LAGOS, Nigeria – President-elect Muhammadu Buhari says he cannot promise to find the 219 Chibok schoolgirls abducted by Islamic extremists Boko Haram one year ago from a school in northeastern Nigeria. But he promised his administration will do everything in its power to do so.
“We do not know if the Chibok girls can be rescued. Their whereabouts remain unknown. As much as I wish to, I cannot promise that we can find them,” Buhari said in a statement Tuesday marking the anniversary of the April 14-15 mass abduction that brought international outrage.
The failure to rescue the girls also elicited condemnation of Jonathan’s government and the Nigerian military, which has repeatedly made false statements about the girls and continues to make hollow promises to bring them home.
Those failures contributed to Jonathan’s thrashing at the polls March 28 by Buhari, a former military dictator who says he is a convert to democracy and promised a new approach Tuesday.
“We hear the anguish of our citizens and intend to respond accordingly,” Buhari’s statement said. “This new approach must also begin with honesty.”
Activists are marking the anniversary of the mass abduction that outraged the world with a change in their slogan from “Bring Back Our Girls – Now and Alive” to “Never to be Forgotten.”
But a hopeful message addressed to the captives comes from Pakistani activist Yousafzai Malala, promising the girls scholarships and saying they must never lose courage.
The 17-year-old chastised Jonathan’s administration and the international community, saying neither have done enough to rescue the girls. The activist for girls’ education spent her birthday in Nigeria in July, meeting with the parents of the kidnapped girls.
She said she and millions of people around the world stand in solidarity with the abductees who have come to be known as “the Chibok girls.”
Their kidnapping sparked a mass movement around the world around the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls. In New York city, the campaign said the Empire State Building will be lit up Tuesday night, over the hours the girls were snatched, in its purple and red colors symbolizing its call for an end to violence against women and girls.
At least 2,000 women and girls have been abducted by Boko Haram since the start of 2014, and many have been forced into sexual slavery and trained to fight, Amnesty International said in a new report marking the anniversary.
Hundreds of boys and young men also have been kidnapped and forced to fight with the extremists, or slaughtered for refusing to do so, it said.
There has been no confirmation of many reports about the Chibok girls: Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau’s claim that they had converted to Islam and been married off to his fighters; witness reports that some have been carried across to Cameroon in canoes; reports they were married to fighters in Cameroon; fears that they were among young women and girls turned into suicide bombers by the Islamic extremists; fears that their bodies are among those of Boko Haram “wives” beheaded as the fighters fled Baga town last month.