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Tony Aduro

Nigerian Tony Aduro talks about the missing school girls in Nigeria.

Cathie Rowand| The Journal Gazette
Tony Aduro moved his family from southwest Nigeria 15 years ago. They now live in Fort Wayne.

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Tony Aduro moved his young family from southwest Nigeria 15 years ago.

His daughter was 5. His son was 3. He was searching for a better future.

Back then, violence in Nigeria was common but remained mostly in the north, a several-hour flight from the family's home near Lagos.

His daughter would not have been among the hundreds of Nigerian girls kidnapped from Chibok school last month, and his family likely wouldn't have been affected by ruthless violence of Boko Haram militants.

Yet, he mourns for the lives lost and sympathizes with the frustration of fathers left wondering whether they'll see their daughters again.

Today, Aduro lives in Fort Wayne, where an estimated 120 native-born Nigerians live in a city of 256,500 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. He serves as the executive director of the African Immigrants Social and Economic Development Agency, an organization that assists immigrants and refugees.

His daughter, Vanessa, and son, Michael, attend Purdue University.

In mid-April, Boko Haram fighters abducted nearly 300 girls from Chibok Government Girls Secondary School, a boarding school near Maiduguri, a remote village in northern Nigeria.

Boko Haram's name means “Western education is sin,” making the girls' school an obvious target, Aduro said.

Nigerian officials have said Boko Haram's rebel campaign has claimed 12,000 lives, with 8,000 people injured since 2009.

At least 2,000 people have died in violence in northern Nigeria this year alone, according to an Amnesty International report.

About 118 people were killed Tuesday when a pair of vehicle bombs exploded within a half hour in the Nigerian town of Jos.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama deployed 80 soldiers to Chad to aid in the effort to locate the missing schoolgirls.

Nigerian leaders have asked the United Nations to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization. If approved, the designation would enable countries to restrict travel, freeze assets and impose arms embargos.

Cultural divide

The key to understanding why the girls were taken and the conflicts surrounding Boko Haram is to understand the evolution of Nigerian society, said Benson C. Onyeji, professor of political science at Manchester University.

Onyeji is a native of Nigeria who came to the U.S. in 1976. He lives in Fort Wayne.

More than a century ago, Nigerians' early encounters with Europeans were in the form of slavery under colonial rule and extensive “nation-building” efforts, Onyeji said.

Widespread civilizing missions sought to control the country, while fights between outside countries over Nigeria's vast supply of raw materials – including oil – divided nephews, cousins and families, he said.

The Nigerian people, though geographically united, were culturally divided, with more than 230 national groups across the country.

In 1914, the area was united as the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria, but it remained administratively divided into two sections – the north and the south – under British rule.

The country's fight for independence continued for decades until 1960, when Britain agreed that Nigeria would become an independent state.

However, struggles to control Nigeria's resources divided the country further, separating families by class, gender and religion and deepening wealth inequality, Onyeji explained.

The poor, who had little access to education and few opportunities to overcome poverty, were easily converted to rebels who ransacked villages, killing and stealing from other Nigerians, he said.

“There are some parts of Nigeria that look like Indianapolis, large homes and buildings and industry, and other areas that you wonder where the people live,” Onyeji said. “When wealth is pocketed in that way, it leaves room for insurgencies.”

International effort

Aduro believes there's more that can be done to recover the hundreds of abducted children – and prevent future violence.

But it begins with the international community rallying around the young girls, he said.

As an example, Aduro pointed to the Malaysian Airlines plane that disappeared in March.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 traveling from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing on March 8 with 239 people aboard veered off course.

No trace of the Boeing 777 has been found, despite a two-month surface search and ongoing underwater search.

“I felt so bad for the families and everybody with the Malaysian Airlines. I grieve with them and everything,” he said.

“I also am really in support that the effort that the entire world put together to start looking for this plane, to find a resolution and all of those things.”

Aduro said if countries – including the U.S. – were willing to funnel millions of dollars into a search for a missing plane, it's only logical they do the same for missing children.

“If we put that same amount of effort … I think by now, they would get them,” he said.

Negotiating with Boko Haram is difficult, and the recovery must be tactical, he said.

“If this was my own child there, I'd say yeah, probably negotiate,” Aduro said.

“If your child was also one of those kids there, you would say ‘yes, release the prisoner.' Everyone would say that in honesty.”

But when dealing with militants, negotiating a release gives them the power, he said.

“Let them put down their arms and give them amnesty,” Audro said.

“I would say as a father also that it would probably be to the benefit of the nation and the next girl and all the girls that may be there later.

“It's sad to get to that point, but people with such violence, you have to deal with them in such a way that makes them powerless.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.