Masai Ujiri is president and general manager of the Toronto Raptors
It has been 23 days.
Twenty-three days since nearly 300 girls were kidnapped from their school in the village of Chibok, in northern Nigeria. They were in the midst of writing their exams. Now they are under threat of being sold into slavery by an armed militia.
Their ‘crime’ was a desire to get an education. 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.
I grew up a few hours to the west of Warabe, in the city of Zaria. As an adult, I have lived throughout the world – attending college in the United States, playing professional basketball in Europe.
Eventually, I found my way to Toronto. I have a good life in a wonderful, cosmopolitan city, but I am everywhere a son of Africa.
My wife is also African. Our daughter was born here. Given a different set of circumstances and less luck, she might have been born elsewhere, perhaps even some place where children are abducted. A place where little girls are taken because someone did not want them to learn.
Though I have travelled the world and known success, I still remember my childhood in Nigeria as the best time of my life. Even today, my family and friends talk often about those days. It was a peaceful, hopeful place. I was allowed to dream there. My sisters shared those dreams.
In that Nigeria, we grew up surrounded by neighbours of all religions, all sorts of people with all sorts of beliefs. Most of all, I remember that we were happy.
Things have changed. The Nigeria of my youth no longer exists. The country has been ravaged by corruption. That corruption is deeply rooted in society, and goes beyond the administration. As a result, the military and other security agencies are not equipped for this kind of search across vast and difficult terrain. The Nigerian government has never faced a threat quite like this one.
Nigerians have always found a way to work around their own government. We now have the largest economy in Africa. We are a smart, loving and joyous people.
Lacking even the most basic infrastructure, we 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?
We Africans must be able to believe in ourselves. I believe strongly this is a continent with unlimited potential and a bright future. Those of us in the diaspora must do all we can to encourage Africa’s youth. The only reason we have been given an opportunity, is so that we may pass it along to others.
However, 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.
But we also need the world’s help. The mothers of these girls have done all they can to save their children – by capturing international attention. These women cannot mount a rescue operation. I urge the international community to join in the United States’ offer to aid in on-the-ground efforts to safely recover Nigeria’s missing children. France and United Kingdom have made similar outreach. Canada has offered to send surveillance equipment to help in the effort.
I urge my adopted home to continue to do all it can to help.
This is a great step in the right direction, given the complexities of international law and other diplomatic problems. I trust that the Nigerian government will accept those courtesies extended by our neighbours in the international community.
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.