Nigeria marks three years since Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok on Friday, a day after the government announced it is in negotiations for the release of those still being held.
The government “is in constant touch through negotiations, through local intelligence, to secure the release of the remaining girls and other abducted persons unharmed”, President Muhammadu Buhari said in a statement on Thursday.
Nigeria is conducting negotiations with Boko Haram with the help of “foreign entities”, a presidential spokesman said.
Fifty-seven girls managed to escape soon after they were kidnapped while others were found or rescued by the military. Twenty-one girls were released in October in a deal brokered by the International Red Cross and the Swiss government.
But at least 195 of the girls are still missing. Many have been forced to “marry” Islamist fighters and have since had babies. Others have been forced to conduct suicide-bomb attacks.
Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of children and teenagers throughout its insurgency, often raping them and forcing them to become sex slaves or militants themselves.
ESCAPED CHIBOK SCHOOLGIRL SPEAKS TO FRANCE 24
In Nigeria’s capital Abuja and the commercial hub of Lagos, Bring Back Our Girls campaigners are planning a march on Friday to mark the anniversary of the kidnapping.
A statement from Nigeria’s Department of State Services said Wednesday that it broke up a cell late last month that had “perfected plans to attack” the US and British embassies along with “other Western interests” in Nigeria’s capital.
The announcement of the thwarted attack came on the same day that the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that Boko Haram’s use of children as suicide bombers had already surged in 2017. UNICEF said 27 children – mostly girls – had been used in suicide attacks in the first three months of the year in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad, the countries most active in fighting Boko Haram. There were nine cases in the same period last year and 30 children used for bombings in all of 2016.
The Boko Haram insurgency, which is aimed at creating an Islamist state in the country’s north, has already claimed more than 20,000 lives and displaced more than 2 million. “Up to 2.1 million people fled their homes at the height of the conflict, 1.8 million of whom are currently internally displaced,” according to the UN.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in March 2015, giving the Islamist group its first cell in sub-Saharan Africa.