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As Nigeria grapples with the brutal Islamist insurgency known as Boko Haram, the government’s inability to rescue hundreds of abducted school girls has prompted worldwide outrage. It has also served as a rallying point for the Nigerian-American community. Kojo talks with a local activist about the situation.
- Lola Adele-Oso Founder, Act for Accountability
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, the Scottish independence referendum. In September, Scots will decide whether to leave the United Kingdom after more than 300 years. But first, local Nigerians react to violence in their home country. Most Americans had never heard of Boko Haram before April of this year. But when the group kidnapped more than 200 school girls in Nigeria's north, it brought worldwide attention to the brutal militant group and the dire security situation in Africa's most populous country.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe UN says there are more than 650,000 internally displaced in the region, and just yesterday, suspected Boko Haram gunmen killed at least 40 people, probably more, and burned four churches. Meanwhile, 200 girls are still missing, even as the case has receded from international headlines. It's a story unfolding almost 6,000 miles away from Washington, but a new local Nigerian organization is trying to make an impact on the debate. And joining us to discuss it is Lola Adele-Oso, founder of Act for Accountability, a new Nigerian-American advocacy group based here in Washington, D.C. Lola Adele-Oso, thank you for joining us.
MS. LOLA ADELE-OSOThank you for having me.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for us, give us a call at 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. It's been two months since militants from Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 school girls from a school in the town of Chibok. A brazen attack triggering international outcries which were fueled by the social media campaign, "Bring Back Our Girls." Since then, the attacks have continued. Even more girls have been kidnapped. But for many Nigerians in the country and abroad, the outrage was directed at the government as much as at the militants. Why is that?
ADELE-OSOWell, first of all, the government is responsible for keeping its citizens safe. Imagine if 200 girls in the United States were taken in the middle of the night. You know, that would require a lot of the resources, whether it's the police, whether asking the President to step in, to intervene in making sure these girls are brought back safely. And so that's why our target has primarily been the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He's responsible for the safe protection of all citizens and that's what we're asking him to do.
ADELE-OSOIs ensure that people who have had their houses ravaged, who've had their sources of income pretty much disappear, are able to continue to live in their own country. They're citizens in their own country. But furthermore, it's not acceptable that over 200 girls were taken and it took at least two weeks for the Nigerian President to respond officially.
NNAMDINigerians have been living in the Washington region in large numbers for decades, but they haven't really mobilized for this kind of issue or policy debate. Tell us about Act For Accountability.
ADELE-OSOWell, Act For Accountability was founded, actually, May 1st, when there was a call out for people to support the effort to act to 1, rally at the Nigerian embassy, to make sure that they know that we are watching. But furthermore, that we can continue to use our voices even though we are here. We're part of the Diaspora. We're part of the Nigerian Diaspora, but we're also part of the African Diaspora. And being in Washington, D.C., our embassy is here. So, we want to continue to put pressure on the Nigerian government to let them know that, you know what, the same old same old is not -- it won't suffice anymore. We won't continue to see our country ravaged.
ADELE-OSOWe may be here, we may be international, but we still have a voice. And we're also pleading to our host country to help support the Nigerian government in its efforts in trying to make sure that 1, we bring these girls back safely, but 2, that we also have a strategy to really deal with Boko Haram long term.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number. In case you're just joining us, our guest is Lola Adele-Oso, founder of Act For Accountability, a new Nigerian-American activist group based out of Washington, D.C. Do you think international attention shifted away too quickly from the situation in northern Nigeria? Give us a call. 800-433-8850. How can local communities impact the debate? You can also send email to email@example.com or shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. Lola, what has been -- what has it been like to watch this story unfold from afar?
ADELE-OSOIt's heartbreaking. It is very heartbreaking. It is frustrating, it is angering, but you know, instead of feeling helpless, well, 1, we're happy that we're in the United States where there is a constitution that allows us to use our voice and for us to gather. For us to really hold representation of government accountable. And that's what we're doing. We're using the constitution of the law where we live to be able to support our people at home. But also, it's really just standing in solidarity with the efforts of those who have been tireless in Nigeria, in Abuja, and around the country, really shouting and continuing to raise the voice on this issue.
