Fate Of Kidnapped Nigerian School Girls Remains Unknown

Protesters surrounded Nigeria's parliament calling on the government to take more action to find more than 200 missing schoolgirls. They were kidnapped by Islamist militants nearly three weeks ago.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And in Nigeria, there is still no word on the fate of more than 200 schoolgirls still in captivity after being kidnapped from a boarding school. In the two weeks since the all-girls school was attacked in the country's remote northeast, anguished parents and families have turned against a military which has been unable to rescue their daughters.

This week, protesters marched to Nigeria's parliament, demanding more be done. And then last night, yet another blow. A massive car bomb exploded outside the capital, Abuja, the second in as many weeks; killing at least 19 and injuring scores of others.

For more, we reached NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. Ofeibea, good morning.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Tell us what you know, as of now, about the bombing.

QUIST-ARCTON: Renee, Nigerians are reeling from the third major incident in 17 days. Last night, after May Day, which is a public holiday, workers holiday, in Nigeria - people had been attending rallies and so on - and then in the very same place, just 10 miles from the seat of government in Abuja, we were told that a car bomb exploded, killing people. Now, after the Abuja bombing on the 14th of April, the security services had set up a special checkpoint there. And apparently, cars are backed up, and they were checking them when this explosion happened. So Nigerians are absolutely desperate. First, an attack on Abuja; then, of course, the abduction of these schoolgirls. And again, it is Islamic extremists, Boko Haram, who's being blamed for this latest attack, although they have not claimed responsibility.

MONTAGNE: Yeah. Let's turn to that kidnapping of those schoolgirls. Those militants, Boko Haram, they're being blamed partly because they have attacked schools before. But this instance is even more unusual in that it was all girls that were kidnapped from that boarding school.

QUIST-ARCTON: Indeed. A mass abduction - unprecedented if it was, indeed, Boko Haram - which means when a Western education is sinful, or haram, in Arabic, meaning forbidden. And in the past, when boys have been killed at schools that have been raided, the girls have been spared; told to go home, get married, and give up Western education. In this case, we're being told that they may have been sold into marriage for as little as $12. And so this is making Nigerians completely distraught, not only the families, but Nigerian women and men who are saying to the government, saying to President Goodluck Jonathan: Where are our girls? Why can't the military find them, and put down this insurgency that is causing us so much grief?

MONTAGNE: Well, it is a huge - and embarrassment probably isn't a strong-enough word - but embarrassment to the government and the military because it's been over two weeks, and they haven't managed to rescue these girls. Parents - some of the parents are saying they're going into the forests, looking for them.

QUIST-ARCTON: Families have already been into this militant hideout - it's called the Sambisa Forest, but it's really bush because it's near the desert in northeastern Nigeria - looking for the girls themselves. But Renee, we're also being told that these students may have been trucked across Nigeria's borders into neighboring Cameroon and into Chad, and there are very porous borders in this part of West Africa. So Nigerians want answers. This year, 1,500 people - now more, with the latest bombing outside Abuja - have been killed by the insurgency that the government says it has pushed into a narrow corner of northeastern Nigeria. But Abuja's hundreds of miles away, in the capital.

They seem to be able to strike at will. And every time the government or the military say they triumphed against the extremists, they strike again. So everybody is saying this has got to be dealt with. And this coming week, Nigeria is hosting the world economic forum for Africa, where leaders - including the Chinese premier - have been invited. People are asking: Will we be able to believe Nigeria's assurances of security in Abuja?

MONTAGNE: And Ofeibea, we'll be clearly hearing more about this story as it continues to unfold. Thanks very much.

QUIST-ARCTON: I'll keep you updated, Renee. Thank you.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton.

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