More than 90 days after hundreds of schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram rebels in north-eastern Nigeria, a United Nations envoy for the region got a first-hand account of the efforts underway to rescue the students and to fight terrorism in the region, and met with education activist Malala Yousafzai, who was spending her birthday in Nigeria to show solidarity with the girls and their families.
In Abuja, Said Djinnit, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa, reiterated “the continued commitment of the United Nations to the unity and stability of Nigeria,” according to the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA).
He held consultations with Government officials and the leadership of the National Assembly, as well as heads of defense and security services, to review progress made in efforts to rescue the schoolgirls seized on 14 April in Chibok, and to address the larger crisis resulting from Boko Haram activities.
During the five-day visit, Mr. Djinnit also confirmed that the UN has started to implement an integrated support package that includes support for the Chibok girls, their families and their communities, in particular with psycho-social counselling and helping them reintegrate with their families and communities.
While in Nigeria, Mr. Djinnit discussed the support package with Ms. Yousafzai, who was spending her 17th birthday in the country by “standing with my Nigerian sisters and their parents.”
Ms. Yousafzai, whose Malala Fund reportedly donated $200,000 for education in Nigeria, offered to partner with the UN efforts to mitigate the impacts of the abduction and help the girls return to school.
Citing examples of young female students being raped and killed in India, and forced into child marriage in Pakistan, Ms. Yousafzai called on the international community to protect girls around the world. “No child anywhere ever should be the target of conflict or violence,” she said.
Turning to the armed group responsible for the mass kidnapping in Nigeria, Ms. Yousafzai had harsh words about their interpretation of Islam.
“Stop misusing the name of Islam. Islam is a religion of peace. Islam allows every boy and every girl to get an education,” she spoke to applause. “I would request you lay down your weapons, release your sisters.”
The Pakistani schoolgirl who was shot by the Taliban for attending classes said she can relate to the Nigerian students.
“This Malala Day is a day for education of every child, and is dedicated to my dear, dear and dear Nigerian sisters who are going through the same brutal situation which I suffered through in my past,” she said in reference to the unofficial holiday first marked on 12 July 2013, her 16th birthday.