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Release of 21 Girls by Boko Haram Shows Advocacy is Never in Vain, Says Congresswoman

In this Oct. 13, 2016, photo released by the Nigeria State House, Chibok schoolgirls recently freed from Boko Haram captivity are seen during a meeting with Nigeria's Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in Abuja, Nigeria. (Sunday Aghaeze/Nigeria State House via AP, FILE)

Long after the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag advocacy blitz was relegated to the back burner by most of Washington, Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) has been tweeting about the plight of the Chibok schoolgirls every single day.

Wilson has also held town hall meetings and participated in press conferences and hearings on the threat still posed by Boko Haram since the terror group abducted 276 girls in an attack on a secondary school in April 2014.

A few dozen of the girls escaped; a few have reportedly died as hostages. Some were married off to terrorists and became pregnant.

Twenty-one girls were released by Boko Haram this week. Nigerian presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said it was the result of negotiations with the terror group, in part conducted by the International Red Cross and the government of Switzerland, and that more girls were expected to be released in the future.

The #BringBackOurGirls campaign was created and promoted by Nigerian activists and the families of the kidnapped girls to keep attention on the case. The White House briefly participated in the campaign, including first lady Michelle Obama posting a photo of herself holding a placard with the hashtag. The campaign, including regular protests in Nigeria, has continued even as the hashtag ceased to be viral.

Wilson said the release of the 21 girls — after 912 days in captivity — proves that persistent advocacy is not in vain.

“It is believed that no Boko Haram terrorists were exchanged as part of the deal, which also is good news,” the congresswoman said.

“This development underscores why advocacy is so important and why one cannot give up fighting even when it sometimes feels as though there is no longer reason to hope,” she continued. “More than 900 days ago, nearly 300 girls were kidnapped by what is now known as the world’s deadliest terrorist group because they dared to learn, a notion that as a mother and a former educator I find preposterous. It also is why for more than two years I have been compelled to champion the girls’ cause and do any and everything possible to help ensure that they would not be forgotten or become an eternal hashtag.”

Wilson, who talked with PJM‘ back in July 2014 about her effort to revive the hashtag campaign on Capitol Hill, vowed to “continue to use every resource within my reach to help rescue the girls and defeat Boko Haram.”

“We cannot stop fighting on their behalf until the last girl has been returned to safety,” Wilson said. “It is wonderful that another 21 girls have finally been freed, but we must never forget that there are still 197 other families waiting for us to bring back their girls.”

White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters Thursday that the U.S. government continues “to call for the unconditional release of all those being held by Boko Haram, now known as ISIL’s West Africa Province.”

“We also continue to provide intelligence, advice and assistance to Nigeria and its regional partners in the fight against the group,” Schultz said.

Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIS in spring 2015 to “enrage the enemy of Allah” by “our gathering under one banner,” with more “enemy mortality.”