As his Toronto Raptors worked their way through a grueling first-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets that ultimately ended in defeat at the very last second of Game 7, general manager Masai Ujiri found his attention diverted by the roiling unrest in his native Nigeria.
“What I’m really thinking about is those girls in Nigeria,” Ujiri told Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star. “You know about that? I’m wondering what we can do to get those girls back.”
The NBA's 2012-13 Executive of the Year grew up in Zaria, a long drive west of Maiduguri, where scores of young female students — initial estimates pegged the number near 100, but subsequent reports increased it to more than 300 — were kidnapped from a secondary school in an April 14 mass abduction by Boko Haram, an Islamist military organization that is reportedly linked to al-Qaida, whose name translates as, "Western education is sinful," and who have reportedly "killed more than 1,500 people so far this year as part of their campaign to impose Islamic law on" Nigeria.
The group's leader, Abubakar Shekau, has said the students "will remains slaves with us" and that "by Allah, [he] will sell them in the marketplace." Fifty-three of the more than 300 girls abducted have escaped, while a reported 276 remain in captivity. Twenty have been described as ill. Two have reportedly died from snake bites.
“I'm going to address it straight on," Ujiri said. "What is happening in Nigeria is an absolute atrocity. For me to grow up in northern Nigeria and see what is happening with the abducted kids and women there, I have a daughter, I have a wife. I have a mom and sister that still live in Nigeria.
"For what is going on there, it is something that, I think, the whole world has to look at, and we have to address strongly. Me in my position, I honestly want to be outspoken about it because I think it's where I grew up and it should not be happening. I'm passionate about where I come from and what happens to young kids and people that deserve opportunity. I just wanted to mention that.”
Ujiri went beyond mentioning it on Thursday.
"Their ‘crime’ was a desire to get an education," Ujiri wrote in an op-ed piece published in Thursday's edition of The Globe and Mail. "These girls will someday be our doctors and engineers and teachers. It is not just young people who have been taken. They are holding Nigeria’s future to ransom."
Lacking even the most basic infrastructure, we [Nigerians] have found a way to make our society work. We are also a people who have, for many years, swept many things under the rug in the interest of peace. This tragedy — this atrocity — cannot be ignored in that way. What will we tell our own daughters if we do nothing for the daughters of our countrymen and women?
[...] this is a crisis that Nigeria cannot solve by itself. I am speaking because sport has given me a voice that rings out in North America. I want to do whatever is in my power to help end this tragedy.
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan promised in a speech at the World Economic Forum on Thursday to find the schoolgirls still in captivity, with the help of the United States, Great Britain, France and China.
"As a nation we are facing attack from terrorism," Jonathan said, according to Reuters. "I believe that the kidnap of these girls will be the beginning of the end of terrorism in Nigeria."
Terming the abduction "a heartbreaking situation, outrageous situation," President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the U.S. contingent sent to Nigeria consists of representatives from "military, law enforcement, and other agencies" who will work to "identify where in fact these girls might be and provide them help."
In his op-ed, Ujiri implored readers to consider ways that they, too, could assist.
I am also asking you to ask yourselves — "Is there anything I can do to help them?"
I am asking you to help save Nigeria’s daughters.
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