African immigrants and others gathered in St. Paul to seek freedom for 276 schoolgirls.
Nigerian immigrant Precious Ojika often weeps when she thinks of several hundred schoolgirls who have been kidnapped by Islamic insurgents in the northeastern part of her homeland.
So Saturday she joined with about 30 fellow Western African immigrants and others at the State Capitol in St. Paul, asking for people worldwide to help free the girls — and expressing gratitude for President Obama’s demand for their return.
“When I think about the kidnappings of these girls, what comes to my mind are my own two beautiful daughters,” said Ojika, 52, of New Brighton.
“Attacking and abducting the girls simply for going to school is despicable and must not be tolerated,” said Adekola Adediran, president of the Minnesota Institute for Nigerian Development, which represents about 15,000 Nigerian immigrants.
The group carried placards with messages including the Twitter hashtag #BringBackOur Girls, a cause uniting people worldwide on social media. The kidnappers’ leader has vowed to sell the girls as slaves. Nigerian police say 276 remain missing while 53 have escaped.
“If we don’t stop this, it could be another country sometime,” Ojika said.
Ojika anguishes over how the girls are being fed and hydrated. She said they are in the desert where temperatures reach 110 degrees and where there’s no water, but snakes and scorpions. She worries how many girls have been raped, tortured, sold as slaves.
“We shouldn’t just stand by and watch these girls die like animals in the desert,” she said.
On the Capitol’s front steps, Sevgi Acik, who works at a French immersion grade school in St. Paul, glanced around just before the event and lamented the sparse attendance, despite such an enormous crime against humanity.
“We need to support all the daughters,” Acik said, noting that Sunday is Mother’s Day. “We are all sisters, daughters, mothers to someone. I wish that there would be more people. People should go to their politicians, to the president, to express what we feel.”
Joining her was Fatima Lawson, principal of the school L’Etoile du Nord. Lawson emigrated from Kano, Nigeria, the region of the abduction.
She said the group Boko Haram’s kidnappings are “heartless,” but only the latest of many violent acts. The group is known for attacking Christians and government targets, bombing churches, schools and police stations as well as perpetrating kidnappings.
In the Capitol rotunda, the protesters gathered for prayers, speeches and to sing the Nigerian and American national anthems.
Joining in was Eileen Hungiapuko, whose cousin was killed April 14 in a bomb blast at a bus station near Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. Hungiapuko, 54, of St. Paul, said her cousin was on a bus to go home after his college graduation.
About 15,000 slayings in the past 15 years are attributed to Boco Haram, officials say.
“This group has been brewing for many, many years and unfortunately, nobody did anything about it until it got out of hand,” Lawson said.
“We need more voices like yours to speak out and condemn any group that would attack and abduct girls and sell them,” U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar said in a message delivered at the Capitol.
How we respond to the Nigerian abductions, Klobuchar said, “will be a moral test of our nation’s commitment to the fight against modern-day slavery.”