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Nigeria backtracks on ban on protests for kidnapped girls in capital

By Dana Ford, CNN
updated 6:07 AM EDT, Wed June 4, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The ban was on protests in support of more than 200 kidnapped girls
  • Police: Citizens should "apply caution" at such rallies
  • The schoolgirls were kidnapped from northern Nigeria in April

(CNN) -- 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.

The ban was issued one day earlier by Commissioner Joseph Mbu.

"The Police High Command wishes to inform the general public that the Force has not issued any order banning peaceful assemblies/protests anywhere in Nigeria," his office said in a statement.

"It notes however that against the backdrop of current security challenges in the country, coupled with a recent intelligence report of a likely infiltration and hijack of otherwise innocuous and peaceful protests by some criminal elements having links with insurgents, the Police only issued advisory notice, enjoining citizens to apply caution in the said rallies, particularly in the Federal Capital Territory and its environs," the statement read.

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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
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Photos: Nigerians protest over kidnapped girls Photos: Nigerians protest over kidnapped girls

On Monday, the commissioner said the proliferation of such protests was "posing a serious security threat" in the capital city of Abuja.

"Information reaching us is that too soon dangerous elements will join the groups under the guise of protest and detonate explosive(s) aimed at embarrassing the government. Accordingly protests on the Chibok Girls is hereby banned with immediate effect," his office said in its original statement.

More than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped in northern Nigeria in April by Boko Haram, an act that drew international condemnation.

The terror group abducted an estimated 276 girls on April 14 from a boarding school in Chibok. Dozens escaped, but more than 200 girls are still missing.

Nigerians and others have accused their government of not acting swiftly or efficiently enough to protect the girls seized in the dead of night.

Authorities' apparent change of heart came after an outcry on the part of protesters. One group, #BringBackOurGirls, threatened legal action.

"Our Movement is legitimate and lawful and cannot be arrested by the police whose responsibility is to enforce, not betray the law," it said in a statement.

An adviser to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan sought to explain the apparent contradiction.

"This present administration has never, ever tried to violate anybody's rights. We believe in human rights, we believe in citizens' rights," Doyin Okupe told CNN's Isha Sesay. "The police command has come to further clear the statement."

"The ban that the commissioner of police in Abuja proclaimed is like asking people, look, before you go on a protest, you have to come to the police, to come and clear with the police and let us work together to ensure that nobody's life is in danger," he said.

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

The military actually knows where the girls are, "but as you will understand, you just cannot storm a place like that," Okupe said.

He added: "I believe that by God's grace, we are very near the end of this whole unfortunate saga."

READ: Nigerian villagers fight off attacks by Boko Haram

READ: CNN exclusive: Nigerian girl who escaped Boko Haram says she still feels afraid

READ: 'Fear is everywhere:' Boko Haram threat keeps abducted Nigerian girls' village awake

CNN's Nana Karikari-apau, Salma Abdelaziz and journalist Aminu Abubakar contributed to this report.

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