Of all the horrific stories Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) heard and traumatized families she met on a recent trip to Nigeria, one particularly vicious crime of Boko Haram sticks with her the most.
The terrorists cut off the head of a policeman in front of his wife, set his head next to her, and left the woman with deep slashes of her own. “He thought it was his duty to protect,” said the congresswoman.
The daily crimes of Boko Haram read like something from a horror script, such as the “very smart girls, very young little girls” who outsmarted the terrorists, donned disguises and escaped, only to run for their lives through the forest for three days before they reached safety.
“It was like a story, like you were reading a novel,” Wilson recalled.
As the toll of Boko Haram has mounted — at least 2,053 civilians in the first half of 2014, according to Human Rights Watch — the world momentarily snapped to attention with a spring hashtag campaign after the kidnapping of more than 230 girls from a school in Chibok state on April 14.
First lady Michelle Obama posed for a photo with a placard bearing the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag. Members of Congress appealed directly to the Nigerian government to work quickly to rescue the girls. And all 20 women in the Senate, led by Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), sent a letter to President Obama calling for international sanctions against Boko Haram, which was founded in 2002 and was conducting terror operations for years before being designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. last November.
Then the hashtag fizzled without resolution to the girls’ case. Several dozen of the girls escaped earlier this month, and this was followed by Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau releasing a video Sunday bragging about the girls still in their clutches — and mocking the grassroots PR campaign.
“Nigerians are saying #BringBackOurGirls, and we are telling [President Goodluck] Jonathan to bring back our arrested warriors, our army,” Shekau said.
A month ago, Wilson joined a congressional delegation to Nigeria with members as diverse as Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) to Steve Stockman (R-Texas), and met the Nigerians who started the Twitter campaign.
And they continue #BringBackOurGirls with a meeting every morning at 9 a.m., across the street from the hotel where the lawmakers stayed in Abuja.
“While I was there, they asked me if I would help them by keeping it going in America when I got back,” Wilson told PJM.
So each day her staff brainstorms new entities to enlist in the Twitter war, and has racked up more than a million mentions for the #BringBackOurGirls campaign through their tireless efforts.
“What has disappointed me is that it has disappeared from the normal news cycle and it’s just a Twitter war that’s going on,” Wilson said. “Hopefully they will begin to pick it up again… the mainstream media has abandoned us.”
Wilson is hoping that the public will tweet a #BringBackOurGirls message at 9 a.m. EST each morning in solidarity with the Nigerian girls and their families, as they rally each morning a continent away.
The congresswoman authored a resolution that passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support in May condemning the kidnapping as well as all of Boko Haram’s “violent attacks on civilian targets, including schools, mosques, churches, villages, and agricultural centers in Nigeria.”
It called on President Obama “to immediately strengthen United States security, law enforcement, and intelligence cooperation with appropriate Nigerian forces, including offering United States personnel to support operations to locate and rescue the more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram, and to support Nigerian efforts to counter this United States designated foreign terrorist organization,” as well as delivering to Congress “a comprehensive strategy to counter the growing threat posed by radical Islamist terrorist groups in West Africa, the Sahel, and North Africa.”
Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said today that there is nothing new to report on the U.S. assistance to Nigeria in the search, only that they’re still using “manned and unmanned” surveillance.
Wilson’s meetings with grieving mothers and fathers included one gentleman who “cried throughout the entire meeting,” and stories of men who had taken it upon themselves to wield machetes and go into the brush in search of the girls and their Boko Haram captors with no success.
“At least two hours before they kidnapped the girls from the school, they knew they were coming,” she said of the warnings to local authorities that Boko Haram was moving toward the school. “The police did nothing and the army did nothing.”
Girls told the lawmakers that the terrorists asked where the boys at the school were. The boys don’t sleep here, the girls responded, “so they kidnapped them.”