Hundreds Rally to Support Kidnapped Girls

Barrington M. Salmon | 5/7/2014, 3 p.m.
The kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls by Islamist rebels three weeks ago has frayed the nerves, tested the patience and deeply ...
Demonstrators take part in a rally at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, May 3. More than 600 people added their voices to the chorus of protests against the mass abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria. (Courtesy of Kofi Handon/Loves Life Photography)

The kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls by Islamist rebels three weeks ago has frayed the nerves, tested the patience and deeply angered Nigerians already weary and increasing nervous over a bloody four-year insurgency.

The pre-dawn raid on April 14 by Boko Haram – in what many call their most brazen action yet – has prompted marches by distraught and angry parents in Chibok, where the girls were taken, and demonstrations and rallies in other Nigerian cities around the world. Images of anguished, crying mothers and fathers have pulled on peoples’ heartstrings.

More than 600 gathered at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday, May 2, to raise awareness of the victims’ plight and express concern and indignation. They were not alone as over the weekend, similar protests took place in Abuja, Lagos, across Africa, in London, New York and Toronto. While on Tuesday, a throng of demonstrators gathered in front of the Nigerian Embassy in Northwest.

The Saturday crowd, primarily college students and people from across the African Diaspora, chanted vigorously, sang, prayed, demanding word from the Nigerian government of what was going on and the location and quick release of the girls and young women.

“It took me a while to understand. I didn’t understand how they could take the girls. I’m outraged, livid,” said Jennifer Pearse, 21, a University of Maryland student of Nigerian descent. “I wanted to know what the authorities were doing. Where are the tycoons, emirs, sultans, kings of the north, politicians and former presidents?”

“Not doing anything now makes it worse.”

At the rally, Pearse’s anguish was palpable.

“I don’t know why nothing’s been done. It’s really frustrating,” she told the crowd, most of whom wore red and burgundy shirts and T-shirts armed with placards and posters. “Our girls are important. They are our future. I congratulate you for coming out. It’s not easy coming out on a Saturday under this hot sun. Please raise your voice. We need to do something.”

Juliette Bethea agreed.

“I came here as a human being, not as a woman or a mother,” the longtime D.C. resident said. “It’s so inhumane. I have to take a stand for these girls. It shouldn’t happen and when it does, it cannot be ignored. I felt that I couldn’t be alive and not take a stand.”

The organizers –students from local universities and colleges – pulled the rally together on short notice. Word of mouth and social media brought the crowd assembled to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

“This started as a conversation among friends,” said Ronke Oloyede, 22. “When I came down the steps (of the memorial), honestly, I was shocked. I was stunned and wanted to cry. We did this in two days. We’re going to keep it going. We won’t stop today. We will keep doing this until someone addresses it. Let’s not just stop at words, let’s take action,” Oloyede, a lead organizer of the event said.

Godwin Akinlami said the reason for his presence was simple.

“We’re here to show we care,” said the 22-year-old graduate of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. “We feel for the mothers and fathers and we want the government to do whatever it can. We haven’t seen or heard anything from someone (in charge). This is not a protest. We want answers.”