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Hope Fades For Release Of Nigerian Girls Held By Boko Haram


Hopes are fading again for the release of the more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls who were abducted last April by Boko Haram. The leader of the Islamist militant group has laughed off government claims of a cease-fire with Boko Haram, and he said the kidnapped girls have converted to Islam and been married off.

NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton joins us from Lagos. And, Ofeibea, a couple weeks ago the Nigerian government announced a cease-fire. What happened to that?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: Big question - and still, the authorities are saying that negotiations are going on in neighboring Chad. But most Nigerians are saying, come on. We've got elections coming in just a couple of months - February of next year. Is the government playing politics here? Is President Goodluck Jonathan playing politics? We want to know the truth of what is really going on.

CORNISH: What more detail can you tell us about the announcement from the Boko Haram leader? Did this come in a video? What did he say?

QUIST-ARCTON: And this is Abubakar Shekau, the same man that the military claims to have killed last year and that they killed somebody who was posing as him in September. But he comes out in this new video, as usual, surrounded by people in masks and combat fatigues and bearing the black and white Al Qaeda flag saying - laughingly - I mean, chortling, taunting the authorities, saying if you knew the state your daughters are in today, it might lead some of you to die from grief, addressing the parents who are already distraught because these schoolgirls have been missing for six months.

And he says, you know, the young women - this is an old story now. These young women have been married off to our fighters. And he had earlier said that they would be made into slaves. So it's absolutely devastating news for the families and for all Nigerians who briefly - briefly, I have to say, had their hopes up that something was going to happen because the military had promised this cease-fire deal and said that the girls would be released imminently.

CORNISH: What has the Nigerian government had to say? How have they responded to this announcement?

QUIST-ARCTON: We're waiting to hear something very specific. You know, the military have said that they are increasing aerial bombardment against areas that Boko Haram holds in the troubled northeast and so on, but nothing specific on this latest video from Abubakar Shekau.

But most Nigerians are saying this is what we expected. We were doubtful about what the government was saying. We were skeptical that there was any such deal. Who are they really negotiating with? Are there factions within Boko Haram? And if so, how come the government seems to be dealing with the wrong lot? Because, of course, Abubakar Shekau is saying no, there is no deal. We're not into negotiating. We're into fighting and taking the lives of the infidels.

CORNISH: Ofeibea, in the meantime, there's word of a suicide bombing targeting Shiite Muslims who were celebrating a holiday. And this was at least in an area where Boko Haram is active. What sense do people have about whether or not the Nigerian government is making any progress fighting off this insurgency?

QUIST-ARCTON: Nigerians are hugely disappointed. They feel that the authorities are playing games. You have the opposition - the political opposition saying that instead of protecting the lives of Nigerians, the government is playing with the lives of Nigerians. And that is not on - they want to know what is truly going on.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in Lagos, Nigeria. Ofeibea, thank you.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure - thanks, Audie. 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.
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