Yousafzai pressures Nigeria on missing girls

UN Ambassador Malala Yousafzai urged Nigeria to intensify efforts to find the missing girls.

Malala Yousafzai in Birmingham, Britain, September 2013. Picture: EPA.

ABUJA - Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan met for about an hour with Pakistani teen and special United Nations Ambassador Malala Yousafzai as pressure mounts to rescue the school girls who were abducted by Boko Haram terrorists more than 90 days ago.

Yousafzai, who became a global celebrity after surviving being shot in the head by the Pakistani Taliban for campaigning for girls' education, was visiting Nigeria to support an international campaign for the release of the teenage students abducted in mid-April by Boko Haram.

Speaking later at the press briefing, Yousafzai said she had asked President Jonathan to rescue the girls kidnapped from Chibok in addition to ensuring that children went to school.

"And the president fortunately promised me that he'll do something for these girls and he promised me that the girls will be returned as soon as possible."

According to statistics available to her, she said 10.5 million Nigerian children were out of school, while the government was not spending enough on education.

"If Nigeria wants to have a bright future, then every child here should get an opportunity to go to school."

The Pakistani teen, who turned 17 on Saturday, also appealed directly to Boko Haram to stop its attacks and release the schoolgirl captives, saying Islam was a "religion of peace" that allowed education for girls as well as boys.

"Release your sisters. Release my sisters and release the daughters of this nation. Let them be free," she said at an event in Abuja to mark UN-declared "Malala Day", established in her name to promote the education of girls and women.

At the weekend, Yousafzai met parents of the schoolgirls snatched on 14 April from the northeastern village of Chibok by Boko Haram militants fighting to establish their own concocted version of an Islamic state in Nigeria.

The Nigerian girls' plight triggered an international #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign supported by Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie.

Yousafzai told reporters she would hold the Nigerian leader to his pledge that the girls would be home soon.

"I will from now be counting days and will be looking. I can't stop this campaign until I see these girls return back to their families and continue their education," she said.

She added that Jonathan had also promised that once the missing girls were rescued, they would be given scholarships to go to school in any part of Nigeria.

Pressed by journalists, Yousafzai said Jonathan described the girls' situation as "complicated" and that their lives could be put at risk by a military rescue attempt.

"But the president said these girls are his daughters and he is pained by their sufferings and that he has his own daughters and he can feel what they are feeling," she said.

The Nigerian presidency said Jonathan assured Yousafzai that his government "was very actively pursuing all feasible options to achieve the safe return of the abducted girls".

"The great challenge in rescuing the Chibok girls is the need to ensure that they are rescued alive," Jonathan said, according to the presidency statement.

She has won the European Union's prestigious Human Rights Award and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize last year.