MAIDUGURI, Nigeria – Traditional hunters armed with homemade guns, poisoned spears and amulets have gathered in the hundreds, eager to use their skills and what they believe to be supernatural powers to help find nearly 300 schoolgirls abducted by Islamic extremists.
Some 500 hunters, some as young as 18 and some in their 80s, say they have been specially selected by their peers for their spiritual hunting skills and have been waiting for two weeks in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital and the birthplace of Boko Haram, to get backing from the military and get moving.
The appearance of the hunters from three northeastern states underscores how deeply the April 15 mass kidnapping – and the government’s apparent lack of action – has affected Nigerian society. It has spawned demonstrations and a tidal wave of commentary in media including social sites like Twitter and Facebook.
A spokesman for the hunters stopped short of actually criticizing the military.
“We’re not saying we are better than the soldiers, but we know the bush better than the soldiers,” said Sarkin Baka. The hunters said they gathered here at the suggestion of a state legislator.
A military spokesman did not immediately respond to an emailed question from AP on whether it would take advantage of the hunters’ local knowledge.
In contrast to the age-old stalking and tracking skills offered by the hunters, U.S. aircraft and camera-carrying drones are searching for the girls. Military teams from America, Britain, France, Spain and Israel with expertise in surveillance, intelligence gathering, counterterrorism and hostage negotiation are also present.
Police say more than 300 girls and young women were kidnapped from a boarding school in the remote northeastern town of Chibok on April 15. A total of 53 escaped and an estimated 276 remain in captivity.