LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — A leader of a protest march for 276 missing schoolgirls said that Nigeria's first lady ordered her and another protest leader arrested Monday, expressed doubts there was any kidnapping and accused them of belonging to the Islamic insurgent group blamed for the abductions. The first lady's office denied there were any arrests.
Saratu Angus Ndirpaya of Chibok town said State Security Service agents drove her and protest leader Naomi Mutah Nyadar to a police station Monday after an all-night meeting at the presidential villa in Abuja, the capital. She said police immediately released her but that Nyadar remains in detention. Deputy Superintendent Daniel Altine, police spokeswoman for Abuja, said she had no information but would investigate.
As AP journalists waited outside the Asokoro police station in Abuja where Nyadar was being held, they watched a vehicle from the presidential State House drive up, saw her bundled into the car and driven away.
Ayo Adewuyi, spokesman for first lady Patience Jonathan, said there was a meeting but he was unaware of any arrests. "The first lady did not order the arrest of anybody, and I'm sure of that," he told the AP.
Police say more than 300 girls and young women were abducted April 15 from Chibok Government Girls Secondary School, of whom 53 girls escaped and 276 remain in captivity.
But Ndirpaya said Mrs. Jonathan accused them of fabricating the abductions. "She told so many lies, that we just wanted the government of Nigeria to have a bad name, that we did not want to support her husband's rule," she said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
She said other women at the meeting, allies of Mrs. Jonathan including officials of the government and the ruling party, cheered and chanted "yes, yes," when Mrs. Jonathan accused them of belonging to Boko Haram, an Islamic insurgent group that allegedly kidnapped the girls. "They said we are Boko Haram, and that Mrs. Nyadar is a member of Boko Haram." She said Nyadar and herself do not have daughters among those abducted, but are supporting the mothers of kidnapped daughters.
Mrs. Jonathan said the women "had no right to protest," especially Nyadar, whom she identified as the deputy director of the National Directorate of Employment. Jonathan said Nyadar should resign her government post, Ndirpaya said.
In a report on the meeting, Daily Trust newspaper quoted Mrs. Jonathan as ordering all Nigerian women to stop protesting, and threatening "should anything happen to them during protests, they should blame themselves."
It was unclear what authority Mrs. Jonathan would have to give such orders.
Protesters said they are also concerned that they have been unable to reach two other people who were at the meeting: the principal of Chibok Government Girls Secondary School, Asabe Kwambura, and the town's local government chairman, Bana Lawal. "They were supposed to meet with us this morning, they were last seen at the (presidential) villa, and we suspect they are being kept there to stop them speaking out," said Tsambido Hosea Abana, chairman of the Chibok community in Abuja, who has a sister and three nieces among the missing girls.
An adviser to the president says the mass abduction and failure to rescue the girls, now in a fourth week of captivity, is a source of deep embarrassment to Jonathan and his government. Some Nigerians have accused the government of insensitivity to the girls' plight and not doing enough to rescue them.
On Sunday night, Jonathan said his administration is doing everything possible. On Friday he created a presidential committee to go to the affected Borno state to work with the community on a strategy for the release.
Some girls who have escaped from the mass kidnapping said their captors identified themselves as Boko Haram.
Associated Press writers Lekan Oyekanmi and Bashir Adigun contributed to this report from Abuja, Nigeria.