Several Louisville public officials joined a rally in downtown to raise awareness and call for action regarding the kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian school children.
The terrorist group Boko Haram is claiming responsibility for taking over 200 girls from a Nigerian school last month. They have demanded the release of jailed Islamic militants in exchange for the students.
International attention has been brought to the incident through social networking, but local officials said it was important to add their voice.
“The same thing happened in February with some Nigerian boys who were killed and you didn’t hear anything about it in the news,” says Keidra King, an organizer of the vigil planned by the alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. “Because this issue was on social media it brought attention to not only our president, but you saw our First Lady give an address.”
“That’s due to activists and grassroots organizations and social media. We may not be directly involved, but activists here and across globe who are outraged by this and held signs ‘Bring Back Our Girls’ brought it to mainstream media.”
Those in attendance included U.S. Congressman John Yarmuth, along with Louisville Metro Council members Mary Woolridge, David Tandy, Tina Ward-Pugh, and Cheri Bryant Hamilton.
The Obama administration has deployed unarmed drones to help search for the girls and U.S. intelligence personnel have partnered with the Nigerian government.
Asked how far the U.S. should go, Yarmuth told WFPL short of a military invasion more could be done, including the use of special forces to retrieve the children.
“I don’t think that boots on the ground necessarily would be helpful. I think the Nigerians have enough personnel to complete the search. They just need our technical expertise and I think that can be very effective. We can be good partners in that area,” he says. “We have a certain level of expertise that can help a lot the Nigerian forces in trying to recover these women and we ought to do whatever we can.”
The effort to bring attention to the kidnapping hasn’t gone with its political critics, however.
After First Lady Michelle Obama promoted the #BringOurGirlsBack hashtag, national commentators such as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter mocked the online movement.
In response, Yarmuth called Coulter a “despicable human being” for poking fun at those efforts.
Others, such as columnist George Will, have said#BringOurGirlsBack was about making people feel good and was a sign of how feckless U.S. foreign policy has become under President Obama.
But Nigeria native Elisha Otome says the online push was more about pressuring the Nigerian government to act than Boko Haram directly.
“The Nigerian government was not forthcoming with this issue. If not for Twitter and Facebook, nobody would have even known what is going on in Nigeria,” he says.
“Twitter made it really, really public and that just went viral, which brought about the attention of the whole world. Other than that I don’t think anybody would have known. Because the Nigerian government, they just know how to cover it up. And cover it up, we don’t know the reasons why.”
Otome has lived in Louisville for nearly five years and attended the local vigil. He says many in the Nigerian military underestimated the terrorist group and didn’t take Boko Haram seriously.
The latest reports out of the West African nation are that citizens in a village have killed and detained members of Islamic extremist group ahead of another planned attack.
“What the U.S. is doing now is good, surveillance is okay but let’s just see the effect and how well it will help in bringing back those girl,” says Otome. “Then if those efforts are not enough I think then subsequent efforts should be considered. If it gets to the point (U.S. special forces) are needed, I would go for that.”