Members of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign group protest on
a street, after challenging the Nigerian police's ban on
their daily protests. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
Nigerian police said today that protesters were free to
march in the capital Abuja, after an uproar over comments by
the police commissioner in which he appeared to ban
demonstrations over more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by
Joseph Mbu made a statement yesterday in which he appeared to
forbid protests on grounds that they could be hijacked by
"dangerous elements" who could threaten state security.
Protesters said they would challenge the ban in court and
filed a complaint.
But a statement from Police Spokesman Frank Mba said the
commissioner had only meant to advise against gatherings
because of intelligence that there was "infiltration and
hijack of otherwise innocuous and peaceful protests by some
criminal elements having links with insurgents".
"The Force has not issued any order banning peaceful
assemblies/protests anywhere in Nigeria," Mba said.
"However, ... citizens are strongly advised to reconsider
their positions on the issues of rallies and protests in FCT
until the existing threats are appropriately neutralised," he
said, referring to the Federal Capital Territory around
The girls were snatched from the northeastern village of
Chibok, near the Cameroon border, on April 14.
Much of the anger among protesters, and a #BringBackOurGirls
Twitter campaign that helped fuel it, has been directed
towards the government for failing to protect the girls. A
Reuters investigation showed that there were a number of
missteps along the way, including failure to respond to a
distress call hours in advance.
President Goodluck Jonathan's supporters say the protesters'
anger should be directed at Boko Haram, and that constant
criticism of the military is misplaced and demoralising.
The girls' plight has shone the international spotlight on a
violent 5-year-old battle for an Islamic state by insurgents
who have killed thousands since 2009. At least 530 civilians
have been killed by the militants since the day of the
U.S. troops are in neighbouring Chad on a mission to find
them. Britain and France have also offered help.
Nigerian authorities argue they face an unenviable dilemma:
if they try to free the girls, they risk some getting killed,
or if they offer money or a prisoner swap, this would only
leave the rebels stronger, endangering more lives in the long
A reluctance to pursue either strategy has created a
stalemate, officials say.