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More than two weeks after the kidnapping of hundreds of female students from their school in northeastern Nigeria, most are still missing. As frustration builds, Nigerians have organized large-scale protests to voice their outrage over the government's inability to protect civilians from a building insurgency.
In Abuja, the capital, and Lagos, hundreds of people turned out yesterday and today for rallies. Dubbed "A Million Woman March," participants held signs reading "Find our Daughters." Speaking at the march in Abuja, a former Nigerian cabinet member Obiageli Ezekwesili said the military had "no coherent search-and-rescue" plan, Agence France-Presse reports.
"If this happened anywhere else in the world, more than 200 girls kidnapped and no information for more than two weeks, the country would be brought to a standstill," Ms. Ezekwesili said.
The girls were kidnapped from their boarding school in northeastern Nigeria on April 15. It's a region of the country that's been torn apart by a several-year insurgency by local Islamist militant group, Boko Haram, whose name translates to "Western education is forbidden."
The girls were reportedly loaded onto trucks and motorbikes and taken into the forest. The military has so far had no success locating the girls, although as of Wednesday, an estimated 48 girls had escaped, according to a tally being kept by the Nigerian newspaper This Day. In the early days after the abduction, the Army announced it had rescued all of the girls. That report was false.
Enoch Mark, whose daughter and two nieces were kidnapped, told CNN that residents of the town where the school is located, Chibok, went off on motorbikes to search for the girls themselves last month. Mr. Mark said that in a nine-hour search "they never saw a single soldier" in the area where the militants are believed to be holding the young women.
The education commissioner of Borno State, which includes Chibok, defended the government and military, according to CNN.
"This is a delicate situation that requires careful handling," [Musa inuwa Kubo] said. "When you have heavily armed men holding close to 200 girls hostage, you have to be very careful in your approach so as not to risk the safety of these girls you want to rescue.
He said authorities are withholding information for safety reasons.
"It is a security issue and we just can't be divulging all the efforts we are making to get these girls freed," the education commissioner said.
Such assurances, as well as false statements like the military's announcement it had rescued the girls, grate after years of atrocities, The Christian Science Monitor reports.
But for many Nigerians, official claims of success are almost as painful as the violence itself. While the military may make such comments in an effort to keep up morale, it feeds public frustration with a military that seems incapable of stemming what appears to be a widening conflict.
“The skepticism in the public mind is increasing, perhaps even about the government’s culpability with the security concerns that Nigerians have,” says Clement Nwankwo, who heads the Policy and Legal Advocacy Center in Abuja.
The military and government's ineffectual response has become a flash point for outrage that has been simmering for years. Comments on Twitter, organized by the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, spoke to a sense of abandonment :
“We are trying to bring the plight of the Chibok girls to the attention of the government,” protest leader Hadiza Bala Usman said, according to The New York Times. “We see the Nigerian government not showing enough concern.”
“Two hundred thirty-six girls were abducted in an area where there is emergency rule,” Ms. Usman added, referring to the government campaign to fight the insurgency. “It brings to mind a lack of commitment by the army.”
Nigeria, which recently became Africa's largest economy, will host the World Economic Forum next week with a tremendous security presence.