Protesters around the world have drawn unprecedented international attention to the plight of more than 250 girls in northern Nigeria. Most of the girls, who were kidnapped by the Islamist militant group Boko Haram on April 15, remain missing.
American Jewish World Service and other human rights groups—in Nigeria and many other countries—spread the word about this horrific situation over the last week or so, using the popular hashtag #bringbackourgirls. In response to this outcry, governments ranging from China to the U.S. have offered to help Nigeria’s government track down the missing girls.
Much of the media coverage of this story has emphasized the roles of American celebrities and activists, while overlooking Boko Haram’s ongoing attacks in Nigeria during this time, including a bombing this week that killed hundreds of people in the northeastern town of Gamboru Ngala.
Boko Haram has been active in Nigeria for a decade. In Chibok, where the girls were taken, many schools have stayed closed since February, ever since Boko Haram massacred 59 schoolboys. The girls’ school only opened briefly, for exams.
Today, the United Nations refugee agency called attention to growing numbers of people fleeing northeast Nigeria to escape a surge of brutal attacks by Boko Haram. Every week, about a thousand people are seeking refuge in Niger, Cameroon and Chad.
Activists in Nigeria continue to speak out against Boko Haram, demanding a safe return for the kidnapped girls. To learn more, AJWS reached out to allies working in Nigeria, asking for their thoughts on the situation and what should happen next.
This post features highlights from an online interview with Ngozika A. Reginald, who directs the Womankind Centre for Women Empowerment in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. She wrote to AJWS from one of many rallies calling for the release of the kidnapped girls.
Read more below, and check back for updates in the coming weeks. AJWS will continue to monitor the situation and seek input from our allies on the ground.
AJWS: How is your organization responding to the abduction of the girls?
Ngozika: Womankind Centre for Women empowerment is joining with other feminist women’s groups to ask our government to do more to quicken the release of the girls. … Today, we addressed the World Economic Forum, which Nigeria is currently hosting, and asked them to lend their voices in bringing back our girls.
AJWS: What should people know about Boko Haram? How have these terrorists affected life in Nigeria?
Ngozika: People should know that Boko Haram is an enemy of the people, an enemy of Islam and Western [secular] education. We must resist them and never be threatened by their preaching. We must give our children the best education, because education is the bedrock of every generation that wants to develop.
AJWS: What should be done now to bring these girls home?
Ngozika: Nigeria should step up and do more to get these girls released by their captors, by equipping our security personnel to do more and digging for information in the communities where Boko Haram operates. The American government, the United Kingdom and China have promised to support Nigeria’s search for these girls. To me, this is a welcome development that needs to be followed up by our government.
AJWS: What do you think about the U.S. response to the situation so far?
Ngozika: If we don’t seek external support, we will die as result of Boko Haram. l am no longer safe in my community where l live and work. The latest bomb blast at a bus station in Nyanya not only shattered my house and office, but two of our outreach coordinators were killed by the bomb. One was buried without her two hands and one leg. But l must appeal to the American government to be very careful to avoid mass killing of innocent women and children, who are always victims of every violent conflict.
AJWS: Do you think there’s anything else that people and NGOs in the U.S. should do to help?
Ngozika: International NGOs in the U.S and the American people should support us in rebuilding our communities, which have been destroyed [by Boko Haram attacks]. We need to rebuild our office and also train our women for income generating activities, so that they can be independent and support their families financially. We also need support to make sure the children of our deceased members remain in school and complete their education.
AJWS: What should be done in the future, to stop this kind of abduction from happening again?
Ngozika: The primary responsibility of every government is to secure its citizenry. The Nigerian government should put in place adequate security in every school and community.
Elizabeth Daube manages the story bank at American Jewish World Service. Opinions contained in this post do not necessarily represent the policies or perspectives of American Jewish World Service.