Almost a year after the terror group Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of Nigerian school girls, humanitarian workers are fighting what they call global inaction in the face of the humanitarian crisis. Most of the girls abducted from Chibok have not been rescued, though some have escaped on their own. “That sends a strong message to us — not just to Nigerians, but to the human race — that 200 and something girls could be abducted somewhere and 343 days after they are not back. That is a big problem we have to look into,” said Bukky Shonibare, a Nigerian humanitarian worker who was strategic coordinator of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. That movement tried to raise awareness about the abducted girls in the aftermath of their capture by Boko Haram last April 15. Most of the girls still have not been rescued; 57 have successfully escaped on their own, Shonibare said. Shonibare spoke at the Hudson Institute Mar. 23 about Boko Haram and the humanitarian crisis in Nigeria. She was joined by Nigerian-born human rights lawyer Emanuel Ogebe, who also addressed the Islamist terror group’s recent pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State. Boko Haram, the name meaning “book-education is forbidden,” has conducted a spree of violent attacks and kidnappings in West Africa, escalating in number and degree since 2009. Their attacks have killed more than 15,500 since 2012. Any response to the abductions must be “holistic,” Shonibare insisted, because girls kidnapped by the terror group have returned pregnant or infected with HIV. Some have even developed a “Stockholm Syndrome,” or allegiance to their captors, which is “fearful for us, because these people have the tendency to perpetrate the same evil that their abductors perpetrate,” Shonibare said. In a gruesome example, one girl who returned from captivity proceeded to murder her own mother. Both Shonibare and Ogebe are frustrated with what they see as global inaction on the crisis. Ogebe described his disillusion on a recent trip to the United States with some of the escaped school girls, in a “rude awakening.” In the U.S., he said, “we’ve not gotten any institutional funding from any major donors. It’s all been a completely grassroots affair.” One big donor told him he couldn’t contribute to a fund for the girls because the kidnapping was so long ago. “I’m thinking that doesn’t change the fact that they [the girls] have needs. They’re here now,” Ogebe told CNA in a later interview. One girl who received a scholarship to attend college in the U.S. was denied a visa by the U.S. embassy. “That I don’t get, because she was in the same class with all these other girls, she was abducted with all these other girls,” Ogebe told CNA. She is now “back in Nigeria at risk, because the U.S. embassy is applying a different set of rules to one girl.” He even reached out to contacts at the White House to possibly arrange a visit for the girls, especially since Michelle Obama had participated in the social media campaign for the girls. “Nothing. We get nothing,” Ogebe said dejectedly. As for large charity organizations in the U.S., “none of them is doing anything in Nigeria,” he said, which is baffling considering Nigeria has the largest persecuted Christian population in the world. Catholics are doing the most work of any Christian charity groups. “When it comes to humanitarian work, Catholics are pretty much front-line there in doing good,” he added. Nigeria has been racked with violence resulting in an estimated 3.2 million refugees or internally displaced persons. This particular crisis is a “ticking time bomb,” Shonibare said from her experience working with internally displaced persons as coordinator of Adopt-A-Camp. Young men who are not in school or working are ripe for recruitment to violence. These boys want to be educated, she insisted, but not “if going to school is synonymous to being abducted or being killed. That is what we are going through in Nigeria.” “We want something to be done,” she said, tearing up. To compound matters, Boko Haram pledged allegiance to the Islamic State earlier this month, something Ogebe called one of the “worst marriages of terrorism,” adding that it could pose problems throughout Africa. “Boko Haram killed in the first week of January the same number of people that it took ISIS six months to kill last year. So if they begin to share weapons and tactics, we’re looking at a very significant uptick in the bloodflows,” Ogebe said at the Hudson Institute. The Nigerian terror group has a larger bodycount than Islamic State, yet the latter is more “tech-savvy,” he explained. That could change if their merger is successful. And it could well have a continent-wide effect, he insisted. Boko Haram has expanded its operations into surrounding countries in West Africa, and Islamic State is active in North Africa. Other terror groups — al-Shabaab in East Africa and MUJAO in Northwest Africa -- could conceivably join the new union down the road as the start of a movement that could engulf the continent, he warned. The U.S. State Department hasn’t helped matters by fundamentally misunderstanding the nature of the conflict, he added. “They tend to see what is happening in Africa through the lens of ‘oh, this is poverty-induced,’” he said, “and that is wrong. This is ideologically-driven, not a function of poverty.” The U.S. also “misled Nigeria on how to deal with this situation,” he continued, because they initially “refused to recognize it as terrorism.” However, the State Department did not put Boko Haram as a group on the official terror list until 2013 for multiple reasons, said Dr. Maryann Cusimano Love, a professor of international relations at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. First, the Nigerian government did not want an official terror designation given so as not to draw additional attention and resources to Boko Haram from sympathizers, she said. “Also, the bureaucratic process takes time,” she added. The Nigerian conflict is complex and not purely ideological or economic, she explained. “There has been violence in northern Nigeria long before Boko Haram, and that violence has economic and political roots and also breaks along religious and tribal lines,” she told CNA, adding that the country’s Cardinal John Onaiyekan of Abuja has re-affirmed this. “While religion is often used to justify the violence, Boko Haram also began in opposition and outrage at the corruption and mismanagement of the Nigerian government, a view shared by many Nigerians who do not favor Boko Haram,” she added.
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