A Congressional delegation returned from Nigeria this week with a blunt message: wake up to the “horror” that the terrorist group Boko Haram is inflicting on the African country.
"They are decapitating, they are slicing the throats of women, leaving them for dead,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a ten-term Democrat from Texas, comparing Boko Haram to the Taliban before 9/11. “It is a larger issue than we may have thought. They have taken over villages, they are raping, they are pillaging, they are taking resources from villages, stealing.”
In the past nine days alone, Jackson Lee said Boko Haram was responsible for some 480 deaths, citing figures from officials who briefed her during her trip.
"What we learned firsthand was the viciousness and the lack of any morality on the part of Boko Haram," Jackson Lee said. “Boko Haram should not be taken lightly… they're killing villagers as we speak.”
On April 14, more than 300 girls were kidnapped from the Chibok boarding school in Nigeria by militants with Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist organization. The kidnappings led to a global outcry, including a #bringbackourgirls social media campaign to raise awareness and pressure governments to aid in efforts to find and return the kidnapped schoolgirls.
“The girls should not be an international side story,” argued Jackson Lee, adding that the crisis in Nigeria should be considered in concert with Congressional deliberation on the devolving situation in Iraq. “This is an issue which really requires our immediate attention.”
Jackson Lee led a congressional delegation to Nigeria, along with Reps. Frederica Wilson (D-FL), Steve Stockman (R-TX) and Lois Frankel (D-FL), returning Monday. In Nigeria, the four members of Congress called for the creation of a Nigerian fund to compensate the victims of the Boko Haram attack, starting with the families of the kidnapped schoolgirls.
“Each and every one of us was moved by the horror of it,” Jackson Lee said. “We are committed to making sure… this is not a story that is forgotten, [just] because it seems to be such a difficult task to rescue these girls."
The Texas Democrat argued that while Boko Haram lacked the ability to strike at the United States, the terrorist organization is just as brutal as the pre-9/11 Taliban and is capable of destabilizing Nigeria and the surrounding region. Jackson Lee said she worried about a “ripple effect in Africa, which ultimately affects stability in the world and the interactions the United States has in Africa."
In Nov. 2013, the State Department designated Boko Haram a terrorist group, citing its links with al-Qaeda and its involvement in thousands of deaths in northeast and central Nigeria. U.S. Special Forces are in Nigeria to help train Nigerian soldiers in their fight against Boko Haram, but are not involved in the search for the missing schoolgirls.