identifications with parents, but so far the majority have not recognised their daughters.
Because Boko Haram was already seizing young women before the latest mass capture of schoolgirls, Dr Manasseh believes many of those in the video may not be from Chibok at all.
“It’s a cause for concern,” he said. “It might be a few of the Chibok girls together with other girls because these people have been kidnapping girls in a lot of communities.”
Dr Manasseh, who is chairman of the board of trustees of the Pan Chibok Youth Association, said that some of the parents were distraught at not seeing their daughters in the video.
“They have not identified their daughters and they are so stressed. We are having a real problem,” he said.
He is among those who were disappointed not to find a relative in the footage. “My younger sister Maryamu Wavi [is among those missing]. I could not identify her among those girls. I still hope that she’ll be found and will come back.”
Dr Manasseh says he hopes that more will be identified, since the quality of the video and the girls’ covered heads make them harder to recognise. “What is bringing confusion is the complete change in the mode of dressing,” he said, referring to their long head scarves.
The Nigerian government said that the “window of negotiation” is open with Boko Haram. The move follows the message in the video released by the group today which said that schoolgirls could be released in exchange for Boko Haram prisoners.
Minister of Special Duties Tanimu Turaki, said: “The window of negotiation is still open. The government had set up a committee to negotiate with Boko Haram so if they have any negotiation to make it should be channelled through the committee.”
Two of France’s former first ladies, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy (fourth left, with scarf) and Valerie Trierweiler (far right), attend a ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ protest in Paris (EPA)
A vigil will be held this evening in Abuja to mark 30 days since the first girls disappeared, with a parallel event also planned in Washington. Campaigners will meet from 10pm at the Thisday dome, a large events venue in the centre of Abuja.
Rotimi Olawale, media co-ordinator of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign, said that international intervention was bringing fresh hope that the girls could be found. “There’s increased momentum considering the help we’re getting from international powers so I’m hopeful that in the next couple of days we’ll have good news,” he said.
“Based on the evidence, it’s obvious that the government did not respond in good time or provide good support for the families. In the last few weeks, that’s beginning to change.”
Speaking of the online campaign which saw the hashtag #bringbackourgirls used more than 2.5 million times in global Twitter posts, Mr Olawale said: “We were surprised at the scale and reach it got and the support we achieved all across the world.”
American spy planes flew over remote parts of north-east Nigeria as efforts to find the girls were stepped up.
Thousands of Nigerian troops have already been sent to the region while Britain, the United States and France and have all sent teams to help with the search on the ground.
In further evidence of the impact of Boko Haram’s terrorising of the north-east of the country, Nigeria’s President, Goodluck Jonathan, asked parliament for a six-month extension of a state of emergency in three states in the region due to persistent attacks.
A state of emergency was declared in Adamawa, Borno and Yobe states in May last year and extended in November.
Mr Jonathan said: “The security situation in the three states remains daunting albeit to varying degrees, in the face of persistent attacks by members of the Boko Haram sects on civilian and military targets with alarming casualty rates.”
The mass abduction of the girls from their boarding school in Chibok has caused international outrage and Mr Jonathan’s government has faced repeated criticism for its slow respinse.
The scale of the kidnapping has brought global attention to Boko Haram, which has killed thousands of Nigerians since it began its fight for an Islamist state in 2009. The group had initially threatened to sell the girls into slavery but now says it will trade them for the release of its imprisoned members.
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