Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, was in Nigeria as part of a human rights trip to this terrorist-stricken nation, meeting with a schoolgirl who escaped the clutches of the notorious terrorist group Boko Haram, and other victims of the Islamic radical group.
“As a sovereign nation, Nigeria owns the responsibility to secure the Chibok girls’ safe release, but the international community can and must play a robust supporting role especially in the area of intelligence and counterinsurgency training,” Smith said at a press conference Saturday at Unity Fountain in the capitol city of Abuja.
During the trip grim reports emerged of a June 2 attack at the hands of Boko Haram which murdered hundreds of people in three villages.
Smith, who visited Nigeria in September 2013 and heard from maimed victims of the terrorist group firsthand, returned to Washington and introduced the ‘‘Boko Haram Terrorist Designation Act of 2013,’’H.R. 3209. In November, the State Department agreed to make the declaration at a November 13, 2013, House hearing chaired by Smith. The declaration was sparked by his resolution and discussions with U.S. and Nigerian officials during his September 20-25, 2013, visit. He is also planning a congressional hearing on Boko Haram Wednesday in Washington.
Smith told reporters that, “Despite escalating acts of terrorism—many Nigerians including and especially the faith community—Catholics, evangelicals, Muslims—have responded with extraordinary courage, resiliency, resolve and empathy for the victims.
“Nothing, however, has galvanized global opinion and a sense of extreme urgency more than the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls,” he said. “This week I met in Abuja with one of the Chibok girls who escaped early on in the ordeal. This brave young woman has suffered much—was clearly traumatized and in emotional pain. You could hear it in her voice, see it in her eyes—as she sat motionless recounting her story. Yet she spoke of her concern not for herself, but her friends and classmates who remain in captivity.
“I met with a Muslim father of two girls abducted from the Chibok school. Fighting back tears, he said the agony was unbearable. The story of his daughters underscored the fact that Boko Haram brutalizes Muslims as well.
“This week, I also met with other Boko Haram victims, including a Christian mother whose two daughters were abducted in February 2012. She told us her husband was shot on the spot. Three months later, Boko Haram returned and asked if her son had converted to Islam. When she said no—he was shot and killed. Click here to read Smith’s statement.
Chairman Smith called on the Administration to use its expanded authority under the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) designation to work more closely with the Government of Nigeria.
On April 14, 2014, more than 270 girls were kidnapped from the Chibok Girls Secondary School in northeastern Nigeria by militants identified as being members of Boko Haram. According to Nigerian Police Commissioner Tanko Lawan, as many as 53 girls have escaped captivity and have returned home, while more than 220 others are believed to be still held by terrorists, who reportedly are selling them into marriage to Boko Haram militants for as little as $12 American dollars each. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pledged American support in finding and freeing the girls, but Nigerian officials admit they do not know where the girls are. At least some of the kidnapped girls may have been trafficked to Cameroon because the convoy of trucks leaving the school was headed to a forest area bordering that neighboring country.
“We need to do everything we can to get these girls home to their families and to help the other victims, including assisting Nigeria in standing up to Boko Haram,” Smith said. “I would be remiss if I didn’t note the excellent work of the U.S. Embassy staff, which has been of great assistance on this trip. I really appreciate the work they do.”
After a more than a year-long congressional campaign to achieve a U.S. declaration of Boko Haram and its affiliate organization Ansaru as a FTO, the U.S. State Department made the declaration at Smith’s November 2013 hearing. Administration officials have been measured in their efforts to provide assistance due to a lack of Nigerian interagency cooperation and human rights issues involving Nigerian forces involved in anti-Boko Haram effort. Smith also held a hearing in 2012 on Nigeria.