MIAMI — Nwadiuto Esiobu found it difficult to hold back her tears. She and other women were attending a meeting at Palm Beach State College in Boca Raton. The members of the newly formed Palm Beach/Broward Chapter of the U.S. National Committee for U.N. Women were discussing a petition calling for an end to violence against women.
At the forefront of their discussion was the recent early morning kidnapping by a Nigerian terrorist group of more than 300 Nigerian girls from a boarding school in the country’s northeast region.
“I couldn’t stop crying,” said Esiobu, senior vice president of the group. “Every woman – everyone – is touched deeply by this.”
According to various accounts from Nigeria, the girls, all between the ages of 15 and 18, were abducted April 15 from Chibok Girls Secondary School in Borno State.
Boko Haram members also burned down the school building and destroyed books and other educational materials.
Fifty-three of the girls escaped and an estimated 276 remain captive in remote areas described as inaccessible. Three weeks later, eight more teenage girls were kidnapped from Warabe, another village in Borno.
The terrorist group, Boko Haram, whose name loosely means western education is sinful, has since claimed responsibility and is threatening to sell the schoolgirls. Its leader, Abubakr Shekau warned this week that there would be more school attacks and abductions.
The United States, along with some other countries, has pledged to help the government find and rescue the girls.
“We have to keep the pressure on until the girls come home,” said Esiobu, a microbiology and biotechnology professor at the Davie campus of Florida Atlantic University. “If possible, we should hold rallies everyday; we shouldn’t let this die down at all.”
Esiobu, a Cooper City resident, joined about 100 people May 7 at a prayer service at the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Victory Parish, a congregation of about 150 members, mostly Nigerians.
“Prayers were raised for the safety of the girls and we prayed for their families,” said Ude Ogali, wife of the pastor, Chris Ogali.
The parish, which opened in 1999, is the South Florida headquarters for the Nigerian–based church, which has members all over the world, as well as in Broward and Palm Beach counties, Ude Ogali said.
About 5,000 Nigerians live in South Florida, primarily in northwest Miami-Dade and Broward counties. The community is mostly middle class and includes doctors, lawyers and educators, as well as Miami Gardens Councilman Erhabor Ighordo, said Oluyinka Tella, who was so moved by the kidnapping that he is organizing a rally for Saturday, May 17, in Miami Gardens.
“We have a duty as Nigerians to ensure that our country does not degenerate into anarchy, “ said Tella, a Pembroke Pines resident since 2004.
The “Green and White Rally,” named for the colors of Nigeria’s flag, will take place at 10 a.m. at Rolling Oaks Park, 18701 NW 17th Ct. It is being sponsored by a newly formed group, the Coalition of Concerned Nigerians in South Florida, Tella said.
An organizing committee of about 15, including some African Americans, has been meeting throughout the week to finalize plans for the two-hour rally, which will feature prayers and speeches from religious and community leaders, Tella said.
Tella, a student affairs specialist and counselor at Broward College’s North Campus in Coconut Creek, said the kidnappings and the continued attacks of Boko Haram have affected his family.
Tella said his children have been spending their summer vacations in Nigeria since 2008 but now they no longer want to go, even though his relatives live in the southwest, nowhere near the northern states where the 10-year-old Boko Haram has raided villages and is attempting to install a fundamentalist form of Islam.
“We are very concerned,” said Annabel Brewster, who is helping to organize the rally. “We would like to send a very strong message to the world that this should never happen again.” Brewster, originally from eastern Nigeria, has lived in the United States since 1987.
Along with some other South Florida Nigerians, Brewster criticizes the Nigerian government for not responding to the kidnapping more quickly. By most accounts, the authorities waited three weeks before taking substantive action to go after Boko Haram.
Absent government intervention, the fathers of some of the girls, armed only with machetes and bows and arrows, have tried unsuccessfully to rescue their daughters.
Others say they do not understand why Nigeria, Africa’s largest economy with one of the continent’s biggest and best equipped military, has not been more decisive in striking down Boko Haram.
“They moved ever so slowly,” said Brewster, a Pembroke Pines resident who operates a home health agency in Miami-Dade and Broward. “I am not sure they would have done anything except for the international outcry and by social media.’’
Adewale Alonge, executive director of the Africa Diaspora Partnership for Empowerment, a nonprofit that has taken African Americans from South Florida to Nigeria, concedes that it is difficult for any government to deal with terrorism.
“It is always very hard when you have a group bent on creating chaos,” said Alonge, a resident of Palmetto Bay in south Miami-Dade County. “But you would have thought that they would have created a security blanket around the area.,” he said, referring to reports that the government had advance warning on the kidnapping. “That was not done. There is clearly a failure of intelligence.”
Alonge and others say they welcome U.S. and international assistance. Maiwa’azi Dandaura-Samu, a South Florida-based research strategy consultant, said international intelligence should be just one part of a multipronged response by the Nigerian government, headed by president Goodluck Jonathan, and its allies.
“If you approach it from the standpoint that soldiers can finish it, you might end up getting disappointed,” said Dandaura-Samu, who analyzes international conflicts and has worked with the Institute of Peace and Conflict Resolution through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nigeria.
“I don’t want to sound like a pessimist but I want to assure you that it will take some serious work to get these girls back,” he said.