Nigerian leader vows to free girls

By BBC

The girls were abducted from their boarding school in Borno state on 14 April

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan has told parents of the girls abducted by militant Islamist group Boko Haram that the government is doing everything possible to secure their release.

He met parents for the first time on Tuesday after being accused of handling the 100-day crisis badly.

More than 150 people attended the meeting after the government chartered a plane for them, reports say.

The abduction of the more than 200 girls in April sparked global outrage.

Parents pulled out of a meeting with Mr Jonathan last week amid accusations they were being used for political reasons.

The parents of 11 of the girls have died since their abduction, the Associated Press news agency reports.

Boko Haram has offered to free the girls in exchange for the release of its fighters and relatives held by the security forces.

The government has rejected this.

‘Not aloof’

The US, UK, France, China and Israel have been helping in operations to secure the release of the girls, who are believed to be held in the Sambisa forest, near Nigeria’s border with Cameroon.

The girls were abducted from their boarding school in the north-eastern town of Chibok in Borno state on 14 April.

A total of 177 people – including 51 of the girls who managed to escape Boko Haram’s captivity – met Mr Jonathan, reports the BBC’s Chris Ewokor from the capital, Abuja.

Mr Jonathan said the government wanted to avoid a rescue effort that could lead to the girls being killed.

“Anyone who gives you the impression that we are aloof and that we are not doing what we are supposed to do to get the girls out is not being truthful. Our commitment is not just to get the girls out, it is also to rout Boko Haram completely from Nigeria,” he told the parents.

“But we are very, very mindful of the safety of the girls. We want to return them all alive to their parents,” he said.

A father of one of the girls, Ayuba Lawson, told the BBC that parents shed tears as they discussed their ordeal with the president.

“He was touched and all those who were there were touched,” Mr Lawson said.

Earlier, Ayuba Chibok, who has two nieces among the hostages, told AFP news agency that the government chartered a plane from Yola city in the north-east to fly the group to Abuja.

Mr Jonathan was flanked at the meeting by Senate President David Mark and Kashim Shettima, the governor of Borno.

Last week, Mr Jonathan agreed to meet 12 parents and five girls who escaped shortly after being seized by the militants, following a request by Pakistani rights campaigner Malala Yousafzai.

The Chibok community called off the meeting at the last minute, saying it had been organised in a hurry, so there was not time to consult with all the parents.

Mr Jonathan accused the #BringBackOurGirls campaign group of playing politics and derailing the meeting.

#BringBackOurGirls was a global campaign launched on social media to secure the release of the girls.

Obiageli Ezekwesili, a former government minister and staunch critic of Mr Jonathan, is a leading member of the group.

Seven parents were killed during a raid by Boko Haram on Kautakari, a village close to Chibok, earlier this month, AP quotes a health worker as saying.

Another four parents have died of heart failure, high blood pressure and other illnesses blamed on the trauma caused by the abductions, Chibok community leader Pogu Bitrus told AP.