Skip to main content

Nigeria's government defends its actions as more girls are abducted

By Isha Sesay, Vlad Duthiers and Chelsea J. Carter, CNN
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Wed May 7, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: The father of two missing girls says there has been no sign of Nigerian military
  • NEW: "We have never seen any military man there," the father says
  • Nigeria's President is not "taking this as easy as people all over the world think"
  • Nigerian village residents say armed men took eight more girls late Sunday

CNN anchor Isha Sesay will be live from Abuja on CNN International, Monday to Thursday at 5, 7, 8.30 and 9 p.m. CET.

Abuja, Nigeria (CNN) -- Nigeria defended its response to the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls by the terror group Boko Haram, even as details emerged Tuesday about a second mass abduction, adding to a growing global outrage over the fate of the children.

President Goodluck Jonathan has been under fire over accusations the government initially ignored and then later downplayed the abduction of the girls, who have become the focal point of a social media campaign demanding their safe return.

"The President and the government (are) not taking this as easy as people all over the world think," Doyin Okupe, a spokesman for Jonathan told CNN.

"We've done a lot -- but we are not talking about it. We're not Americans. We're not showing people, you know, but it does not mean that we are not doing something."

In detailing the government's response, two special battalions have been devoted to the search for the missing girls, Okupe said. That includes 250 locations that have been searched by helicopters and airplanes.

Anger grows over 200 missing girls
Obama: 'This is a terrible situation'
London joins campaign for kidnapped girls

It was unclear whether these were additional troops being dispatched or were forces already in place. More troops, he said, are also on the way.

But the father of two of the schoolgirls taken by Boko Haram told CNN there has been no sign of the military in the days and weeks following the abduction.

He accused the government of "playing" with the parents of the missing girls, treating them as "fools."

"Had there been these military men who went into the bush to rescue our daughters, we would have seen them," said the father, who declined to be identified for fear of reprisals by the government and the terror group. "...We have never seen any military man there."

U.S. offer of military help

In a sign that Nigeria may be bowing to international pressure and outrage, the government announced the creation of an information center dedicated to answering questions and providing daily updates about rescue efforts, Okupe said.

Nigeria's President also accepted an offer of U.S. military support in the search for the girls.

"So what we've done is — we have offered, and it's been accepted — help from our military and our law enforcement officials," U.S. President Barack Obama told NBC News on Tuesday. "We're going to do everything we can to provide assistance to them."

That help includes the creation of a "coordination cell" to provide intelligence, investigations and hostage negotiation expertise, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. The cell will include U.S. military personnel, she said.

The joint coordination cell will be established at the U.S. Embassy in the capital of Abuja, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the work is expected to begin immediately.

Kidnapper: I will sell them in the market
Police in riot gear block a route in Abuja, Nigeria, on Tuesday, October 14, during a demonstration calling on the Nigerian government to rescue schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. In April, more than 200 girls were abducted from their boarding school in northeastern Nigeria, officials and witnesses said. Police in riot gear block a route in Abuja, Nigeria, on Tuesday, October 14, during a demonstration calling on the Nigerian government to rescue schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram. In April, more than 200 girls were abducted from their boarding school in northeastern Nigeria, officials and witnesses said.
Nigerians protest over kidnapped schoolgirls
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
>
>>
Photos: Nigerians protest over kidnapped girls Photos: Nigerians protest over kidnapped girls
Map: Where the girls were kidnapped  Map: Where the girls were kidnapped
Map: Where the girls were kidnappedMap: Where the girls were kidnapped

But even as the help was offered to Jonathan, new details were emerging about the abduction of at least eight girls between the ages of 12 and 15, who were snatched Sunday night from the village of Warabe.

The village is located in the rural northeast, near the border of Cameroon, an area considered a stronghold for Boko Haram, a group that U.S. officials say has received training from al Qaeda affiliates.

Villagers in Warabe told CNN that gunmen moved from door-to-door late Sunday, snatching the girls and beating anybody who tried to stop them.

The latest abductions come amid international outcry over the April 14 kidnapping of more than 200 girls. According to accounts, armed members of Boko Haram overpowered security guards at an all-girls school in Chibok, yanked the girls out of bed and forced them into trucks. The convoy of trucks then disappeared into the dense forest bordering Cameroon.

Boko Haram: A bloody insurgency, a growing challenge

'Western education is sin'

Boko Haram translates to "Western education is sin" in the local Hausa language, and the group has said its aim is to impose a stricter enforcement of Sharia law across Africa's most populous nation, which is split between a majority Muslim north and a mostly Christian south.

The United States has branded Boko Haram a terror organization and has put a $7 million bounty on the group's elusive leader, Abubakar Shekau.

In recent years, the group has stepped up its attacks, bombing schools, churches and mosques.

But it is the abductions of girls that has spawned the biggest outrage, with a #BringBackOurGirls campaign that initially began on Twitter and then quickly spread with demonstrators taking to the streets over the weekend in major cities around the world to demand action.

6 reasons why the world should demand action

On Tuesday, the United Nations human rights chief blasted Boko Haram, saying the group's claim of slavery and sexual slavery of girls are "crimes against humanity."

"The girls must be immediately returned, unharmed, to their families," U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a news release.

'I abducted your girls'

A man claiming to be Shekau appeared in a video announcing he would sell his victims. The video was first obtained Monday by Agence-France Presse.

