WASHINGTON, DC—Representative Eliot L. Engel, the leading Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today delivered the following statement at the Committee’s hearing on Boko Haram:
“Thank you Mr. Chairman, and thank you for holding this very timely hearing on Boko Haram. I’d like to thank our witnesses, Dr. Sewell and Ms. Dory, for being here today. And of course I’d like to welcome Ms. Deborah Peter, a brave young survivor of a Boko Haram attack in 2011. She met with Members of this Committee earlier this morning to describe her harrowing experience. Deborah, we are all grateful for your courage and your commitment to seeing that these horrible abuses are stopped so that no other family goes through what your family has gone through. Thank you for your courage. We are all very, very proud of you. And I must also say that since I had the opportunity to meet with her privately, how proud any parent would be of having a daughter like Deborah. So thank you, Deborah.
“Mr. Chairman, Boko Haram is an Islamic extremist group, increasingly active since 2010, that operates mainly in northern Nigeria.
“As we all know, one of Boko Haram’s most recent atrocities took place on April 14th of this year. That day, nearly 300 schoolgirls were doing what young women and girls all over the world do every day—studying for tests, playing with friends, building a future for themselves. That day, Boko Haram, which roughly translates to “Western Education is Forbidden,” abducted these girls—tore them away from their families and their communities.
“Today, more than a month later, we still don’t know where they are. Our thoughts are obviously with their families and we pray that they are safely reunited as soon as possible.
“The United States and other international partners have offered assistance to bring the schoolgirls home and we all hope those efforts will prove successful. I agree with Chairman Royce that we must do everything in our power to bring those girls home, and the United States can be very helpful in assisting in this process. But even as we work to address this crisis, we need to focus on the larger challenge: stopping Boko Haram’s reign of terror in Nigeria and beyond.
“Just yesterday, Boko Haram set off two bombs in the city of Jos, killing over a hundred people- a hundred innocent people. Two weeks ago, the group attacked a market in the town of Gamboru (GAM -BOR-OO), killing more than 300 people. And back in 2011, in one of their most high-profile attacks, the terrorist group bombed the United Nations headquarters in Abuja, killing at least 21 people and injuring more than 120. You really have to be bold to attack a United Nations headquarters. So all told, Boko Haram has murdered more than 5,000 people over the last four years. Their victims are both Christians and Muslims; men, women, and children; and of course, teachers.
“Before this brazen kidnapping, Boko Haram was virtually unknown around the world. As more of their violent history has come to light, the international community has reacted with shock, horror, and disbelief. But the sad reality is that Boko Haram is not new and neither are their tactics.
“I think our witnesses can shed more light on the situation for us and for everyone following the plight of these young girls. How did Boko Haram emerge and grow into an extremist threat? What has allowed them to thrive as an organization? And what challenges does the U.S. face in working with Nigeria to disrupt and dismantle the group? Let me just say that contrary to some of the reporting I’ve seen, I know the difficulty in weakening Boko Haram has not been due to a lack of effort or an unwillingness to help.
“In fact, one of our major challenges is working with the Nigerian military itself. Its approach in northern Nigeria has often alienated the very population that could be providing valuable information about Boko Haram’s activities. But instead of forming these relationships, unfortunately, the military has too often built a record of indiscriminate destruction themselves, theft of personal property, arbitrary arrests, indefinite detention, torture and extrajudicial killing of civilians—much of this with impunity.
“In addition, despite a recent intelligence-sharing agreement, there are legitimate concerns that intelligence shared with the military to assist them in their operations might be leaked. And to make matters worse, this corruption, it’s rampant throughout the force. Nigerian security forces are the best-funded on the African Continent. Yet, many of the funds are siphoned off by corruption, while troops often aren’t paid a living wage, generating increased frustration in the ranks and fuelling low-level corruption.
“So how exactly can the U.S. engage with a military force that sometimes lacks professionalism and often seems to fail to respect human rights? And how do we convince Nigerian leaders that they aren’t doing enough—and in fact, may be making the problem worse?
“Lastly, while we are very focused on recovering these girls and stopping Boko Haram, we need to look at the broader context: years of economic stagnation and neglect have afflicted northern Nigeria and created the sort of environment where terrorist groups thrive. In places where there is no support or opportunity, extremists find it easier to prey on vulnerable populations, preaching false ideologies of violence and hatred.
“To push back against this tide, I believe Nigeria’s government must address these issues of corruption, improving the professionalism of its security forces, and providing additional resources for education, infrastructure, and economic activity. In short, Nigeria must take a more holistic approach to counter-terrorism.
“So I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about how the U.S. can more effectively engage with the Nigerians to address the scourge of Boko Haram today. I regard Nigeria as our partner in this, and the United States needs to be helpful to them. We need to build an environment that fosters development and prosperity in northern Nigeria for tomorrow.
“So thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing. And thanks to the witnesses, and Deborah, for appearing today.”
Watch Rep. Engel's Opening Statement Here