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How rescuing the abducted Nigerian girls became an international cause

May 9, 2014 at 6:13 PM EDT
Nearly a month since the Islamist group Boko Haram attacked a village in Nigeria and made off with more than 300 girls, that country’s government and military have been criticized for failing to do more. Amnesty International has reported that officials failed to prevent the attack, despite being warned. Jeffrey Brown examines the international social media campaign that has sprung up in reaction.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: The United Nations Security Council today condemned the Islamist militant group Boko Haram over the kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls. This came as more criticism mounted against the government for not doing more to rescue the students.

Jeffrey Brown has our report.

JEFFREY BROWN: Frustrated Nigerians were out again today, protesting in Lagos. They demanded action to find the missing girls, even as U.S. and British teams arrived to help.

That effort will be limited at best, as Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby pointed out today.

REAR ADM. JOHN KIRBY, Pentagon Press Secretary: We’re not talking about U.S. military operations in Nigeria to go find these girls. That’s not the focus here. The president was clear he wants to help in any way we can. This is the — this is the help that Nigeria has accepted, and we believe it’s the appropriate step right now.

JEFFREY BROWN: It’s been almost a month since the Islamist group Boko Haram attacked Chibok village in the northeast, and made off with more than 300 girls. Roughly 50 managed to escape, but, this week, Boko Haram’s leader declared the rest are slaves and will be sold.

Today, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan said he believes the girls are still in the country and have not been sold across the border. Nigeria’s government and military have been criticized for failing to do more to get the girls back. And, today, Amnesty International reported officials failed to prevent the attack, despite a four-hour warning.

SUSANNA FLOOD, Spokeswoman, Amnesty International: We have had people in the military in northeast Nigeria telling us that there is a war-weariness and a fear among the soldiers who were not there. It’s hard to say why the help didn’t come. But the reality is, they had warning that this school was under threat, and nothing was done to save these girls.

PROTESTERS: Enough is enough! Enough is enough!

JEFFREY BROWN: The incident has now become an international cause, in large due part due to a social media campaign titled Bring Back Our Girls. This time-lapse map from TIME.com shows the online conversation began in Nigeria and slowly spread abroad.

Then, last week, Bring Back Our Girls began trending online in the West. By now, more than one million people have mentioned the campaign via Twitter, from first lady Michelle Obama to the Pakistani teenage activist Malala Yousafzai and talk show host and comedian Ellen DeGeneres and Georgia Congressman John Lewis.

MAN: We have to make it the biggest story in the world.

JEFFREY BROWN: The online effort is being compared to #Kony2012. That social media campaign was started two years ago by the Western group Invisible Children to raise awareness of alleged war crimes by Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony.

But the drive to save the Nigerian girls has also been criticized as being overly simplistic and ultimately ineffective. And in a further twist, it turns out the young woman in this photo is not Nigerian. In fact, she is from Guinea-Bissau. Her photo was taken in 2011 for a reporting project unrelated to Nigeria.

All the same, the mass abduction is being widely condemned, including by Islamic leaders. Today, the top religious official in Saudi Arabia charged Boko Haram is — quote — “misguided” and should be made to reject its path.