NNAMDIWhat levers are available to local Nigerians? You've protested in front of the embassy. Is there anything more you can do?
NNAMDIContact your elected officials here?
ADELE-OSOWe will be going back, and we won't stop protesting in front of the Nigerian embassy. 90 days is coming up. July 14. And so we will be going back. But furthermore, we are also going to be there -- we've had a teach-in where we really wanted to clear the noise. We hosted it last week at the Busboys and Poets in collaboration with Trans-Africa Forum. And this was an opportunity for us to educate people of the truth. There's a lot of, you know, 30 second snippets of who Boko Haram is, but we wanted to give individuals an opportunity to hear the historical context of where Boko Haram came from and how they have changed as a group.
ADELE-OSOTo the constant barrage of bombings and killings that are going on today. And so, you know, it's one, educating people. Two, it's encouraging everyone to one, you can visit our website act4accountability.com. We have an action sheet on there that lists certain demands that we are asking people to either call the Nigerian embassies around the world to push that the federal government should support these issues. But also, furthermore, you can contact your local representatives and ask them to also support any efforts that are being proposed to help Nigeria in intelligence, but also in any efforts in training our military to be able to handle the humanitarian crisis issue that is currently ongoing in Nigeria.
NNAMDINigeria is a very large country, geographically and in terms of its population. And in a sense, there have been low level conflicts going on in different regions for decades.
NNAMDIAnd the country's oil producing regions in the east, there has been unrest for, since at least the late '90s. But this struggle in northeast Nigeria seems to be something entirely different.
NNAMDIHow do you explain that?
ADELE-OSOWell, it's one -- north region of Nigeria has been -- it's predominantly, you know, less economically well off than the rest of the country. They struggle -- they're a primarily agricultural area. They struggle when it comes to issues of education for women and girls. But furthermore, the seat of the government is in Abuja, which is in the north. And there's a huge disparity between the wealth of the populous and the wealth that is concentrated in, let's say, Abuja and Lagos.
ADELE-OSOAnd so, as a result, you see a situation that has been culminating over the decades as a result of the lack of economic development or other sustainable developments that could help build up that region. Which is why we're here today.
NNAMDIYou, yourself, are originally from Lagos.
NNAMDIOn the southwestern coast of Nigeria, 900 miles from Chibok.
NNAMDIIs this a corner of the country that someone like you would have ever visited? Does this violence and turmoil really affect most Nigerians down in the south in any real way?
ADELE-OSOI've had conversations with friends who live in Lagos and I think there is the desensitized feeling that, you know, it's not in my backyard yet, so I don't necessarily have to worry about it. And it's unfortunate that there are people who feel that way. But there are a huge portion of the country, and I'd say the majority of the country, feel that, you know what, it is wrong. Regardless of where these girls are from, regardless of their ethnic group, regardless of their religion, they are Nigerians. But furthermore, they are human beings. And no human being, anywhere across the world, deserves to be kidnapped.
ADELE-OSOProbably sold into sex trafficking, or worse, raped and abused.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, our guest is Lola Adele-Oso, founder of Act For Accountability, which is a Nigerian-American advocacy group based out of Washington, D.C. You can call us if you have questions or comments. 800-433-8850. What is your thinking of the kidnappings and the events that have occurred since then? And whether or not our attention span is long enough to keep focused on it? 800-433-8850. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there.
NNAMDIIf we look at other Diaspora communities in Washington, whether it's Ethiopians or Salvadorans, many members of those communities have tried to forge stronger political and stronger economic ties with their home countries. How do Nigerians, those living in Nigeria, view the role of the diasporas?
ADELE-OSOWell, I think it's changing. 1, I feel that with this issue of the girls and the constant issue of Boko Haram's attack on the northeastern region of Nigeria, that the Nigerian community, but not just the Nigerian community, but the entire African Diaspora community in the D.C. area is rallying together and leveraging our powers. And that's one of the things that Act For Accountability is. Even though we're predominantly Nigerian-Americans, but we're not just Nigerians that make up that group. We're people of all the African Diaspora, primarily.
