Nigerians in America Fear For Their Families Lives Back Home

Supporters are rallying on social media, using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

May 6, 2014, 2:13 PM

May 6, 2014— -- Nigerians in the United States are praying for the safe return of nearly 300 girls still missing after Islamic extremists yanked them from school in broad daylight three weeks ago.

But many are grateful for the attention the tragedy has brought -- hopeful it will finally lead to the take down of Boko Haram, the merciless terrorist group that claimed responsibility for the kidnappings.

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Onaedo Achebe, 21, told she fears for her family's lives in Nigeria if unrest in the country spirals into civil war.

"This didn't start with the abduction of the girls," said Achebe, of Tampa, Fla., who has been begging followers on social media to sign online petitions urging world leaders to take action.

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"If something happens in America, [President] Obama comes up the next minute to address the nation. You know something is going to be done –- people feel safe. You don't feel safe in Nigeria. You don't know who's going to come to your house, where there are suicide bombers. There's no security, no guarantee of life."

Achebe, who moved to the U.S. from Nigeria four years ago, points to generations of corruption in Nigeria.

"In Nigeria, you're either really, really rich or really, really poor. There's no middle class. The government doesn't help –- if there is a war, they can afford to take private jets and leave the country. They don't care about the poor people. Unless other organizations and countries get involved, they're not going to do anything to help these girls."

"This is not a new issue," Laolu Akande, executive director of the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans, told "In a sense we are glad the whole world is focusing on this now," he added. "We hope the U.S. government helps ups -- the Nigerian government by itself is helpless. We need this help."

Akande, whose parents and in-laws are still in Nigeria, said Nigerians in the U.S. are terrified for family back home.

"The whole world can relate to a girl being abducted," he said. "Nigerians here are worried."

Akande led a rally today in New York to raise awareness of the missing girls and Boko Haram. A similar rally was held in Washington, D.C.

Olawunmi Awobajo, a 55-year-old Nigerian immigrant in Brooklyn, echoed Akande's sentiments.

"Someone told me a couple days ago -- I was stunned," she said of hearing the news. "I don't even know what to say. This is sickening."

Awobajo, a single mother of two, urged the U.S. and British governments to help.

"Nigeria was colonized 54 years ago – let them take Nigeria back again," she said. "We're not up to the task. Kids are suffering in Nigeria. No one can carry a job."

On Facebook, some Nigerian-Americans have even blacked out their profile photo until the girls are returned, Akande said.

Supporters are rallying on social media, using the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

Achebe also criticized the lukewarm response from Nigeria's first lady.

"I was so embarrassed," she said. "She wasn't even speaking proper English – she wasn't addressing the people with respect. She was so rude. She doesn't care about the feelings of people whose children have been kidnapped. All she cares about is her husband's government is in jeopardy."

The Christian Association of Nigerian Americans is raising funds for the families whose children are still missing and whose homes have been bombed by Boko Haram, Akande said.