Two years and four months ago, I, — like most other people in the world — was shocked to learn that the terrorist group Boko Haram had abducted 276 girls from their dormitory rooms at the Government Secondary School in the town of Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria. They were abducted to punish them for daring to pursue an education.
As a Nigerian human-rights attorney, I was shaken to my core. But this heinous act spurred me into action because I also am the father of a young girl I am raising in the United States, where she is free to follow her dreams wherever they lead her.
Soon after the kidnapping, which garnered global headlines and sparked the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, I traveled to Nigeria where I met U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, whose congressional district boasts a large Nigerian constituency.
After listening to the parents of the kidnapped girls and other victims of Boko Haram share their harrowing experiences, we pledged to do all that we could to support their cause; ensure the Chibok girls are not forgotten before they’ve been found; and raise global awareness about Boko Haram, whose mantra is that education is evil and has since been named the world’s deadliest terrorist group.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Part of that effort has included bringing to the United States a dozen teenagers who’ve been victims of terrorism and persecution, including some of the Chibok schoolgirls who escaped Boko Haram. For approximately two years, they have bravely defied their torturers in the most meaningful way possible — by continuing their studies at American schools.
Three of the girls are in college and have demonstrated an extraordinary level of emotional and intellectual resilience and maturity. Two others are now high school seniors and also college bound.
Their bravery sets an example for girls everywhere. They fear for the safety of their still-missing schoolmates, but courageously and willingly share the harrowing story of how they escaped from Boko Haram and why education means so much to them, even if that means being so far from home.
The world needs to hear stories like theirs. Terrorist attacks receive daily national news coverage —sometimes all day, depending on where it occurred — except when carried out by Boko Haram, which occur every day. This is unconscionable and unacceptable.
On Aug. 29, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County and Rep. Wilson will host a town hall meeting about Boko Haram, the ongoing threat it poses in Nigeria and beyond; and the conditions that led to the Chibok girls’ kidnapping.
Lawmakers have hosted forums and congressional hearings, and introduced several pieces of legislation that aim to support the Nigerian government’s efforts to defeat Boko Haram and find the Chibok girls.
Our commitment to never give up hope has been rewarded this year.
Nigeria’s army and the Multinational Joint Task Force of troops from its border nations have gained significant ground in their mission to conquer Boko Haram. One girl’s escape and two proof-of-life videos have helped the families and their advocates keep hope alive that many, if not all, of the girls will one day return home.
Their reaction has been bittersweet: Esther, one of the Chibok parents with whom I have worked, broke down in April because she didn’t see her daughter in the first video. Just days ago, she wept after both seeing and hearing her daughter, who was the girl chosen to speak in the second video.
Boko Haram is experiencing a leadership crisis, and ISIS, to whom the Nigerian insurgents have pledged their loyalty, has reportedly replaced Abubakar Shekau, Boko Haram’s leader since 2009, with the son of the group’s founder. In what may be Shekau’s way to show his strength, he has proposed that Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari enter an agreement in which the Chibok girls are set free in exchange for the release of Boko Haram fighters that the government has imprisoned.
Buhari is understandably hesitant to negotiate with terrorists, but any opportunity to attain the Chibok girls’ freedom must be seized. That time is now.
Emmanuel Ogebe is with the Education Must Continue Initiative, based in Jos, Nigeria.