ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai is celebrating her 17th birthday in Nigeria with promises to work for the release of some 219 schoolgirls who have been held by Islamic extremists for three months.
“My birthday wish this year is ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ now and alive,” she said, using the social media slogan that has been picked up around the world to demand freedom for the girls kidnapped from a school in the remote northeastern Nigerian town of Chibok before dawn on April 15.
Malala, who escaped a Taliban assassination attempt in 2012, is to meet President Goodluck Jonathan later Monday.
Jonathan has not met with any of the kidnapped girls’ parents, nor with Nigerian activists who started the worldwide movement. He has drawn international condemnation for his government’s failure to quickly rescue the students.
In May, Jonathan canceled a planned trip to Chibok. And soldiers and police prevented activists from marching to his presidential village in Abuja, the capital, to give him written demands the same month.
Malala met in Abuja with some parents of the kidnapped girls and some of the dozens of girls and young women who escaped the abduction. All have been begging Jonathan to negotiate with Boko Haram extremists.
Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau put out a new video this week in which he repeated his demands that the government release scores of detained insurgents in exchange for the girls’ freedom.
“Nigerians are saying ‘Bring Back Our Girls,’ and we are telling Jonathan to bring back our arrested warriors, our army,” he says in the video.
Jonathan so far has refused.
On Monday, Malala appealed to the Nigerian government to dedicate more money to education, to drastically reduce the hundreds of thousands of children who are out of school in the country, not just in the northeast area that is under a state of emergency and where Boko Haram has targeted schools, killing hundreds of students.
“We express our solidarity with you and we are with you, we are standing up with you in your campaign of ‘Bring Back Our Girls,’ bring back our daughters because I consider these girls as my sister, they are my sisters,” Malala said at the meeting with parents. “I’m going to speak up for them until they are released, and I’m going to participate actively in the ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ campaign to make sure that they return safely and continue their education.”
Associated Press writer Michelle Faul contributed to this report from Lagos, Nigeria.