Dozens of protesters rallied at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington on Tuesday against the kidnapping of 276 girls, and their alleged sale as "brides" for as little as $12, with the hope of pressuring authorities to take action against Boko Haram, the armed group responsible for their abduction.
They gathered outside the embassy, dressed in red and holding signs that read “Bring back our girls,” and “276 stolen dreams.”
Molly Alawode, a leader of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign, told Al Jazeera the protests would continue “if the government doesn’t live up to its duty of service and protect the Nigerian population.
“We think it’s really important to send this message today to let him [President Goodluck Jonathan] and other leaders know that the world is really watching,” she added.
On April 14, 276 girls were kidnapped from their dormitories at the Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, a city in the northern state of Borno. On Monday, the leader of Boko Haram, an armed group that seeks to create an Islamic fundamentalist state in Nigeria’s north, claimed responsibility for the attack and said he would sell the girls as slaves.
“I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah,” Abubakar Shekau said, according to Agence France-Presse, which reported it had obtained a video from the group.
The rally comes after hundreds of protesters at Union Square in New York staged a similar demonstration on Saturday. The demonstrators, in solidarity with the parents of the missing girls, use the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls to raise awareness about the kidnapping.
Michael Ikotun, who is involved with the campaign, said its goal is twofold.
“We want to know exactly how many girls were kidnapped, the names of these girls, [and] the actual steps being taken to bring [them] back,” he said.
“We want the U.S. government to be involved.”
World leaders, meanwhile, will gather for two days starting May 7 for a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. The event has local authorities focused on international concerns about the country’s security and military instability.
Activists are using the WEF meetings to highlight what they claim are a tepid government response to the kidnappings.
“It’s very rare in a country to have more than 200 girls kidnapped, and it’s business as usual,” Ikotun said.
A day after the April kidnappings, Nigerian authorities claimed that the number of abducted was just over 100 young women, and that most had already been rescued. But that number later rose, and the military was forced to recant its statement and acknowledge that it had not rescued any of the girls.
On Tuesday, three weeks after the abduction, suspected Boko Haram members kidnapped eight more girls ages 12 to 15 from a village in northeastern Nigeria, police and residents said.
Protesters have also organized marches in London and Los Angeles in the past days. In Germany, an online petition created by Nigerian student Ify Elueze, which calls on Jonathan and world leaders to bring the girls home, gathered more than 200,000 signatures in less than a week. Its signatories include supporters from South Africa, Canada and the United Kingdom.
“It started because I believe everyone feels the pain, and all you want is for these girls to be brought back,” Elueze said. “And I really hope that this would create awareness, which would ultimately bring them back.”
With wire services