ABUJA, Nigeria – Parents and schoolmates of the 219 schoolgirls held captive by Boko Haram extremists refused at the last minute Tuesday to meet with Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan, who accused activists of “playing politics.”
“It now appears that our fight to get the girls of Chibok back is not only a fight against a terrorist insurgency, but also against a political opposition,” Jonathan said in a statement.
The mass abduction April 15, exactly three months ago, has been plagued by politics from the start. First lady Patience Jonathan charged the kidnappings never occurred and were being fabricated by her husband’s enemies to damage his image.
She also had two leading activists briefly arrested, and relations between the government, security forces and the #BringBackOurGirls movement have been tense ever since.
At one point in May when the activists tried to stage a peaceful march to present their demands to Jonathan, they were blocked by soldiers and police.
On Tuesday, security agents locked the doors to the National Assembly, preventing the campaigners from attending a scheduled meeting with the Senate president, said Rotimi Olawale, a spokeswoman for the campaign.
It seems the campaigners then persuaded the parents and girls not to meet with the president, who has faced international condemnation for his slow response to mount a campaign to rescue the girls.
“My priority is not politics. My priority is the return of these girls,” Jonathan’s statement said. He accused the Nigerian chapter of the Bring Back Our Girls campaign of “psychological terrorism … playing politics with the situation and the grief of the parents and the girls. They should be ashamed of their actions.”
Jonathan has never met with the parents or the escaped girls, though they have been asking to meet with him for weeks. In May, he cancelled without explanation a trip to Chibok, the remote northeast town where the girls were kidnapped.
Politics probably played a part in that cancellation since Chibok is in the northeastern state of Borno, which is governed by an opposition politician very critical of Jonathan.
On Monday, Nigeria’s leader promised Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai that he would meet the parents. Malala said that was the parents’ wish, that they wanted the support of their president.
“I want to be clear, this government stands with complete solidarity with the girls and their parents. We are doing everything in our power to bring back our girls,” he said Tuesday after the meeting was cancelled. “As a father of girls, I stand ready to meet with the parents of our abducted children and the truly brave girls that have escaped this nightmare through the grace of God.”