U.S. first lady uses bully pulpit to push concerns about girls

by Tracy Mcveigh

The Observer

Michelle Obama has taken the unique step of delivering her husband’s weekly presidential address to express outrage at the recent kidnapping of Nigerian schoolgirls.

Speaking for the first time instead of the U.S. president, before what is Mothers’ Day in the U.S. on Sunday, she said the couple were “outraged and heartbroken” over the abduction of more than 200 girls from a school in the Nigerian town of Chibok on April 14.

“What happened in Nigeria was not an isolated incident. It’s a story we see every day as girls around the world risk their lives to pursue their ambitions,” she said. “I want you to know that Barack has directed our government to do everything possible to support the Nigerian government’s efforts to find these girls and bring them home. In these girls, Barack and I see our own daughters. We see their hopes, their dreams, and we can only imagine the anguish their parents are feeling.”

It comes as a senior aide to Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, came the closest yet of anyone in government circles to admitting there was “much to be remorseful and angry about” in the way the abduction had been handled politically.

Ken Wiwa, the president’s senior special assistant and son of playwright and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, wrote in an article for the Observer that there was something “reassuring” in the fact that the world cared about the plight of the girls and insisted that, with support, Nigeria could “overcome this challenge.” He called it the turning point in the battle against terrorism.

There are warnings, too, of a refugee crisis emerging from the escalating violence by insurgents. A quarter of a million people have fled their homes.

“The brutality and frequency of these attacks is unprecedented,” Adrian Edwards of the U.N. refugees agency said. “The past two months have seen multiple kidnappings and deaths, creating population displacement both inside Nigeria and into neighboring countries.”

Refugees report acts of extreme violence, of homes and fields being burned down and grenades being launched into crowded markets and bus stations. People are being caught in the crossfire between the insurgents and government forces, and there are allegations of arbitrary arrests and summary executions.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said the Security Council should act quickly to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist group and hold “its murderous leaders to account.” The Security Council has demanded the release of the girls and is threatening to take action.

“The members of the Security Council expressed their intention to actively follow the situation of the abducted girls and to consider appropriate measures against Boko Haram,” the 15-member council, which includes Nigeria, said.