Women protesting against kidnap of Nigerian schoolgirls arrested

Boko Haram leader claims responsibility for abductions and threatens to sell girls

Woman holding signs take part in a protest demanding the release of abducted secondary school girls from the remote village of Chibok, in Lagos. Photograph: Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters

Woman holding signs take part in a protest demanding the release of abducted secondary school girls from the remote village of Chibok, in Lagos. Photograph: Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters

 

Two women protesting the Nigerian government’s response to the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls by the Islamist group Boko Haram were arrested yesterday after a meeting with the wife of the president, leaders of the protest movement said, fuelling growing concern in Nigeria over the fate of the girls.

The arrests were reported as the Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau claimed responsibility for the kidnappings, threatening in a video message obtained by Agence France- Presse to sell the girls.

“Western education should end. Girls, you should go and get married,” he said in the video, according to AFP. “I will sell them in the market, by Allah.”

The apparent arrest of the two protest leaders, both from the town where the schoolgirls were seized on April 14th, highlighted the Nigerian government’s sensitivity over the kidnappings, particularly as the country prepares to host a major economic summit this week in the capital, Abuja.


Police custody
By early afternoon, one of the women had been released, protest leaders said, but the other – Naomi Mutah Nyadar – remained in police custody.

More than 200 girls – the exact number is in dispute – are still being held by Boko Haram nearly three weeks after they were seized, and the Nigerian government’s failure to rescue any of them has set off a rare anti-government protest movement in Nigeria.

Foreign governments have weighed in as well, with the US state department expressing concern. Last week there were marches on the country’s national assembly in Abuja, and it was leaders of those marches who apparently angered Patience Jonathan, the wife of the Nigerian president, Goodluck Jonathan.

Patience Jonathan had invited mothers of the abducted girls to come to Abuja from the remote northeastern town of Chibok, where the girls were seized, according to Hadiza Bala Usman, the organiser of the protests.

But the “timeline was too short,” Ms Usman said – there are no flights, and Chibok is several days’ journey by road.

The Chibok mothers “delegated the responsibility” of meeting with Patience Jonathan to neighbours who were already in Abuja; Ms Nyadar is related to some of the kidnapping victims.

But when the president’s wife discovered that Ms Nyadar and another woman who was later taken into custody were not mothers of the missing girls, she became enraged, said Ms Usman and Dr Pogu Bitrus, a Chibok official who knows both women.

Ms Usman said that Patience Jonathan told the women: “You lied to us by saying you are a mother. Because of that we are detaining you.”

Dr Bitrus said that Patience Jonathan “ordered that they be arrested for impersonation”.

A spokesman for Patience Jonathan was quoted in media reports as denying that anybody had been arrested.

By midmorning a large crowd had gathered outside the Abuja police station where Nyadar was being held. “It’s not a rumour, it’s true,” Dr Bitrus said. “The lady is locked up.”

– (New York Times service)