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Nigerians protest government failure to free girls

Thursday - 5/22/2014, 11:46pm  ET

People look at bodies wrapped in plastic bags inside a bus of Tuesday's car bomb explosion in Jos, Nigeria, Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Two car bombs exploded at a bustling bus terminal and a market in Nigeria's central city of Jos on Tuesday, killing over 100 people, wounding dozens and leaving bloodied bodies amid the flaming debris. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the twin car bombs. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

Associated Press

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) -- Scores of protesters chanting "Bring Back Our Girls!" marched Thursday to Nigeria's presidential villa to demand more action to find and free nearly 300 schoolgirls abducted by Islamic militants, but President Goodluck Jonathan did not meet with them, leaving an aide to deliver a lecture that further angered the demonstrators.

"Another small window for Jonathan and he refuses to use it!" one protester yelled. "What a stupid move!"

The protesters complained of the insensitivity of Jonathan, who did not even meet parents of some of the abducted children when they came to Nigeria's capital earlier this month.

Many schools across the country were closed Thursday to protest the abductions, the government's failure to rescue the girls and the killings of scores of teachers by Islamic extremists in recent years.

Protesting teachers in Abuja also demanded compensation for the families of slain colleagues.

Teacher Precillia Udewaze implored the insurgents to free the girls, saying in a video on the Premium Times newspaper website: "We are begging them, wherever they have kept these girls, please Boko Haram. Boko Haram, please."

In Maiduguri, the northeastern city that is the birthplace of Boko Haram, protesting teachers said they could no longer "tolerate government insensitivity to the plight of the girls and the education sector."

In Abuja, protesters singing, "All we are saying is bring back our girls," to the tune of John Lennon's iconic "Give Peace a Chance," marched to the presidential villa, where they were told Jonathan was not there.

Junior minister Olajumoke Akinjide read a message from the president urging Nigerians to unite and stop criticizing the government.

It was "wrong and most unfair," she said, to suggest the government reacted slowly, adding that the president meets daily with security chiefs on the crisis.

Murmurs of disagreement rose as she declared: "The people of Afghanistan do not blame the government, they blame the terrorists."

Nigerians, she said, should instead be "encouraged to supply useful information to the security services."

That inflamed the crowd, which said residents of Chibok did exactly that, but the military failed to respond to their warnings.

Chibok local government chairman Bana Lawal told The Associated Press that he warned the army of an impending Boko Haram attack two hours before the rebels arrived. Reinforcements never arrived, he said, leaving the road open to the school, where the extremists abducted more than 300 girls and young women. Fifty-three escaped and 276 remain in captivity, according to police.

Residents reported a similar lack of action that could have helped avert at least one of two bomb blasts Tuesday at a bustling marketplace in the central city of Jos. The death toll has risen to at least 130, making them the deadliest bombings yet committed by the Boko Haram extremists, though they have not claimed responsibility.

Market vendors said their suspicions were aroused by a white van parked for hours under a pedestrian bridge, according to Mark Lipdo of the Christian charity Stefanos Foundation. He said they warned soldiers at a nearby checkpoint, but nothing was done. The van contained the first bomb.

Lipdo said there was also no apparent security response to the arrest Saturday of a man wearing a suicide bomb vest who told police that many Boko Haram fighters had orders to plant bombs at churches and public places in Jos.

On Thursday, family and friends continued the search for victims missing in the blasts.

Many may never be identified, Dickson Odeh, a University of Jos student, told The Associated Press after he and other students searched several hospital mortuaries. They were able to identify seven students, some only from ID papers on mutilated bodies.

"It's horrible," Odeh said. "Many bodies are burned beyond recognition."

Inside the Jos University Teaching Hospital, Franklyn Anderson, a 23-year-old student who survived the bombing, cried into her mother's shoulder, "Mommy, mommy that fire was terrible!"

She said she was inside the bustling market buying fried yams when the blast hit.

Lying beside a young woman whose leg was blown off, Anderson, a drama student, thanked God for her survival. "I'll pull through ... because I know God is here for me. He gave me another chance, He gave me another life," she said.

Jonathan and his administration are accused of showing indifference to the plight of the abducted schoolgirls and the tragedies suffered by Nigerians arbitrarily targeted by the extremists, as well as abusive Nigerian security forces. The U.N. Human Rights Commissioner has warned that it is the government's responsibility to protect its citizens.

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