Dozens of Nigerian expatriates and activists gathered Friday in from of the Nigerian Embassy in Washington to seek attention for the scores of lives lost recently in attacks by the militant group Boko Haram.
Adotei Akwei of Amnesty International USA said the vigil was aimed at showing solidarity with the victims of a recent massacre in the town of Baga and of all crimes committed by Boko Haram and the Nigerian security forces.
"We are demanding more leadership from the Nigerian political elite, from the Nigerian military, and we also are trying to make sure that the world doesn’t ignore, forget or downplay how important and how valuable these people in the north of Nigeria are,” Akwei said.
Amnesty International USA and nonprofit organization Act4Accountability organized the vigil. A few days earlier, Amnesty released satellite images of Baga and nearby Doron Baga, saying they showed thousands of structures that had been burned down soon after Boko Haram seized the area January 3.
“What we are hoping," Akwei said, "is that when President [Barack] Obama hosts his conference on terrorism, which was announced after the Paris attacks, that Nigeria is indeed one of the issues they discuss and they actually begin to implement [a] more effective response in Nigeria as well as other places — but responses that actually promote human rights, which we think are what's missing in the Nigerian government’s response.”
Protester Oludare Ogunde said he was embarrassed that his country has not been able to end the Boko Haram insurgency.
“It’s difficult to understand why a country like Nigeria, the most powerful country in Africa as far as I am concerned ... is not able to control a bunch of hooligans in the north," Ogunde said. "I would say something is inherently wrong with the power structure in the country.”
This week, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan made a surprise visit to northeastern Borno state, the center of the insurgency. He spoke to troops at an army barracks and met with hundreds of civilians displaced from Baga.
The president has been criticized for not doing enough to push back the insurgents or to recover more than 200 schoolgirls Boko Haram kidnapped last April.
Omolola Adele-Oso, a Nigerian living in the United States and co-founder for Act4Accountability, said that in addition to Baga's victims, she and others wanted to honor all of Boko Haram's victims over the past six years.
“It’s been estimated that 30,000 people have been killed," she said. "We have 3.3 million people who’ve been displaced from their homes; they are in Chad and Cameroon or in Nigeria living as refugees. So we want to show solidarity to the people of Nigeria to say that we see them, we care about them and we are sending our prayers, thoughts and positive energy during this period.”
Jonathan, who is seeking re-election next month, has promised some relief for civilians displaced by Boko Haram's insurgency.