Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan met through the night with security, school and state officials and issued a new directive that "everything must be done" to free the 276 girls held captive by Boko Haram gunmen, one of his advisers said Sunday.
It was the first time the president met with all stakeholders in the situation, including the principal of the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School in northeastern Nigeria where the girls and young women were kidnapped in a pre-dawn raid on April 15.
The meeting came amid mounting outrage at the government’s failure to rescue the students. Protest marches last week in major Nigerian cities as well as New York City have spurred to action Jonathan's government, which many see as indifferent to the girls' plight.
The police said last week that the actual number abducted had risen to more than 300 and that 276 remain in captivity. It said 53 of the students managed to escape their captors. None have been rescued by the military, which initially said it was in hot pursuit of the abductors.
Some of the girls have been forced into "marriage" with their abductors and paid a nominal bride price of $12, according to a federal senator from the area whose report is unverified. Some of the young women have been taken across Nigeria's borders to Cameroon and Chad, the parents said last week quoting villagers. Child marriage is common in northern Nigeria, where it is allowed under an Islamic law that clashes with the country's Western-style constitution.
Anguished parents in Chibok town, who have lost confidence in the government and military, have been begging for international help.
The United States and Britain, Nigeria's former colonizer, promised help, but have not elaborated on how they intend to do so.
"The kidnapping of hundreds of children by Boko Haram is an unconscionable crime, and we will do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and to hold the perpetrators to justice," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday in a speech in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Nigeria is confronting an increasingly bloody five-year-old uprising of Boko Haram. Two bomb blasts in three weeks in Abuja, the capital, killed about 100 people and wounded more than 200. More than 1,500 people have died in the insurgency this year, compared to an estimated 3,600 between 2010 and 2013.
In northeastern Nigeria, police Sunday morning foiled an attack by suicide bombers who had packed a pickup vehicle with explosives and gasoline, the Defense Ministry said.
In a further indication of the security threats confronting Nigeria, the U.S. Embassy on Friday warned Americans that "groups associated with terrorism" may be planning "an unspecified attack" on a Sheraton hotel in Nigeria's commercial center, Lagos. The city, on the Atlantic Ocean, has never been attacked, though police last year arrested six suspected of planning an assault on popular Bar Beach.
Al Jazeera and wire services