East Flatbush

From 5,500 miles away, a Brooklyn pol cheers African girls’ freedom

Assemblymember and women’s rights advocate Rodneyse Bichotte ‘overjoyed’ at news of Nigerian captives’ release

October 25, 2016 By James Harney Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Family members of the Nigerian Chibok kidnapped girls share a moment as they depart to the Nigerian minister of women affairs in Abuja on Oct. 18.  AP Photo/Olamikan Gbemiga
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Brooklyn Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte is celebrating a victory Tuesday, not in a local political election, but in an ongoing humanitarian campaign to free schoolgirls being held captive by terrorists in Nigeria.

Last week, 21 of 276 girls abducted in April 2014 from their secondary school in the northeastern Nigeria town of Chibok by armed Boko Haram extremists were released after negotiations with the Nigerian government brokered by the Swiss government and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

In the course of the kidnappings, which have stunned and drawn condemnations worldwide, 57 of the girls escaped, but Boko Haram kept more than 200 captive, reportedly as negotiating pawns in exchange for some of their commanders jailed by the Nigerian government.

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But on Oct. 17, 21 girls were released by Boko Haram from their forest stronghold in northeastern Nigeria and reunited with their families. The freed girls, nearly all of them Christians, told stories of being forced to convert to Islam, subsisting on rice and maize and enduring more than two years of servitude by their captors.

The details of the release agreement were not immediately available, and despite international media reports that several imprisoned Boko Haram militants had been traded for the girls’ freedom, the extremist group did not disclose what they received in return.

Nevertheless, Nigerian government officials called the deal a “credible first step” and expressed confidence that it would lead to the eventual release of the girls who remain hostages. Bichotte (D-Flatbush-East Flatbush-Ditmas Park-Midwood) heartily agreed.

“I am overjoyed to hear this news and I hold out hope that the remaining girls will be reunited with their families,” the assemblymember said in a statement. “It is so important that the international community continue to keep the kidnapping of the Chibok girls out front and in the minds of people and not let up until all the girls are home.”

According to the latest U.S. Census figures available, New York’s Nigerian population is roughly 36,000, including significant numbers living in Brooklyn, most in the East New York neighborhood.  

In June, she introduced in the Assembly a resolution — similar to one brought to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives by Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson — condemning Boko Haram “for its violent attacks, particularly the indiscriminate targeting of civilians, especially women and girls.”

Bichotte, who chairs the Assembly’s Subcommittee on Oversight of Minority and  Women-Owned Business Enterprises and sits on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Domestic Violence Advisory Council, vowed to continue being an “outspoken advocate on issues concerning immigration, education reform, health care access, affordable housing, women’s and LGBTQ rights, as well as other issues affecting the quality of life in the community.”

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