When 276 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram on April 14, 2014, the world looked on in horror. The mass kidnapping instantly garnered international media attention, and ignited a Twitter campaign of epic proportions. (In less than three weeks, #BringBackOurGirls was used more than a million times on social media.)
Yet as I sat in a dusty courtyard across from the fathers of the kidnapped Chibok girls in Nigeria a few months ago, I witnessed a different reality for the families from those early days of international outcry: broken promises, unanswered questions, and crushing silence.
On April 14, two years will have passed by since the girls disappeared. For the families of those kidnapped, these have been years of sleepless nights, worried days, and profound sorrow. With an ever increasing number of deadly suicide bombings perpetrated by teenage girls in recent months, it has become clear that Boko Haram is using some captives as human explosives. And horrifically, as violence spreads throughout northern Nigeria, the government has been compelled to admit that, in fact, they have no real idea of the location of the kidnapped Chibok girls.
In my travels throughout Nigeria, I realized that the Chibok fathers aren’t alone in their grief and fear. Their plight is tragically representative of the situation facing thousands of Nigerians, including marginalized Christians. Although the Chibok girls remain among the most high profile victims, UNICEF estimates that more than 2,000 girls have been abducted by Boko Haram since 2011. Churches and schools have been destroyed, and entire villages wiped out.
“Crushed But Not Defeated,” a new report by Open Doors about the impact of recurrent violence against Christians in northern Nigeria, estimates that 11,500 Christians have been killed between 2006 and 2014. At least 13,000 churches have been attacked, destroyed or abandoned and 1.3 million Christians have been internally displaced since 2000.
So what can be done to protect and assist persecuted people of all faiths in Nigeria? Open Doors is working on the ground in this country—not only with the families of the kidnapped Chibok girls, but also with thousands who have suffered violence at the hands of Boko Haram and other groups. By providing physical, spiritual and emotional aid and encouragement, we are working to strengthen those who remain in-country, even as more persecution looms on the horizon.
This year, as we approach the second anniversary of the kidnapping of the Chibok girls, Open Doors is launching an advocacy campaign asking President Obama to take a strong stance against the ongoing persecution of Christians and other victims of violence in Nigeria, and to urge Nigerian President Buhari to do everything possible to protect those facing this onslaught of terror.
We’re asking President Obama to make a presidential visit to Nigeria, as we believe a visit would lend greater weight to the administration’s recommendations to the Nigerian government that it ensures the rights of Christians and other minorities are protected and the current climate of impunity for religious discrimination and persecution is ended. As Buhari works toward tackling corruption, Open Doors is also urging him to support investigations into allegations brought against prominent Nigerian politicians of providing financial support for Boko Haram. We are asking Buhari to follow through with the promises he made during his election campaign.
These recommendations are only a start. As the second anniversary of their tragic kidnapping comes and goes, we must speak out again for Nigeria’s Chibok girls and other victims of Boko Haram violence, and hold our leaders accountable to protect those who are facing persecution.
Even as we take action on behalf of those who are suffering, we can learn from their faith. While in Nigeria, I was struck by the strong faith of the Chibok fathers. In the midst of their daily misery, many have found a way to give their pain over to God. Pastor Ayuba, whose daughter Amina was kidnapped that fateful day, describes the agony he and his family continue to endure. “We waited and waited, receiving many fresh promises. Up to now, we are still waiting. I shed tears, but what can I do? The only thing I can do is give it to God.”
When I asked where he thinks his daughter is, he shakes his head, looking down at his hands. He says simply, “She is in the hands of God.”
My hope is that the people of the United States can assure Pastor Ayuba that his daughter has not been forgotten. Two years is too long for any parent to wait. Now more than ever, let us demand of those with the power to do it: #BringBackOurGirls.
Kristin Wright is the advocacy director at Open Doors USA. She works with government officials to address issues of religious persecution throughout the world, and take action for those who are suffering.