ADELE-OSOBut we also have allies who are Caucasian Americans, African-Americans, in supporting the efforts to make sure that, you know what, Nigeria does have a better future. And it's something that we have to work together. We have to be very conscious and tireless in making sure that we build that bridge between us and supporting our brothers and sisters in Nigeria.
NNAMDIWe mentioned earlier that Nigeria is not only a large country. It has a very large population, the largest in Africa. We mentioned the issue of distance between a place like Lagos and Chibok. But you've also said that Nigerians sometimes have a tendency to take all of this dysfunction as a given, to adapt to problems like unaccountable government agencies rather than demand change. Is that something that might separate Nigerians from, well, Nigerian-Americans?
ADELE-OSOWell, I think that when you think of how your government, some ways, has let you down. That's a connection that we and African-Americans can understand as, you know, African-Americans have had their own struggles here. And I think that that should actually be a connecting tissue between our communities. The Nigerian populous, unfortunately, we have become desensitized to saying, you know, that's 'Niga.' You know, where we sometimes say, that's how we do things. It hasn't changed. And I think it's because we've had decades and decades and decades of seeing people who have tried.
ADELE-OSOWho have rallied, who have risen up, just to be cut down by the previous dictators we've had. You have Ken Saro-Wiwa, we have Moshood Abiola. We've had other leaders who've disappeared unknown, who've really struggled to make sure Nigeria really lives up to a possible, strong, democratic, independent, sovereign. And I think that bridging the gap between us and African-Americans is -- this is a great place to start. You know, the girls are brown skinned. That's another common thread. We have Relisha Rudd, who has been missing in D.C. You know, it's the issue of how much more are we going to keep quiet while girls of color, women of color around the world, are seen as property?
NNAMDIKen Saro-Wiwa was an activist who was killed and Moshood Abiola was a presidential candidate who was incarcerated and eventually died. This is all happening in a democratic country. An imperfect democracy, maybe, but a democracy nonetheless. Nigeria has a long, troubled political history of coups and military led governments. And I've heard that there is a strong sentiment of nostalgia that might be emerging among some Nigerians for days past when the country was led by General Sani Abacha, the last and maybe most notorious dictator. What is your reaction to this Abacha nostalgia?
ADELE-OSOIt think it's just foolishness, honestly. No one was safe under the Abacha regime. And for there to be any nostalgic feeling that we should go back to that era, I think that's a very dangerous position to have. And I think it does a lot of harm to the potential future of future Nigerians that are in the country, but Nigerians that are outside the country. We still are dealing with the impact of some of the dictators, whether it was Babangida or Abacha. We're still dealing with those effects. Corruption is rampant in our government. And I think that any Nigerian who thinks that was a better time needs to take a look in the mirror and see what they're talking about.
NNAMDIHere's Olu in Greenbelt, Md. Olu, you're on the air. Put on your headphones, please, so you can hear Olu. Olu, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
OLUHi, Ms. Adele. Thank you for your advocacy. It's so nice of you.
OLUPart of the (word?) that the north is less developed economically, I've been there. The north is less developed because, you know, the resources were not allocated to the north. What do you have to say?
OLUBut because these crooks, these (word?) wolves (word?) to steal the money and come buy houses in (word?) . What do you expect? You know, you can't ask -- they cannot (word?) so it's less (unintelligible) anybody's fault but by their own doing.
NNAMDIYou're saying it's not just undeveloped. It's deliberately underdeveloped.
ADELE-OSOWell, I agree with you that it is equally underdeveloped. And I think that's just what I mentioned about the issue of corruption. The issue of corruption is rampant in Nigeria. And it's really -- the north really is very underdeveloped. But if you look at Nigeria as a whole, we have had opportunities for large improvements in our infrastructure. And it's unfortunate that because we've had those leaders who are very corrupt who have stolen money, you know, it's time for us, the citizens, to say, you know, no more.
