Two Years Later: Continuing Hope for the Missing Chibok Girls
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs
Good morning everyone, and thank you so much for having me. Congresswoman Wilson, Congresswomen Lee, and Senator Collins: Thank you for the invitation and for organizing this important event.
It is great to see so many people in the audience who are passionate about Africa, helping to solve the continent’s problems, and contributing to its success.
I am heartened to see people from all walks of life focusing on the need to bring the Chibok girls home and defeat Boko Haram. For Nigeria, and the continent to succeed, Boko Haram must be defeated – plain and simple.
I would like to take a moment to extend the deepest condolences of the U.S. government and all of us here in the room to the families and loved ones of the victims of all of Boko Haram’s brutal attacks. I know that when children and communities are being attacked, behind those numbers are real people – real children, real mothers, real fathers - suffering because of Boko Haram. The report UNICEF just released on the child victims of Boko Haram’s barbarism drives home this point powerfully.
Two years following the kidnapping of the Chibok girls, none of us has given up on the fight to bring these girls - and the many others like them – home for good.
We are outraged. These girls, against extreme adversity, chose to dedicate themselves to school, and had great hopes and dreams for their future, and the future of their country.
Right now, they should be in the safety and comfort of their homes, surrounded by their families and friends, and pursuing their academic dreams. Instead, they were stolen from their families by a brutal terrorist organization.
Now, two years after their kidnapping, the United States again calls for the immediate release, without preconditions, of the Chibok girls and all hostages held by Boko Haram.
While the Nigerian government maintains the lead role in the ongoing search, the United States continues to provide a range of assistance to Nigerian authorities, including advisors, intelligence, training, survivor support services, and advice on strategic communications.
More broadly, we are partnering with Nigeria and its neighbors to support their efforts to defeat Boko Haram, strengthen their economies, and create opportunity. These are key parts of the long-term solution.
I am pleased that our African partners have had some success in winning the freedom of thousands of civilians held hostage by Boko Haram. And I look forward to the day when all the Chibok girls will be among those freed.
Unfortunately, Boko Haram’s impact goes well beyond the Chibok girls. We are equally concerned about the thousands of other victims of Boko Haram. By some measures, Boko Haram has been the deadliest terrorist organization in the world.
Two months ago, I gave a speech on Boko Haram at one of Congresswoman Bass’s Africa Policy Breakfasts. I described Boko Haram as murderers – pure and simple murderers. Their savagery has no limit.
Defeating Boko Haram requires fighting them on all levels. The fight cannot be won solely on the battlefield.
Nigeria and its regional partners must lead the fight against Boko Haram, and we are absolutely committed to supporting all of our partners in that effort.
Through our counter Boko Haram Strategy, we are focused on assisting the efforts of Nigeria and its neighbors to weaken Boko Haram’s capacity, financing, and cohesion. We will work to counter and prevent the factors that can lead individuals to violent extremism. We will promote more inclusive and capable local governance to address the underlying drivers of insecurity; and we will respond to the humanitarian needs of civilians affected by Boko Haram.
One component of our strategy is providing support to the Multinational Joint Task Force, which includes soldiers from Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, and Benin. We are providing advisors, intelligence, training, logistical support, and equipment. This is part of a regional approach to a problem that transcends borders.
We are also providing a range of security assistance to Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin countries, and we have stepped up information-sharing efforts.
But again, the fight against Boko Haram goes well beyond the battlefield. It is a fight that requires long-term solutions. Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin countries must address the drivers of extremism that gave rise to Boko Haram. These drivers include ineffective and exclusionary governance, corruption, lack of education, and lack of economic opportunities for the growing young population.
The good news is that Nigeria is in an excellent position right now to capitalize on its enormous potential and provide greater opportunities for its people. Nigerian youth have tremendous talents—from the tech sector to entrepreneurship—that form the foundation for a strong and prosperous Nigeria. President Buhari and the U.S. government share the priorities of fighting corruption and strengthening the Nigerian economy. If we can succeed in these areas, we will create jobs for the youth of Nigeria, and reduce the pull to extremism.
The U.S. government supports and complements Nigeria’s anti-corruption efforts by focusing on capacity building assistance to state and local governments, civil society watchdogs, journalists, law enforcement agencies, and the judiciary. These efforts will help prevent corruption; expose, investigate, and prosecute acts of corruption; and assist with tracing and, to the extent possible, recovering plundered assets.
Progress in combatting corruption will have huge benefits, including helping to ensure badly needed resources can flow to the fight against Boko Haram, assisting communities affected by the group’s violence, and stimulating the economy.
Fighting corruption is also central to our efforts to build up the Nigerian economy and create jobs. A key area we are focused on is the power sector. President Obama’s Power Africa initiative is playing a critical role in supporting Nigeria’s efforts to improve power supply and expand electricity access.
We have also assisted the Nigerian government in the planning and implementation of investments in telecommunications infrastructure in rural areas, and we’re looking to continue this support.
The long-term solution to defeating violent extremism is all about creating opportunity, and these are just a few of the many initiatives we are working on to build those opportunities.
There are also some important steps that Nigeria must take in its efforts to defeat Boko Haram. I highlighted these steps in a speech at the U.S. Institute of Peace two weeks ago. First, it is critical that the foot soldiers of Boko Haram – especially those who may not have joined willfully – are able to leave the group and eventually be accepted back into their communities.
Second, people who have been forcibly displaced by Boko Haram must not be asked to return to their homes before those communities are safe and the displaced feel ready to return.
Third, more broadly, the Nigerian government must commit to more inclusive politics and more effective governance in areas where Boko Haram preys.
And fourth, Nigeria should invest more of its own resources to meet the humanitarian needs of the victims of Boko Haram.
And this brings me to the importance of addressing the humanitarian crisis, which I know is a focus of the panel today. This conflict has resulted in some 2.4 million internally displaced people in the Lake Chad Basin region and nearly 170,000 Nigerians living as refugees in neighboring countries.
Across the region, in 2015 and 2016, the United States is providing nearly $198 million in humanitarian assistance for Boko Haram-affected populations, including internally displaced persons and refugees.
Our funding supports essential emergency protection and assistance for refugees and internally displaced persons. Our partners are playing a key role in providing aid to Nigerian IDPs living outside of camps, providing emergency food, health, water, and sanitation services.
This aid includes a $20-million crisis education response that has already established nearly 300 informal learning centers for children of displaced families and their host communities.
USAID also provides psycho-social first aid for women and young girls abducted by Boko Haram, including girls from Chibok. We will continue efforts like these, because we have to step up to help these people.
So – where do we go from here? Two years on, the fact that the Chibok girls are still missing reminds us how much more work we have to do.
The challenge of defeating Boko Haram is going to require long-term dedication. All of us here in this room have a role to play, and we need your help. We need the business community to help create jobs in the region, think tanks to identify solutions, civil society to push for improved accountability and human rights, and journalists to report on Boko Haram’s brutality.
It’s also important that we all stand up and say that we can no longer accept these terrible crimes. Boko Haram does not represent the views of the Muslim populations in Africa. And they do not represent the voices and values of the African people. It’s important that we stand up and say, ‘African lives matter!’
We all know how high the stakes are, so we must do all we can to help our partners overcome these challenges. Thank you so much.