Protests mark six months since Nigerian schoolgirls` kidnap

Protesters demanding the release of 219 Nigerian schoolgirls held by Boko Haram militants were set to mark the six-month anniversary of their abduction Tuesday with a defiant march on the Nigerian presidency.

Abuja: Protesters demanding the release of 219 Nigerian schoolgirls held by Boko Haram militants were set to mark the six-month anniversary of their abduction Tuesday with a defiant march on the Nigerian presidency.

Six months since the kidnapping of the teenagers, interest in their plight has waned despite an initial wave of international outrage.

Groups set up worldwide in the wake of the mass kidnapping face a daily battle to keep the issue in the public eye, with no news about the fate of the girls and sometimes hostile reactions from the Nigerian authorities.

"It`s just about being here everyday... even if it`s just for an hour," Hadiza Bala Usman, a leader of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign, told AFP in a central Abuja park.

The activists, born out of a viral social media campaign that saw the likes of US First Lady Michelle Obama and celebrities tweet "#BringBackOurGirls", gathered in the park on the eve of the six-month anniversary of the abduction.

Some expressed doubt that they would be allowed to reach the presidency after security services have broken up similar demonstrations in recent months, sometimes forcefully.

Ruling party officials have accused the activists of exploiting the plight of the hostages to embarrass President Goodluck Jonathan.

"We have been called the opposition," said Emman Usman Shehu, a journalist in his mid-fifties, who attends most of the meetings.

"If demanding the rescue of 219 Nigerians (means) we are the opposition, so be it."Some 276 girls were seized from their dormitories at the Government Girls Secondary School in the remote town of Chibok in Borno state, northeastern Nigeria, on the night of April 14.

Fifty-seven managed to escape and Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau later threatened to sell the rest as slave brides, vowing they would not be released until militant prisoners were freed from jail.

Shehu, like many of the campaigners, has no family ties to any of the girls taken but said he has attended the daily meetings partly out of frustration.

The government, and to an extent Nigeria as a nation, "has moved on" from the horrific attack, he said, warning that a lack of compassion could pose more trouble in the future.

"Is there no humanity in us anymore because these children are from some far-flung place?" he said.

Families affected by the attack have run the gamut of emotions over the last six months.

The initial rescue operation was fiercely criticised as being inadequate and it took several weeks for the military and government to acknowledge the seriousness of the attack.

But the social media campaign forced Nigeria to accept Western military and logistical support. Six months on there are no signs of success.Usman said at that at the height of the frenzy, activists believed that a resolution was imminent and that Nigeria would be forced to make a deal with the Islamists.

Many in Chibok "have already lost hope", said Mutah Nkeki, an Abuja resident from Chibok, whose two nieces aged 17 and 19 were among the hostages.

But Enoch Mark, an elder in Chibok whose daughter and nieces are being held, said the recent escape of a woman kidnapped by Boko Haram nine months ago in a separate attack had given fresh hope.

"If this girl could regain freedom after nine months in captivity all hope is not lost... We are ready to wait six years on hoping to have our daughters back with us," he said.

Four Chibok girls were on Tuesday reported to have escaped to Cameroon but both Mark and another Chibok elder, Pogo Bitrus, said they had not been informed.

Only a handful of activists stayed late in the Abuja park on Monday, tying red ribbons on trees before Tuesday`s event.

Outside Nigeria, efforts are also continuing, from online petitions to calls for action on Facebook and Twitter.

In Los Angeles, documentary filmmaker Ramaa Mosley said she would keep fighting to maintain interest in the girls.

"There are many, many who have not stopped working daily on behalf of the Chibok girls," she said.

"We will continue until they are home safely."

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