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The Nigerian Government Has Lied About Finding The Kidnapped Girls Before

A Nigerian military official yesterday repeated week-old claims about where 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram are being held. Here are other misleading statements from the government since the kidnapping.

Posted on May 27, 2014, at 11:57 a.m. ET

1. Call off the crisis! We rescued the girls!

The Associated Press

On April 16, the day after the girls were kidnapped — at a time when the military thought it was only a hundred or so girls — Col. Chris Olukolade, the Nigerian army's spokesman, released a statement saying the girls had been rescued by the military.

2. Wait, no we didn't.

The principal of the school where the mass abduction took place demanded to see the rescued girls. The military responded by retracting its claim to have saved them.

3. Actually, this whole kidnapping thing is a hoax.

Patience Jonathan, the first lady, accused mothers from Chibok of inventing the kidnapping story, almost three weeks after the girls were taken. She also tearfully broke down on national television, in a much-mocked performance.

4. On second thought, yes, the kidnapped girls are real.

President Goodluck Jonathan finally acknowledged the kidnappings on May 4, nearly three weeks after they happened. On May 12, Boko Haram released a video claiming to show more than 100 of the 276 girls it still holds. Parents watched the video, trying to identify their children. "I can't feel that it's her, but I think — I think it could be," one father said.

5. Maybe the president should go visit them. He could swing by on his way to Paris.

Afolabi Sotunde / Reuters / Reuters

Unnamed senior government officials told Reuters that Jonathan would visit the remote and devastated village. On the same day, other unnamed government officials told Voice of America they'd heard of no such thing. The visit was said to be scheduled for Friday, May 17, the day before Jonathan was due in Paris to attend a security summit about Boko Haram.

6. Or not.

The morning he was supposedly due to be going to Chibok, Jonathan canceled his trip. When he got to Paris, Jonathan explained in a press conference why he didn't go to Chibok. "These girls are not held in Chibok. Sometime, people want the President to go to Chibok If the President goes to Chibok today, it does not solve any problem."

7. That's OK. A presidential fact-finding mission is on its way to visit Chibok anyway.

Jonathan announced a fact-finding mission on May 4. Two prominent Nigerians — human rights lawyer Femi Falana and TK Datti, who quit his role as a neutral negotiator between the government and Boko Haram in 2012 peace talks after the government leaked sensitive details to the press — refused Jonathan's invitation to join the group.

The mission was scheduled to find its first facts in Chibok on Wednesday, May 21.

8. Or not.

The fact-finding mission canceled its trip to Chibok too, after several villages in the area were attacked overnight on Tuesday, May 20. At least 17 people died, some of them relatives of the kidnapped girls. The commission nevertheless said in a statement that it had uncovered "a treasure trove" of information on its visit to Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, about 100 miles from Chibok.

9. If the government isn't going, journalists and "tourists" shouldn't go, either.

Afolabi Sotunde / Reuters / Reuters

Last week, the military issued a statement warning that "tourists, journalists and adventurers of diverse interests" without proper authorization were not permitted in areas where operations against Boko Haram were being conducted. Anyone violating the order, the statement said, would do so "at his or her own peril as the security forces should not be held responsible for any unsavoury outcome of such movement."

10. Speaking of journalists, this public relations thing isn't really going our way. What if we spend $800 million on a London-based public relations firm?

The U.K.-based Holmes Report, a trade publication covering the public relations industry, reported last week that five London-based PR firms have met with the minister of petroleum resources. The Nigerian investigative network Sahara Reporters said the contracts in discussion were worth $800 million.

11. Hey, Nigerians! Why are you asking the president to bring back the girls? He doesn’t have any girls. Go ask the terrorists and "just leave us alone."

An independent civil society movement sprung up in response to the kidnappings, and roughly 200 people meet every day in Abuja to focus demands for action on and accountability about efforts to locate and rescue the girls. The movement coordinates around the hashtag #bringbackourgirls and has attracted international press attention — and, apparently, presidential ire. Last week, a counter-movement suddenly appeared, and on Monday, it held its own massive rally, featuring several politicians, asking to rescue the girls — something it says the president can do — rather than "bring them back," which the group says implies that the president is somehow complicit in their disappearance.

12. For real this time: We seriously know where they are.

AP Photo

At that government-organized rally, Nigerian Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh said, "The good news for the parents of the girls is that we know where they are, but we cannot tell you." He said the information — already spread five days earlier by Nigerian sources speaking to Nigerian media — was a military secret. "Just leave us alone," he told rally-goers.

Though there was nothing new in his comments, they were the first time international media picked up the story, which spread globally as "breaking news."

But for many Nigerians, claims to have spotted the girls are little more than empty politics.

"If they know where they are," one civil society leader from north asked BuzzFeed, "why don't they go get them?"

The Holmes Report is an independent trade publication covering the PR industry.

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