Anger grows over 200 missing girls
US offering help for kidnapped girls

"I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah," he said, according to a CNN translation from the local Hausa language. "There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell. I will sell women. I sell women."

In the nearly hourlong, rambling video, Shekau repeatedly called for an end to Western education.

"Girls, you should go and get married," he said.

Pillay, along with three other African United Nations women leaders, sent a letter reminding the Nigerian government of its "legal responsibility to ensure that girls and boys have the fundamental right to education and to be protected from violence, persecution and intimidation," according to her statement.

In the United States, all 20 women serving in the Senate signed a bipartisan letter calling on Obama to take action.

"More can be done by this administration. I would like to see special forces deployed to help rescue these young girls. Some of these girls are as young as nine years old," Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine told CNN. "...They're being sold into slavery, forced into marriages, required to convert. This is just horrible."

More than 355,000 people, including celebrities and lawmakers, to date have signed a change.org petition that calls upon the world to act to save the girls.

The petition calls on Jonathan and the government "to ensure all schools are safe places to learn, protected from attack."

'You can never rule out surprise'

Nigerian Minister of Information Labaran Maku told CNN that despite international reaction and media reports, there have been some successes in combating Boko Haram.

But when asked about bombings in Abuja, which came the same day as the mass abduction of schoolgirls, he said: "In the case of insurgency and guerrilla warfare, you can never rule out surprise here and there."

He also declined to agree that misinformation released by the military in the aftermath of the April kidnapping added to the growing outrage.

First, the military said all the girls had been released or rescued. But after the girls' families began asking where their daughters were, the military retracted the statement.

"When they made that statement, it was based on a report they received," the minister said.

Nigeria's finance minister said Monday that her country's government remains committed to finding the girls but should have done a better job explaining the situation to the public.

"Have we communicated what is being done properly? The answer is no, that people did not have enough information," Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told CNN's Richard Quest.

What's at stake in war against girls' kidnappers?

CNN Freedom Project: Ending Modern-Day Slavery

CNN's Isha Sesay and Vlad Duthiers reported from Abuja, and Chelsea J. Carter reported and wrote from Atlanta. Journalist Aminu Abubakar contributed to this report from Nigeria, and CNN's Ashley Fantz, Dana Ford and Nana Karikari-apau contributed from Atlanta.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:41 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
Arwa Damon meets two young orphans, now in Niger, whose mother died years ago -- and whose father was killed in a Boko Haram attack in Nigeria.
updated 6:41 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
A small river marks the border between Niger and Nigeria -- a shallow divide between security and the horrors of Boko Haram.
updated 5:59 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
CNN's Arwa Damon reports that U.S. sources now believe Boko Haram insurgents may be hiding on the islands of Lake Chad.
updated 3:15 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
Isha Sesay talks to journalist Aminu Abubakar who says approximately 500 people have been killed in northeastern Nigeria.
updated 6:07 AM EDT, Wed June 4, 2014
A policeman stand beside children holding as members of Lagos based civil society groups hold rally calling for the release of missing Chibok school girls at the state government house, in Lagos, Nigeria, on May 5, 2014. Boko Haram on Monday claimed the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in northern Nigeria that has triggered international outrage, threatening to sell them as
Police in Nigeria's capital Tuesday made a U-turn, saying a ban on protests in support of the more than 200 girls kidnapped in April does not exist.
updated 2:36 AM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
A top Nigerian official claims to know where the missing schoolgirls are located, as Arwa Damon reports.
updated 5:00 PM EDT, Mon May 26, 2014
Arwa Damon reports on Nigerian schools sitting empty as residents live in fear of Boko Haram.
updated 7:11 PM EDT, Wed May 21, 2014
A large part of northern and central Nigeria is now at the mercy of intensified attacks by Boko Haram, and the group seems to be embarking on a new phase of its campaign.
updated 10:02 AM EDT, Wed May 21, 2014
Half of a yellow sun poster
It's one of the most important Nigerian stories to hit the big screen -- yet the director says Nigeria's bureaucracy is purposely preventing its release.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon May 19, 2014
Opinion: The media turns Boko Haram into 'superstar monsters' -- which is exactly what they want.
updated 8:24 AM EDT, Tue May 13, 2014
CNN's Nima Elbagir speaks with the mothers of two missing Nigerian schoolgirls.
updated 9:18 AM EDT, Mon May 12, 2014
With fear in her eyes, a young woman tells CNN's Nima Elbagir, the first journalist to visit Chibok, how she fled gun-toting Islamic extremists.
updated 6:39 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Over the last 20 years, the narrative on the African continent has shifted from Afro-pessimism to Afro-optimism.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Thu May 8, 2014
Women in repressive countries are fighting back against injustice, writes Frida Ghitis.
updated 8:46 AM EST, Tue March 4, 2014
Biyi Bandele, who recently directed Oscar nominated Chiwetel Ejiofor in "Half of a Yellow Sun," discusses his remarkable journey.
updated 6:24 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
From regular people to celebrities, here are some of the people participating in the movement.
updated 5:33 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Nigeria woke up to a brand new economy, apparently. But the country are suffering and its people responded with a hiss.
updated 5:00 AM EDT, Mon April 7, 2014
At 23, many people around the world are still at university -- at that age, Gossy Ukanwoke had already started one.
updated 12:23 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Oprah, if you're reading this, for goodness sake return this woman's calls.
Are you in Nigeria? Share your thoughts on the schoolgirls' kidnapping, but please stay safe.
ADVERTISEMENT