News

Nigeria’s president vows to free kidnapped girls

Nigeria’s president vows to free kidnapped girls

KIDNAPPED:Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan speaks during a Nigeria-Kenya bilateral business meeting in Abuja, May 5. Photo: Reuters/Folabi Sotunde

By Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Chijioke Ohuocha

ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan pledged on Thursday to find more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by Islamist rebels, as the hostage crisis overshadowed his opening address to a major conference designed to showcase investment opportunities in Africa’s biggest economy.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum (WEF) being hosted in the capital Abuja, Jonathan thanked foreign nations including the United States, Britain, France and China for their support in trying to rescue the girls, who were kidnapped from a secondary school on April 14 by Boko Haram.

He thanked delegates for coming despite the danger posed by the militants, then quickly moved on to a speech about creating jobs in African economies.

“As a nation we are facing attack from terrorism,” Jonathan told delegates. “I believe that the kidnap of these girls will be the beginning of the end of terrorism in Nigeria.”

Despite such pledges, Jonathan admitted on national television this week that he had no idea where the girls were.

The kidnappings and numerous other attacks by Boko Haram have totally overshadowed Nigeria’s hosting of the forum, an annual gathering of the rich and powerful that replicates the one in Davos, Switzerland.

France became the latest nation to offer help on Wednesday, saying it was boosting intelligence ties with Nigeria and sending security service agents there to tackle Boko Haram, the militant group which claimed the mass kidnapping.

With more than 4,000 troops operating between Mali to the west and Central African Republic to the east, Paris has a major interest in preventing Nigeria’s security from deteriorating and has warned that Boko Haram could spread north into the Sahel.

In the latest big Islamist attack in Nigeria, 125 people were killed on Monday when gunmen rampaged through a town in the northeast near the Cameroon border.

A senator from Borno state, Ahmed Zannah, put the number killed at 300, although local politicians have sometimes been accused of exaggerating casualty figures for political reasons.

Either way, the scale and ferocity of the massacre in Gamburu again underscored how far Nigerian security forces are from protecting civilians in an increasingly violent region.

BOKO HARAM

On Tuesday, residents of another village in the remote northeastern area where the schoolgirls were kidnapped said another eight girls were seized by suspected members of Boko Haram.

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau has threatened in a video to sell the girls abducted on April 14 from a secondary school in Chibok “on the market,” prompting a warning from the United Nations that this would make the perpetrators liable for war crimes.

Boko Haram’s five-year-old insurgency is aimed at reviving a medieval Islamic caliphate in modern Nigeria, whose 170 million people are split roughly evenly between Christians and Muslims, and it is becoming by far the biggest security threat to Africa’s top oil producer.

Last month’s kidnapping occurred on the day a bomb blast, also claimed by Boko Haram, killed 75 people on the outskirts of Abuja, the first attack on the capital in two years. Another bomb nearby killed 19 people last week, prompting a few delegates to cancel their trips to the WEF.

The inability of security forces to protect the girls from being attacked or find them in more than three weeks has sparked national and international outrage and led to protests in Abuja and the commercial capital of Lagos.

Boko Haram has emerged in a region that is one of the world’s poorest, with high infant mortality, low literacy and massive youth unemployment that creates easy recruits for radical Islam. Campaigners often call on the government do more to tackle the north’s underdevelopment, which contrasts with a relatively prosperous, oil-rich and largely Christian south.

Acknowledging this, Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, said he would invest $2.3 billion in sugar and rice production in the north of the country, adding that creating employment was key to ending the insurgency there.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang gave a speech in which he pledged “no strings” support for an African plan to develop a continent-wide high speed rail network, and said China has set aside $2 billion for an African Development Fund.

He promised China would not interfere in African nations’ internal affairs, a barbed reference to the West, which often attaches human rights and democracy conditions to financial aid.

‘DARK IMPULSES’

U.S. President Barack Obama issued a somber warning on Wednesday that the kidnapping and sectarian conflicts worldwide are a sign that “we have not extinguished man’s darkest impulses.”

Obama accepted a humanitarian award from director Steven Spielberg at the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation, a Holocaust museum founded by Spielberg after he made the film “Schindler’s List.”

Obama spoke about a variety of global conflicts including Ukraine, Syria, and the kidnapping by the Boko Haram group.

“We only need to look at today’s headlines: The devastation of Syria, the murders and kidnappings in Nigeria, the sectarian conflicts, the tribal conflicts to see that we have not yet extinguished man’s darkest impulses,” Obama said.

He expressed alarm about a rising tide of anti-Semitism based on events such as a gunman’s attack on two Jewish facilities in Kansas and the distribution of pamphlets in eastern Ukraine that demanded the registration of Jews.

“None of the tragedies that we see today may rise to the full horror of the Holocaust,” he said. However, he said “they demand our attention that we not turn away.”

(Reporting By Steve Holland; Tim Cocks; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Paul Tait and Giles Elgood)

Recent Headlines

in Entertainment

Daughter reveals Joan Rivers is still on life support

Comedian Joan Rivers arrives for the premiere of the documentary "Joan Rivers - A Piece Of Work" during the 2010 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah January 25, 2010.

Comedian Joan Rivers remains on life support after being hospitalized in serious condition due to cardiac arrest.

in Music

Paul McCartney urges Scots to shun independence

Sir Paul McCartney performs with his band during the "Out There" Tour at the Times Union Center on Saturday, July 5, 2014, in Albany, N.Y.

Paul McCartney has signed an open letter to Scottish voters urging them to choose 'No' in a crucial poll over plans for the nation to break away from the rest of the U.K.

in Sports

Indianapolis Colts owner pleads guilty to intoxicated driving

James Irsay, owner of the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters March 17, 2014.

Billionaire James Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, was arrested in March after failing roadside field-sobriety tests.

in Sports

Phillies’ Cole Hamels, bullpen combine for no-hitter

Sep 1, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Cole Hamels (35) throws the ball against the Atlanta Braves in the second inning at Turner Field.

Cole Hamels set up a combined no-hitter for the Philadelphia Phillies as they beat the Atlanta Braves 7-0 at Turner Field in Atlanta.

in Weird

Delta flight diverted over reclining seat dispute

A Delta Air Lines jet takes off from Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va., Monday, July 28, 2014. In a victory for airlines and their workers' unions, the House rejected consumers' complaints and passed legislation letting airline advertising emphasize the base price of tickets, before taxes and fees are added.

An argument over leg room and reclining seats forced a Florida-bound flight from New York to divert to a different airport.