Nigerians on Friday held rallies in major cities to mark three years since the mass abduction of 276 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok by Boko Haram extremists.
This is coming on a day after the government announced that it is in negotiations for the release of those still being held.
The government “is in constant touch through negotiations, through local intelligence, to secure the release of the remaining girls and other abducted persons unharmed”, President Muhammadu Buhari said in a statement on Thursday.
Spearheading the rallies was the Bring Back Our Girls movement, which has been urging the federal government to ramp up efforts to free the 195 girls still held by the radical Islamic group.
One of the rallies was being held in the capital Abuja, where Nigeria’s second most influential traditional Muslim leader, the Emir of Kano, was to make an address and lead prayers.
Quite a number of parents of the missing were congregating at the school where their daughters aged 12 to 17 were kidnapped in the northeastern village of Chibok on April 14, 2014.
Participants were set to plant trees as a symbolic gesture in memory of the missing girls.
Another rally was due in the country’s commercial centre Lagos.
Fifty-seven girls escaped in the immediate aftermath of the kidnapping while three others were found or rescued by the military. Some had babies in captivity.
In October, the federal government announced the release of 21 of the Chibok schoolgirls after negotiations with the extremist group, and it said another group of 83 girls would be released “very soon.”
No one has been freed since then. The government this week said negotiations have “gone quite far” but face challenges. It refused to give details, citing security reasons.
Boko Haram’s seven-year Islamic uprising has killed more than 20,000 people and driven 2.6 million from their homes, with millions facing starvation because of the disruption in markets and agriculture.