By D. Kevin McNeir
(The Washington Informer, NNPA Member)
It’s been two years, April 14th to be exact, since the world witnessed the abduction of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls from their dormitory rooms at the hands of Boko Haram – a West African terrorist group that has lodged atrocities against its own people including the burning of children alive and sending teenaged girls on suicide bomb missions.
But one member of Congress, a former principal and mother now in her third term in office, said she refuses to rest until the remaining 219 girls still missing have been safely returned to their families.
On Thursday, April 14, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) sponsored a press conference and panel discussion in the Cannon House Office Building in Southeast that included experts and advocates who offered their perspectives and solutions for addressing the ongoing crisis in the region. Several girls who escaped their abductors and now live in the U.S. also shared comments and expressed their thanks.
Wilson has visited Nigeria several times along with other members of Congress where they’ve met with some of the victims and their parents. She remains a staunch supporter of the Bring Back Our Girls movement.
“I was shocked and deeply saddened when I first learned that Boko Haram had abducted the Chibok girls to punish them for seeking to learn and better their lives,” she said. “My concern began with the girls but has since expanded because of the near-daily atrocities that Boko Haram commits, which has escalated since the girls were kidnapped. They’re trafficking girls and women as sex slaves and slaughtering boys.”
“They have no conscience and they must be stopped. Even though Boko Haram has been ranked as the world’s deadliest terrorist group, it’s actually a group of cowards, which is why they send girls out, some as young as seven, to do their dirty work.”
Panelist participants included: John Yearwood, moderator and executive board chairman, International Press Institute; Malcolm Nance, executive director, The Terror Asymmetrics Project on Strategy, Tactics and Radical Ideology; Jana Mason, senior advisor for government relations, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; Tunde Odunlade, a Nigerian artist and activist; Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, senior fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies; Emmanuel Ogebe, international director, Education Must Continue Initiative; and Ernst Jan Hogendoorn, Africa deputy program director, International Crisis Group.
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, also gave an update on actions initiated by the U.S. government.
Wilson said building support among her colleagues has sometimes been a challenge.
“Several congressional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers have introduced legislation and support my efforts like Wear Something Red Wednesday, the daily Twitter campaign and events like the forum and press conference that I recently hosted. But we’ve got to hold Nigeria’s government more accountable, keep the pressure on those lawmakers and let them know that if they don’t increase their efforts to find the girls and defeat Boko Haram, that they can be voted out of office.”
Ogebe said U.S. officials and leaders from other countries initially failed to take Boko Haram seriously.
“World leaders allowed Boko Haram to spread like a cancer. What’s needed is greater intelligence on the ground and the assistance of the U.S. with technology that can pinpoint where the terrorists are hiding. What’s happening in Nigeria should be deemed as an act of genocide,” he said.
Hogendoorn believes the U.S. could do more but that Nigerian officials must take the lead.
“Ultimately it’s a Nigerian problem — they’re a country that remains in crisis,” he said. “Their military, police and elected officials are all going through major reform and that process cannot be forced.”
Odunlade said he won’t give up, even though Boko Haram continues to grow more powerful and dangerous.