Nigerian Americans Grapple with Tragedies in Homeland, Question Lack of U.S. Intervention

Nigerian Americans Grapple with Tragedies in Homeland, Question Lack of U.S. Intervention

By Corey Arvin, Staff Writer

Escalating violence in Nigeria at the hands of Boko Haram have Nigerians uneasy about the country’s future

obama bring back our girls

First Lady Michelle Obama holding a sign with the hashtag “#bringbackourgirls” in support of the 2014 Chibok kidnapping. Posted to the FLOTUS Twitter account on May 7, 2014.

Hundreds kidnapped. Thousands killed. Scores mired in fear. Devastating attacks by Boko Haram, the Islamist terrorist organization, have increasingly claimed more lives in Nigeria, including the massacre last month that claimed an estimated 2,000 lives in Baga within the span of a week. The aftermath of the brazen, widespread attacks have left many Nigerian Americans and blacks wondering what has stifled global outrage — and U.S. intervention.

Simi Ogunleye, a first-generation Nigerian-American, is quick to admit she lives in two worlds. At home, her Nigerian upbringing reigns, but outside she balances her American life. Ogunleye, a student in her senior year at University of California, Riverside (UCR), is also president of the campus’ Nigerian Student Association and says some of her fellow Nigerian-American peers have expressed similar sentiments. But regardless of the balancing act she juggles, Ogunleye has an unwavering loyalty to her heritage, and worries about the events that have not only harmed Nigeria, but its global image as well.

Nigerian Students Association

Nigerian Students Association

For Ogunleye, terrorist attacks in Nigeria are troublesome because she believes there are numerous more unreported tragedies Nigerians are suffering and are not being discussed because the information is suppressed. She believes the attacks warrant more international attention, but doesn’t see it.

“It should be enough because these are mass attacks. A lot of people are considering it a genocide. So, it definitely should be something that the rest of the world is interested in, but it’s hard to care when their very own country men aren’t caring,” she said.

Through the UCR Nigerian Student Association, Ogunleye is drawing attention to Nigeria, rallying students to their cause and holding forums. Last year, following the widely-publicized abduction of nearly 300 girls in Chibok, the organization held a rally and a town hall discussion. On April 24-26, the association will hold the Nigerian Student Coalition Conference, where Ogunleye expects Nigeria’s state of affairs to be a topic.

The global perception of Nigeria, once the esteemed standout as one of Africa’s brightest and most promising nations, has faded into an oblique picture where tragedy strikes — and seemingly, no one outside the Nigeria cares enough to intervene.

Ogunleye is aware that people who are not well-informed about the social and economic diversity of Nigeria may associate the country with negative connotations, however she averts her attention to focus on Nigeria more constructively.

“There are a lot of negative sentiments going around concerning Nigeria right now. I hate that the country is being seen that way, but I can’t deny the fact that it is a reality. I think being upset with the way it is being talked about is counter productive, it’s not going to help the people who are are being killed everyday. So, it is something we need to be talking about. If people didn’t talk about Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, the black community here in America would be really upset to make America look like this great country when in fact we have our issues,” said Ogunleye.

Slow U.S. Intervention 

Boko Haram’s ascension from a little-known, radical Islamist group to an infamous and elusive, terrorist organization was several years in the making. Boko Haram, which has been linked to al Qaeda affiliates, has been blamed responsible for escalating attacks including car and suicide bombings, mass abductions, and violent assaults, leaving Nigeria’s death toll in the thousands.

Boko Haram militants

Boko Haram militants

Boko Haram was designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. state department in 2013. In a Washington Times article that year, Congressman Edward R. Royce (R-CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Boko Haram was an example of how the threat of al Qaeda was spreading.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) was among more than 50 congressional leaders to endorse a letter to President Obama in May of last year, urging his administration to assist in the recovery of the nearly 300 Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. Lee is also a member of the House Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.

Responding to most recent violent attacks in Nigeria, on Tuesday Lee said, “The recent attacks in Nigeria are a tragedy and my heart goes out to those affected by this horrible act.”

A small part of the devastation wrought by Boko Haram

A small part of the devastation wrought by Boko Haram

“We must redouble our efforts with the Nigerian government, the African Union and the United Nations to ensure peace, stability, security and the protection of human rights,” she added.

On Wednesday, Nigerian troops battling Boko Haram in Cameroon and the Northeastern region of Nigeria received military support from Chad and Cameroon ground troops. Chadian jets joined and Nigerian’s aerial efforts to bomb the Northeast area. The united effort was hailed as a sign that African nations were willing to join forces to protect the region from the threat of Boko Haram.

Boko Haram’s growing attacks have caught Charles Onunkwo by surprise. Onunkwo, who lives in Rancho Cucamonga, is a spokesperson for the Nigerian-American Public Affairs Committee (NAPAC-USA), a non-partisan political action committee focused on political candidates throughout the U.S.

Onunkwo is familiar with Boko Haram and Nigerian government affairs. He feels conflicted by marginal U.S. intervention to aid Nigeria in preventing terrorist activity. Although NAPAC-USA is a non-partisan group, it made an exceptional move by raising money for President Obama’s re-election — a strategic decision that the committee backed since it advocates U.S. political support the benefits Nigerians, said Onunkwo.

nigerian americans 2

“Because of the relationship the U.S. has with Nigeria, we expected something more aggressive would have happened to condemn Boko Haram,” said Onunkwo.

Onunkwo, who returned from a recent trip Nigeria last month, says Nigerian organizations and affiliates such as NAPAC-USA are communicating with stakeholders in Nigeria about the recent terrorist attacks.

“[Nigeria] is full of potential, that is why we are interested to have a very stable democratic environment… For Nigeria to really take it’s rightful place in the global politics and economy,” he said.

Onunkwo believes Nigerian officials will reach a crossroads and be forced to address domestic terrorism following its presidential elections on Feb. 14, regardless of which candidate is elected. If Nigeria’s presidential elections will proceed next week is unknown, as the elections are expected to be postponed due to Boko Haram’s recent insurgency.

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