Nigerian police on Tuesday briefly detained activists calling for the release of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram jihadists nearly four years ago, campaigners said.
Members of the #BringBackOurGirls advocacy group were taken into custody as they held their daily demonstration in the capital, Abuja, said group coordinator Aisha Yesufu.
#BringBackOurGirls has been calling on the government to rescue or secure the release of scores of girls abducted from the remote northeastern town of Chibok in April 2014.
It also wants the return of thousands of other women, men, and children who have been seized during the conflict, which began in 2009 and has killed at least 20,000.
“The Nigerian police force decided to arrest us, arrest innocent citizens that came out to demand the rescue of girls who have been abducted for almost four years,” said Ms. Yesufu.
Around 12 people were arrested at about 10 a.m. and were held at an Abuja police station for approximately four hours, said group leader Oby Ezekwesili.
“At the FCT (Federal Capital Territory) police command I asked why our members were being arrested, and no one could say a thing,” Ms. Ezekwesili said.
Federal police spokesman Jimoh Moshood said that “to the best of my knowledge police didn’t arrest any of them”.
Another officer familiar with the incident said he was working on a statement.
The kidnapping of 276 students from Chibok sparked outrage around the world and brought global attention to the insurgency in Nigeria’s northeast.
The young captives became the defining symbol of Boko Haram’s campaign to establish a hardline Islamic state and cast a spotlight on then-president Goodluck Jonathan‘s response.
Current President Muhammadu Buhari, a former general, swept to power in 2015 on the back of criticism of Jonathan’s handling of the violence.
He pledged to defeat the jihadists and has since repeatedly announced that Boko Haram is defeated, yet the jihadists still mount regular attacks on civilians and the military.
Fifty-seven Chibok girls escaped in the hours after they were kidnapped.
Since then, 107 have escaped, been rescued or released in deals struck between the government and Boko Haram. One hundred and twelve are still being held.