WHAT’S THE STORY?

IT’S a sad anniversary for Nigeria as it marks three years since the abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls by Boko Haram extremists – but there’s also anger that government efforts to negotiate their freedom appear to have stalled.

Activists rallied in the capital, Abuja, and the commercial hub of Lagos in an attempt to urge President Muhammadu Buhari’s government to do more to free the almost 200 girls who remain captive.

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Last October, Nigeria announced the release of 21 girls from the village of Chibok after negotiations with the Islamist terrorists, and said another group of 83 girls would be released “very soon”.

However, no more have been let go. The government said negotiations have “gone quite far” but face challenges.

The failure of Nigeria’s former government to secure the return of the captives sparked a global Bring Back Our Girls movement.

Independent experts for the United Nations expressed their disappointment that the girls has still not been released.

They said in a statement: “It is deeply shocking that, three years after this deplorable and devastating act of violence, the majority of the girls remain missing.”

The Bring Back Our Girls movement was also a factor in Buhari’s 2015 election win over former president Goodluck Jonathan.

ARE SUCH KIDNAPPINGS COMMON?

SADLY, yes. The Chibok girls are among thousands of people abducted by Boko Haram as it continues to threaten parts of north-eastern Nigeria and spreads into neighbouring countries.

Nigerian officials have refused to acknowledge the abduction of more than 500 children from the north-eastern town of Damasak in November 2014, Human Rights Watch said last month.

But Amnesty International, in a report published on the first Chibok anniversary, said Boko Haram had kidnapped at least 2000 women and girls since the beginning of 2014, forcing many into sexual slavery and training them to fight.

Amnesty said its 90-page study was based on nearly 200 witness accounts, including 28 from abducted women and girls who escaped captivity. It also said the missing schoolgirls were only a small proportion of the women, girls, young men and boys abducted by Boko Haram.

The report documented multiple war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the group, including the killing of at least 5500 civilians as it rampaged across Nigeria.

Buhari announced late last year that Boko Haram had been “crushed”, but it continues to carry out deadly suicide bombings, often strapping devices to young women.

Children have been used to carry out 27 attacks in the first three months of this year, already nearing last year’s total of 30, the UN children’s agency said this week.

Nigerian security officials said on Wednesday they had thwarted plans by members of the Daesh-linked faction of Boko Haram to attack the embassies of the US and UK, along with “other Western interests” in the capital.

WHAT’S THE HUMAN TOLL?

VAST. In the past year, Nigeria’s military has rescued thousands of Boko Haram captives while liberating towns and villages from the group’s control, but many have been detained as possible Boko Haram suspects.

Boko Haram’s seven-year Islamic uprising has killed more than 20,000 people and driven 2.6 million from their homes, with millions more facing starvation because of the disruption in markets and agriculture.

The Catholic bishop of a diocese at the centre of the Boko Haram insurgency has said the attacks are “demonic”. Bishop Oliver Dashe Doeme told reporters: “The battle against Boko Haram should not be limited to the physical realm, it needs to be fought in the spiritual realm for it is a demonic attack.”

Last month, the governor of Borno state, Kashim Shettima, said 100,000 people had been killed by Boko Haram militants there since the insurgency started in 2009.

Yesterday, the UK called for the Chibok schoolgirls’ release. A joint statement from Africa Minister Tobias Ellwood and International Development Minister James Wharton, said: “Our thoughts are with the Chibok girls who remain missing, their families and all those abducted by Boko Haram.

“We are committed to supporting Nigeria in the fight against these barbaric terrorists.”