ABUJA - Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan will visit a northeastern town where more than 200 schoolgirls were kidnapped by Islamic militants, with international criticism mounting of his response to the crisis.
A senior government official told AFP that the head of state would be in remote Chibok in Borno state on Friday before flying to Paris for a regional security summit to discuss the Boko Haram threat.
Jonathan and his government have been widely criticised for their slow response to the kidnapping on April 14, which saw 276 girls abducted by militants. A total of 223 are still missing.
But they were forced to act in the face of a social media campaign and street protests that won global support and attracted the attention of foreign powers, who have now sent specialist teams to help in the rescue effort.
In the United States, which has sent drones and surveillance aircraft, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations said Nigeria had been "tragically and unacceptably slow" to tackle the crisis.
"I have called on President (Goodluck) Jonathan to demonstrate the leadership his nation is demanding," Democratic senator Robert Menendez said.
Department of Defence official Alice Friend said Nigeria, which has previously resisted outside help to put down the brutal five-year insurgency, could be "an extremely challenging partner to work with".
"In the face of this sophisticated threat, Nigeria's security forces have been slow to adapt with new strategies and new tactics," she added.
Others raised the Nigerian military's human rights record after well-documented claims of abuses carried out by soldiers, including arbitrary detention and summary execution of civilians.
Activists from a coalition of more than 40 African women organisations march in the streets of Kenya's capital Nairobi demanding the release of the Nigerian girls. PHOTO/AFP
Lawmakers back special powers
A state of emergency was imposed in three northeastern states worst affected by the violence on May 14 last year.
Special powers were extended for a further six months in November.
Jonathan requested the extension on Tuesday, calling the security situation in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa "daunting" and expressing concern for mounting civilian loss of life.
More than 2,000 have been killed this year alone, most of them civilians, in increasing violence across Muslim-majority northern Nigeria that has seen churches, schools and entire villages attacked.
Police in northern Bauchi state said about 30 gunmen destroyed two village primary schools late on Wednesday but no one was injured.
After quizzing security and military commanders behind closed doors, parliamentary spokesman Zakari Mohammed told reporters that the lower House of Representatives decided to vote unanimously for an extension.
Senators from the upper chamber, who also met the security chiefs, are expected to vote on Tuesday.
A two-thirds majority is required from both chambers.
The governor of Yobe has come out against any extension and his counterparts in Borno and Adamawa are likely to follow suit.
All three are members of the main opposition party.
Initial gains from the state of emergency in forcing Boko Haram out of urban centres appeared to have been lost because of the continued strife, with questions raised about the military's tactics and ability to curb the threat.
Analysts have said conventional means are ineffective against an enemy fighting a guerrilla war while more was needed to boost intelligence and even equip demoralised soldiers on the front line.
Disgruntled troops on Tuesday fired shots into the air when the local commander paid a visit to the state capital of Borno, Maiduguri to sympathise with them after a Boko Haram ambush killed some of their comrades.
Six soldiers, including one officer, were killed as they returned from patrol duties in Chibok, the defence ministry said, adding that the commander was not injured by the firing.
As the activists in Kenya, and around the world, continue to demand for the Nigerian girls' release, the school girls themselves remain under captivity by the Boko Haram muslim extremist group. PHOTO/AFP
Jonathan has ruled out a prisoner swap with the extremists after Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau mooted the possibility in a video showing the kidnapped schoolgirls released on Monday.
But the government said it remained open to wider talks on ending the insurgency, visiting British Africa minister Mark Simmonds told reporters in Abuja after meeting Jonathan on Wednesday.
Relatives of the missing girls have called for their unconditional release.
"For me, I want these girls released without any negotiations," said Ayuba Chibok, whose niece is among the hostages.
"Even if Boko Haram wants to request something from the government, let them request something else," he told AFP by telephone.
"Let (Shekau) release these girls unconditionally."
With US, British, French and Israeli teams on the ground helping the Nigerians, the battle against Boko Haram spread to Sudan, where one of the alleged masterminds of an April 14 bombing in Abuja was arrested.
Army deserter Aminu Sadiq Ogwuche, who served in a Nigerian intelligence unit, was held on suspicion of involvement in the car bomb attack on a bus station that killed at least 75 as he tried to obtain a Turkish visa in central Khartoum.
Ogwuche arrived in Khartoum late last year to study Arabic at the International University of Africa but visited Nigeria earlier this year, a source familiar with the case said.