Even More Girls Are Missing In Nigeria Than Previously Thought

CREDIT: AP Photo/ Gbemiga Olamikan

Women attend a demonstration calling on the government to rescue kidnapped schoolgirls

International outrage has been building for the last week over the plight of nearly two hundred girls who were kidnapped from their boarding school in Nigeria, whose location remain weeks after their abduction. Now Nigerian authorities are saying the number of those who were taken and still missing is closer to 300.

On the night of Apr. 14, armed men entered a government secondary school in the village of Chibok, in Nigeria’s northeastern Borno state, and packed several trucks with teenage girls who were preparing to take a physics exam. Two weeks later, the Nigerian government is no closer to finding them. Women rallied on Wednesday to draw attention to the plight of their missing daughters, nieces, and sisters, bolstered internationally through the outrage growing on social media through the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag.

Now, Nigerian authorities have said that the number of girls taken initially was actually more than 300 — the number has continued to grow as the crisis has gone on. Of those, 276 remain whose whereabouts are unknown. Police Commissioner Tanko Lawan told reporters on Thursday night in Maiduguri, Borno’s capital, that the numbers have risen since the time of the kidnapping as students from various schools in the area were gathered at the Government Girls Secondary School to take their final exams. Schools in the state were closed last month due to a surge in violence from Islamic militants active in the area.

“The students were drawn from schools in Izge, Lassa, Ashigashiya and Warabe A. and that is why, after the unfortunate incident, there were various numbers flying around as to the actual number of girls that were taken away,” Lawan said. In one small piece of good news, the number of girls who had escaped from their captors, had also risen to 53. But as one Chibok official told the New Yorker of those who had managed to flee: “Nobody rescued them … I want you to stress this point. Nobody rescued them. They escaped on their accord. This is painful.”

Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan addressed the kidnapping publicly for the first time on Thursday at a May Day rally. Jonathan, whose government has come under harsh criticism for failing to rally enough resources to find the students, told the crowd “we must find our missing girls” and “the perpetrators must be brought to book.” He also said that “the cruel abduction of some innocent girls, our future mothers and leaders, in a very horrific and despicable situation in Borno state is quite regrettable.”

As the crisis has continued, the calls for the international community to jump in to assist — in the same manner as the hunt for the missing Malaysian airliner last month — has grown. The United States has offered help, according to the State Department, but isn’t offering up details of just how they might assist in the hunt for the girls. “Obviously, this is a horrific tragedy, abhorrent – I don’t know if there are enough words that I could come up with to say how terrible the situation is,” State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said at the daily press briefing on Thursday. “We have been engaged with the Nigerian Government in discussions on what we might do to help support their efforts to find and free these young women. We’ll continue to have those conversations and help in any way we can.”

Reports of where the girls are and just who kidnapped them remain unconfirmed. Terrorist group Boko Haram has been deemed the most likely culprit, as the kidnapping fits the group’s motive of preventing Nigerians — particularly girls — from receiving Western education. As for their location, local elders have said that the girls were taken across the border into neighboring Chad and Cameroon, with many sold into “marriage” to their captors for the hefty price of 2,000 Nigerian naira — or $12 USD.