Nigerian Expats Talk School Girl Abductions, Boko Haram and What’s Next

Protesters call for action for missing Nigerian girls in front of Nigerian Embassy in Washington, DC.  (Photo Credit: Google Images)

Protesters call for action for missing Nigerian girls in front of Nigerian Embassy in Washington, DC.
(Photo Credit: Google Images)

Nearly four weeks into the kidnappings of 276 girls in Borno State, Nigeria,  feelings of frustration with Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan’s lack of action, anger at extremist group Boko Haram, and anxiety about the fates of the young girls by the international community have boiled over. Offers of assistance from abroad pour in amid the possibility that the girls have been separated and carted off to neighboring countries.

According to a CNN report, former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the U.N.’s special envoy for global education, believes that the search must now cross into Chad, Niger and Cameroon.  As such Britain, the U.S., China and France have all extended their hands to assist in bringing the girls home.

The kidnappings have garnered global sympathy, yet Nigerian expatriates especially await with baited breath the outcome of the latest Nigerian debacle.  Numerous proud Nigerian communities exist across Europe, Canada and the U.S.  – yet reports of deviousness often elicit little more than spirited parlor conversation. Desensitized by rampant corruption, many conclude that Nigeria’s problems are too weighty to solve from abroad. This time, however, something is different. This time, Nigerian expats lean in as an evil force has rounded up their children and threatens to upset the balance of Africa’s largest economy. This time, Nigerians are ready to act.

Moses Onitilo, an IT professional, lives in Miami, Florida and has watched the events unfold from both sides of the Atlantic. He was in Nigeria when the kidnappings occurred, and noted a general sense of “business as usual”.

“This news broke in Nigeria about three weeks ago when I got there,” Moses recalled. “Everyone was just carrying on life as usual…we [Nigerians] will adapt to any situation that comes in front of us,” he explained.

Moses’ brother Taiwo, who arrived in the U.S. for school last week, agreed, saying that those not in the immediate area of the kidnappings seemed to be less affected initially.

“People really feel it so much, because it’s children,” said Taiwo. “But it has changed nothing, because normal people on the road will say ‘will that change the price of tomatoes in the market’”?

Moses sees the abductions as a result of other ills in Nigeria, which he believes can be addressed through the power of voting. Three weeks ago, he and a group of other visionaries launched a multiethnic initiative, 1 Million Votes for Change Nigeria, with the goal of registering one million new voters and encouraging registered voters to cast ballots by 2019.

While some expats plan to take their issues to the polls, others have taken to the streets. New Yorkers Debo Folorunsho and Nkechi Ogbodo both planned separate rallies to attention to and action on the abductions.

Folorunsho, publisher of Applause Africa Magazine, believes that Nigerians in the diaspora can no longer remain silent. Thus, he helped organize the May 3 rally in New York’s Union Square.

“I’m just touched by the story, and we are calling on all other organizations to say ‘this is enough, this is enough.’”

Ogbodo identifies with the situation for different reasons. She is the founder of Kechie’s Project, an NGO focused on empowerment, education and leadership training for girls in Harlem, New York and Nigeria. Her mother was also abducted and released in Nigeria three years ago. Both of these make the kidnappings especially painful for her.

“When I heard about the news, it felt like I was reliving the situation all over again,” said Ogbodo. “These are girls, young girls, they are innocent. They couldn’t fight back.”

With Kechie’s Project at the helm, a march from Harlem to the Nigerian Consulate will take place on May 10, with prominent figures such as Reverend Al Sharpton and former New York governor David Paterson slated to speak.

The role of extreme Islam in the kidnappings has been mentioned repeatedly in media reports. Alhaji Olatunji Olarinde is a resident of Miami and the president of the National Council of Nigerian Muslim Organizations U.S. and Canada (NCNMO) He expressed anger over Boko Haram’s interpretation of Islam.

“We as Nigerian Muslims regard Western education as Boko Halal (Western education is permitted), in God’s name,” said Olarinde. “We also know that the Western education is not only permissible, but there is no conflict in our religion with modernity. We are grateful for what President Obama is doing to help the Nigerian Government.”

The NCNMO and several other Muslim organizations held a joint press conference in Washington DC on May 8, condemning the actions of Boko Haram and demanding the safe release of the abducted girls.

As with all movements, change takes time, and many Nigerians living in the U.S. are willing  to the work to make it happen. While Moses Onitilo thinks that the Nigerian government has been the largest roadblock in the investigation, he remains hopeful.

“If those of us abroad get together…it [Nigeria] can be safe, we can have the basic necessities of life.”

This post was written by Dr. Chetachi A. Egwu, Assistant Professor of Humanities at Nova Southeastern University. Her scholarship focuses on Black Internet Usage and the African image in film, with an emphasis in documentary. The Howard University alumna is the owner of Conscious Thoughts Media. Dr. Egwu is a regular contributor to The Grio and The Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter @Tachiada.

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