Don't stop believing
The French author, historian and philosopher Voltaire once wrote that “faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.” It is a sentiment I am certain several of my congressional colleagues have felt when week after week, I doggedly sought their support in the effort to secure the safe return of hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls who on April 14, 2014, were abducted from their boarding school by the terrorist group Boko Haram.
And who could blame them, really? Even with the help of U.S. troops, search endeavors proved futile and not a single piece of evidence that the girls were still alive emerged during a period of more than two years.
Boko Haram, in the meantime, pledged its allegiance to ISIS; was designated the world’s deadliest terrorist group; and added the neighboring nations Cameroon, Niger, Chad, and Benin to its hostage list. As a result of its insurgency, 2.6 million people have become refugees, millions more are at risk of starving to death, and an untold number of others have been kidnapped and sexually abused, tortured, or killed in a myriad of heinous ways. The humanitarian crises and despair the region has experienced will undoubtedly take generations to repair.
And still I hoped. Thankfully, many House lawmakers on both sides of the aisle did, too. In addition to participating in a social media campaign, we have held hearings, briefings, press conferences and vigils to help ensure the world would not forget the still-missing girls. We have also crafted legislation that would provide aid to the Nigerian government and the Multi National Task Force fighting to defeat Boko Haram.
Our advocacy has not been in vain.
On April 14, 2016, as the world marked the two-year anniversary of the girls’ abduction, Boko Haram released a video featuring several of their captives as an opening salvo to begin negotiations for their return. In May, Chibok girl Amina Ali Nkeki was discovered wandering in the Sambisa Forest, where the rest of her schoolmates are believed to be held.
In August, Boko Haram released a second “proof of life” video with a demand for the release of its fighters captured by military troops in exchange for the girls. Nearly two months later, with the help of the Swiss government and the International Red Cross, the Nigerian government successfully negotiated the release of 21 Chibok girls. And, on Nov. 5, army troops rescued another Chibok girl in a pre-dawn raid. I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday gift.
These developments underscore how it is more important than ever that we keep hope alive and keep fighting until every one of the girls has been released and Boko Haram has been defeated. Lame duck sessions are traditionally do-nothing affairs, but this is a bipartisan issue that we can all support.
On Sept. 22, the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations passed H.R. 3833, legislation I introduced to help combat Boko Haram and secure the girls’ safe return. The measure directs the U.S. secretaries of State and Defense to jointly develop a five-year strategy to aid the Nigerian government, members of the Multinational Joint Task Force created to combat Boko Haram, and international partners who’ve offered their support to counter the regional threat posed by Boko Haram. The strategy also would address the crushing humanitarian and education crises created by Boko Haram. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) has successfully passed a similar bill.
I urge House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring both measures to the floor for a full vote. It would be an extraordinary opportunity to show President-elect Donald J. Trump, and indeed the world, that despite our differences, we can do the right thing.
It also would be an important first step toward helping our incoming president achieve his goal to end ISIS’s reign of terror. In a YouTube message issued this week to Mr. Trump, Boko Haram--ISIS’s self-proclaimed brethren--said, “To us, the war has just begun.”
Let’s show both groups that we can and will work together to end their reign of terror in West Africa.