WASHINGTON—Last weekend, several members of Congress met a Nigerian woman who was forced to watch as terrorists decapitated her husband. The murderers then slit her throat and arms, but not fatally. They knew how to keep her alive, said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, who recalled the widow’s difficulty speaking.
Jackson Lee and other House members spoke Thursday about their 48-hour journey to Nigeria, where they visited with families of the abducted Chibok Secondary Girls School students. They condemned President Goodluck Jonathan’s failure not just to chase Boko Haram kidnappers into the forest but also to provide financially for victims and their relatives. Outraged by tales of atrocity, the U.S. legislators are demanding a Nigerian Victims Fund from Jonathan’s government, and encouraging a volley of tweets from average Americans.
As one of the world’s fastest-growing nations, Nigeria has plenty of wealth to spare some aid to victims, Jackson Lee said. The African Development Bank estimated a 7.4 percent growth in Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product in 2013. At his daughter’s wedding last April, Jonathan gave out gold-plated iPhones to guests.
Rep. Lois Frankel, D-Fla., said Nigeria could become an economic powerhouse and American trade partner over the next few decades. “Or it could be a haven for terrorism and terrible things,” he added.
The nation has a burgeoning population to match its economic growth. A 2013 United Nations study predicted a Nigerian population of 440 million by 2050, more than an estimated 401 million in the United States.
Nigerian activists using the hashtag “BringBackOurGirls” meet every day at the city of Abuja’s Unity Fountain to protest Jonathan’s inaction. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., called on average Americans to adjust for time zone differences and join the Nigerians online in the morning: “You’re gonna keep tweeting and tweeting and tweeting until it catches on like a fire across this world.”
Jackson Lee, though, shied from the use of force: “I would not stand here today and ask for a violent siege that would cause the loss of life for these girls.”
Boko Haram killed two emirs while Jackson Lee was in the country. The group is the chief suspect in a fatal bombing that left a dozen dead at a World Cup viewing party Tuesday in Nigeria. The militants continue to burn mosques, churches, hospitals, and schools. In Jackson Lee’s words, they stand on moral-less ground.
“I think they’ve lost all credibility on the issue of ‘This is a religious war,’” she said. “When you are taking girls … you are not converting them. You are, in essence, enslaving them to a faith. No one promotes their faith through enslaving.”