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Nigerians show outrage over militant’s threat to sell abducted schoolgirls with little government opposition

May 5, 2014 at 6:10 PM EST
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GWEN IFILL: Outrage in Nigeria has spread around the world tonight over the fate of hundreds of abducted schoolgirls, as the leader of an Islamist terrorist group said he will sell the students, and reports surfaced that the country’s first lady expressed doubts that there was any kidnapping.

Jeffrey Brown reports.

PROTESTERS: We want our girls! We want our girls!

JEFFREY BROWN: Anger and frustration filled the air in Lagos, Nigeria, as hundreds of protesters demanded a stepped-up search for the girls.

WOMAN: We want these girls to be rescued with immediate effect. We want them back alive, because they are our tomorrow.

JEFFREY BROWN: In all, more than 300 female students were reportedly taken from a boarding school in Northeast Nigeria on April 14. Fifty-three later escaped.

The leader of the Islamist militant Boko Haram formally claimed responsibility today, but he dismissed the international outcry over the mass kidnapping. And he declared the girls are now — quote — “slaves.”

ABUBAKAR SHEKAU, Leader, Boko Haram (through interpreter): Just because I took some little girls from their Western education, everybody is making noise. I say, stop Western education. I repeat, I took the girls, and I will sell them off. There is a market for selling girls.

JEFFREY BROWN: Already, it’s reported that some of the girls have been forced to marry their kidnappers or taken to neighboring countries.

PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JONATHAN, Nigeria: We promise that, wherever these girls are, we will surely get them out.

JEFFREY BROWN: On Sunday, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan vowed to secure the students’ return, but he also appealed to the parents.

PRESIDENT GOODLUCK JONATHAN: What we request is maximum cooperation from the guardians and the parents of these girls, because up to this time, they have not been able to come clearly, to give the police clear identity of the girls that are yet to return.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, today, protest leaders charged that Nigerian first lady Patience Jonathan had them arrested and accused them of fabricating the abductions.

Meanwhile, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the U.S. is ready to help in the return of the girls, all this as Nigeria reels from bombings and other violence in advance of hosting the World Economic Forum. It begins Wednesday in the capital city, Abuja.