“I abducted your girls,” the leader of the Boko Haram terrorist organization has reportedly confirmed, according to a story by the French news agency AFP. “I will sell them in the market,” Abubakar Shekau is said to have added.
This was the confirmation Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan said he was waiting for, in a televised press conference held over the weekend to manage the sharp global critique over his government’s handling of the more than 230 girls snatched from their dormitories on April 14th. An editorial on TheGuardian.com lambasted: “Nigeria likes to present itself as the face of Africa rising. But its response to the kidnapping has belonged firmly in the other African narrative: hopeless Africa.”
In a piece entitled “The President I Want,” National Book Critics Circle Award-winning author Chimamanda Adichie wrote: “I want the president to stop issuing limp, belated announcements through public officials, to insist on a televised apology from whoever is responsible for lying to Nigerians about the girls having been rescued.”
In his grilling by the press, Jonathan admitted he had not started negotiations to free the girls from the captors because “…the [Boko Haram] spokesman, has not come to tell Nigerians… that ‘we came to do the kidnapping.’”
He insisted though that he was doing all he could to get the girls back.
“We have used aircrafts, boat, and of course, we have had the ability to scan and see what is on the surfaces.” He continued, “The only good thing—and I am happy, and I believe most Nigerians are happy—is that there is no story that any of them has been hurt in terms of injured or dead.” With the girls said to have been sold into sexual slavery, it is doubtful Nigerians are ‘happy’.
Referring to allegations that some of the girls have been sold to militants in Cameroon and Chad for 2000 Naira each, Jonathan said he has extended the search to these countries as well as Benin, and Niger. “Yes, there are rumors that some of them have been ‘married’,” but, he went on to say, “If people married them, then you must live your life. You cannot continue to hide them forever.”
In spite of what Jonathan says is a rigorous rescue effort; he could not confirm the names of the missing. The Christian Association of Nigeria took the matter into their own hands, releasing the names of 180 of the lost girls this weekend.
As the names made their way across the global newswire, hundreds attended #BringBackOurGirls rallies in London, Washington D.C., and New York.
Aretha Amma Sarfo and MaameYaa Boafo both attended the demonstration in Manhattan’s Union Square, where they estimated 300 to 600 women and men came out brandishing signs that read “Nigeria, the World is Watching.” Organized by New Jersey-based Gugulethu Mlambo, attendees were invited to wear African headwraps and Nigerian geles in sartorial solidarity.
Calling the Nigerian girls “cousins," Sarfo said, “As a Ghanaian, as an American, as a woman and as someone who also attended a boarding school in America, with my family members attend[ing] boarding schools in Africa, I could not afford not to care.”
Boafo added, she was there to show her power as an educated African woman—something the Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates to “Western education is forbidden," fears.
“As an educated African woman living in the States,” she said, “My presence alone was audible, but people heard me saying ‘Bring my little sisters and cousins—and the world's future leaders, entertainers, doctors, etc.—home.’”
Foreigners following the story of the kidnapped girls have also called for international intervention. At present there’s a petition on WhiteHouse.gov, and multiple petitions across Change.org and other such platforms.
Yesterday, the Huffington Post reported that Attorney General Eric Holder has offered the assistance of United States law enforcement resources to Nigeria to help bring the girls back. Speaking from the Democratic Republic of Congo on Saturday, Secretary of State John Kerry also pledged his support.
"The kidnapping of hundreds of children by Boko Haram is an unconscionable crime, and we will do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes," he said.
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof quoted Secretary Kerry as saying, “We’re really pushing them… about the situation with the girls.” President Jonathan stopped short of saying the Obama administration has not been much help.
Answering a reporter who wanted to know how he was working with America and other foreign powers to get the girls, and address the bigger problem of militant insurgents in Nigeria, Jonathan said, he had “personally made a request of President Obama two times.”
“There was one time I met with one Secretary of State, I can’t remember the name exactly,” he explained, adding that he had requested on the ground assistance as well as intelligence-tracking equipment. “For me to contain terror, we must have superior intelligence, not this human knowledge and brain alone… And send your people physically. …You are sending people to other parts of the world.”
Just days before world leaders are scheduled to descend upon Nigeria’s capital city Abuja for the inaugural African edition of the World Economic Forum, Jonathan admitted Nigeria needed local cooperation as well as global support to reach its full potential. He did not get into specifics about Nigeria’s massive oil wealth and why, in spite of the fact that their economy was designated the largest in Africa, he has not been able to provide adequate security. He said combating insurgents was draining badly needed resources.
“I feel pain because as a nation, [we are not supposed] to waste time and resources in fighting ourselves,” Jonathan lamented. “We should think about ‘how do we create wealth’?”
Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond is the author of Powder Necklace. Named among the 39 most promising African writers under 39, her work will be featured in the forthcoming anthology Africa39.