World Bulletin / News Desk
Security forces on Thursday prevented demonstrators from marching to the Aso Rock, the seat of the Nigerian presidency in the capital Abuja, to demand the immediate and safe return of schoolgirls abducted last month by Boko Haram militants.
The bring-back-our-girls protesters were led by former minister Oby Ezekwezili and other public figures.
They marched through Abuja and intended to proceed to the country's seat of power to demand a meeting with the president.
But they were stopped a very long distance from the presidential residence by dozens of armed policemen.
On April 14, Boko Haram militants stormed a school in Chibok, located on the fringes of Sambisa Forest, loading scores of schoolgirls onto trucks before driving away unchallenged.
The exact number of abducted schoolgirls, however, still remains dogged by controversy.
In a recent 17-minute video, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau offered to exchange the kidnapped girls for Boko Haram militants held by Nigerian authorities.
Boko Haram, which means "Western education is forbidden" in Nigeria's local Hausa language, first emerged in the early 2000s preaching against government misrule and corruption.
The group later became violent, however, after the death of its leader in 2009 while in police custody.
In the five years since, the shadowy sect has been blamed for numerous attacks – on places of worship and government institutions – and thousands of deaths.
The protesters were eventually addressed by a handful of top government officials, including secretary to the central government Anyim Pius Anyim and minister of state for federal capital territory Jumoke Akinjide.
"Terrorism is a global phenomenon and this government is doing everything to tackle the menace," Akinjide told the angry protesters.
"Government is doing everything to bring back our girls," she added.
The government team was booed after Akinjide told protesters that the "government swung into action" immediately after news of the abduction broke.
She urged the protesters to direct their "anger instead at the terrorists" and not to the government - another line that infuriated the protesters who are mostly youngsters.
The protesters, whose spokesperson at today's rally was prominent rights lawyer Maryam Uwais, handed the government a 10-point complaints to pass on to the president.
The protesters have pledged to visit Chibok to show solidarity with the families of the abducted girls - a trip the government will likely frustrate on security grounds.
The rally was held simultaneously with the one organized by the Nigeria Union of Teachers, also lending their voice to the call on the government to ensure the safe and rapid rescue of the schoolgirls.
The teachers staged a pocket of rallies across state capitals.
The union had directed members to hold processions across the capitals of Nigeria's states and federal capital Abuja.
The Human Rights Watch said in a recent report that teachers are a prime target of the Boko Haram insurgency and urged the government to do more to protect them.Last Mod: 23 Mayıs 2014, 10:16