ADELE-OSOIt's time for us to really screen those individuals who are running for office and really making sure that there's some kind of transparency about who they are, what their history is and also that transparency about their bank accounts, if need be because a lot of them have foreign bank accounts. So this is the kind of things that we, as a people, have to demand better of our leaders.
NNAMDIAnd here now is Erica in Washington, D.C. Erica, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ERICAHi. Thank you. I just wanted to say, Lola, thank you so much for giving all this information out on the air. This is fantastic. And I just want to know, are you all actively fundraising for, like, PSAs and to really raise awareness beyond the metro area, so that people can know exactly what to do and how to make change?
ADELE-OSOYeah, thank you, Erica. We at Act for Accountability -- like I said, we formed on May 1, so we're still in the process of getting our organization, a 501C3 status. So, yes, we will be but lease bear with us.
NNAMDICan I have your website again?
ADELE-OSOSure. it is act number 4 accountability.com. That's Act4Accountability.com. So, yes, please sign up to get our newsletter and sign up to volunteer with us. And when we do have a call out for donations and other kinds of resources, we will be reaching out to interested individuals.
NNAMDIErica, thank you very much for your call. Earlier this month we spoke with organizers from the African Immigrant Caucus who had organized a forum for Maryland's gubernatorial candidate. It seems like there's a new push to organize African immigrants. Where are most of the Nigerians in this region and are you trying to build coalitions across African communities?
ADELE-OSOYes, we are. And that's why I said, you know, Act for Accountability is not -- even though we're predominantly Nigerian, because we were born out of this issue, we're not only Nigerians. We're representative of the Diaspora. And I agree that it is time for those of us who are immigrants, who are first, second or third generation immigrants to understand that we have collective power. We are in -- Nigerians are the largest populace in this DMV area, especially in Maryland. I believe that we're about -- over 600 -- 60,000 in this area alone.
ADELE-OSOAnd so it's time for us to recognize we can't do it alone. We need our fellow brothers and sisters that are around us, our west Africans, our east Africans, our south Africans, our north Africans. So also we should support each other in our efforts. It can't just be Nigerians pushing for this. It has to be Nigerian-led but it's not just Nigerians that will make change happen.
NNAMDIAnd finally here's Diwa in Washington, D.C. Diwa, you're eon the air. Go ahead, please.
DIWAYes, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. And I want to say to your guest, like, Nigeria never have a medium class. It is not a nation like many African countries. It is a farm state and people from the south don't care about what's happening in the north, and vice versa. And many African allowed here, they come just for the American public, you know. And nobody even trusts there if you go to the north because about what happened in the north. So, I mean, why you never invite people from the area to talk here.
NNAMDIThe divisions between people from the south and people from the north, are those divisions reflected in the Nigerian American community here?
ADELE-OSOI don't think so. I think that it is quite different because here, you know, everyone -- first of all, we are all black. And so quite often to other people we are all African Americans. And then, you know, the differentiation of, well, I'm actually from Nigeria than I'm actually from Lagos or I'm actually from the east. But you do find in the Washington metropolitan area that, you know, there's a lot of integration of different groups of people because we have to support each other.
ADELE-OSOAnd so while I understand the gentleman's concern about how we don't have a middle class in Nigeria so to speak, I think that that's a broad generalization that is not necessarily accurate. And I also want us to be mindful that things are changing. The generation is changing where those of us who grew up in the south have friends who grew up in the north. And we're working together to understand that, you know what, that division cannot exist. Otherwise it will continue to tear Nigeria apart.
NNAMDIOur guest is Lola Adele-Oso, founder of Act for Accountability. It's a new Nigerian American advocacy group based out of Washington, D.C. Thank you so much for joining us.
ADELE-OSOThank you very much for having me.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll be talking about the Scottish independence referendum in September. Scots will decide whether to leave the United Kingdom after more than 300 years. You should know, by the way, since this is occurring during the time that Nigeria's playing at the World Cup, that the score so far is zero zero. We're going to take a short break. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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