Political Science professor leads the charge in demanding justice for missing schoolgirls in her native Nigeria. 


Call Her Professor #BringBackOurGirls

June 11, 2014

Okome addresses a rally in midtown Manhattan. 

"I have my kids and they are safe. I want that for every single Nigerian family," Okome says.

When Political Science Professor Mojúbàolú Olufúnké Okome steps up to the microphone one late spring afternoon at the corner of 44th St. and 2nd Avenue—just opposite Manhattan’s Nigerian Consulate and blocks from the United Nations—she presses her heart as she speaks.

“Bring back our girls,” she chants.

“Yes!” the crowd choruses back.

Her call to action echoes the demand that has been tweeted by the likes of Pope Francis and Michelle Obama, and championed by thousands at impromptu rallies across the globe.

“I am a Nigerian. I have made it my life’s work studying Nigeria. Today my heart bleeds,” she continues, addressing a rally that has gathered at the urging of #BringBackOurGirlsNYC. 

The hashtivist campaign is the local affiliate of an international social media movement to pressure the Nigerian government to step up efforts to rescue more than 200 girls who were kidnapped in April from their boarding school in the northern part of the country. 

Okome, one of the campaign’s most vocal organizers, says the Nigerian government has failed to secure its citizenry and left a dangerous power vacuum in the nascent democracy, which is often ranked among the top 10 oil-rich countries in the world. She is displeased also with religious groups, not just Boko Haram—which kidnapped the girls—but others who would paint the issue as a Christian/Muslim one.

“This is not a short-term struggle,” says the Lagos-born daughter of career educators, who sent four girls to boarding school. “The institutions that are needed to make democracy work in Nigeria have failed.”

So the author and scholar organized conference calls and arranged for meeting spaces for local activists, and then reached out to anyone else she thought would care, but especially to New York City’s Nigerian community. 

Okome, who had never even had a Facebook page, began introducing herself as Professor #BringBackOurGirlsNYC. 

A professor in the Department of Africana Studies and in the Women’s Studies program, Okome has authored and edited books on democracy, transition, and women’s political participation in Nigeria. Growing up in Lagos, she was raised in the center of women’s activism in the country. 

She’s logged many frequent flyer miles going back and forth to the continent to attend conferences or work on her research. A self-described activist, she is well connected with the leaders of the Bring Back Our Girls movement in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. 

She was inclined to sit in the background for this cause.

“I figured I could facilitate and bring people together but I don’t always have to step out in front of something,” she says, pointing out that the majority of her family is in Nigeria and could be targeted. 

But the movement was literally calling her. Because of her scholarship, media requests came in from more than half a dozen outlets, including PBS and Al Jazeera, asking her to lend some context to the issue. 

“I realized, you can’t talk women’s rights and then something happens and you sit on the sidelines,” she says, adding that her two grown sons also nudged her to be more involved. “They told me: ‘If you talk the talk, you should walk the walk. It’s not good to have knowledge and to claim to be so torn up about those girls and not put yourself out there.’”

Okome is now busy organizing academics in U.S. universities to archive the work of the global #BringBackOurGirls movement and is helping to plan a conference in the fall on human security in West Africa. She will participate in roundtable discussions at the African Studies Association annual meeting in November and plans to generally lead an effort of educational reform in her native land. 

“I got an excellent education and I think I owe a debt,” she says. “I can not take on all of Nigeria’s issues, but I want to challenge people to think about what role they can play.”

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