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In Dapchi, Mourning After Mass Kidnapping Of Schoolgirls


U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be heading to Nigeria. That country has been in the headlines again after the mass abduction of 110 schoolgirls by suspected Boko Haram gunmen. The latest kidnapping was almost a carbon copy of the Chibok schoolgirl abductions in 2014. The region remains in the grip of a nine-year insurgency in which more than 20,000 people have been killed and 2 million displaced. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is just back from the town where distraught families are praying for their daughters' safety and return. She's with us now. Ofeibea, thanks for joining us.


MARTIN: Now, you've been talking to parents and sisters and brothers of the latest group of missing girls. What are they telling you?

QUIST-ARCTON: Dapchi is a town almost in mourning, I would say. Everybody is grieving and praying that these 110 schoolgirls who were abducted from their sprawling sandy campus on February 19 will come home. But you can see desperation in the eyes of mothers, daughters, some sisters who managed to escape and their younger or older sisters did not. And everybody is traumatized.

MARTIN: What is the government saying to these parents and families, Ofeibea?

QUIST-ARCTON: The government, you know, people say that the response was shambolic. It was uncoordinated, and it was incoherent. At one point, we heard that these 110 girls had been rescued by the military. Then the governor of Yobe state, where this happened, had to tell the parents that was not so. President Buhari has sent military reinforcements to the northeast - schools in the northeast. And we were at this school in Dapchi, and we saw the military. And there are meant to be reconnaissance aircraft. But families are saying, that is not enough. We want our girls back now.

MARTIN: Now, you know, we frequently hear from the Nigerian authorities that Boko Haram has been, quote, unquote, "technically defeated" is how they put it. But that does not appear to be the case.

QUIST-ARCTON: Clearly not, apart from suicide bombings and hit-and-run strikes and guerrilla tactics. What is more worrying now, Michel, we are hearing from security advisers in the area is that they feel that because Boko Haram is factionalized, that the group - the al-Barnawi group that has pledged allegiance to ISIS is "professionalizing its kidnapping unit" in quotes and that this, the abduction of these 110 schoolgirls, may be just the start and perhaps more to come. So that is not the sort of news the families and parents want to hear.

MARTIN: One last question, Ofeibea. Secretary Tillerson is about to go to Nigeria. Is there any desire for any kind of help from the United States?

QUIST-ARCTON: When we dial back to the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls, there are still 113 of those young women missing. The U.S. did weigh in with support and with intelligence. Now, that was a previous government. We're going to have to see whether President Muhammadu Buhari calls on U.S. military intelligence or otherwise.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Africa correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reporting from Nigeria. Ofeibea, thank you.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.