ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — Two U.S. congresswomen say Nigeria's #BringBackOurGirls campaign must hold every single newly elected official responsible for the freedom of scores of schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram extremists.
They say the movement built up around "the Chibok girls" can become a pillar of accountability in the country's budding democracy.
The campaign attracted millions around the world, including first lady Michelle Obama. Then-President Goodluck Jonathan reviled it. His administration initially denied there had been a mass kidnapping in the northeast town of Chibok on April 15, 2014, and even detained two campaign leaders.
In Abuja, the capital, visiting Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Frederica Wilson on Tuesday told campaigners to keep up the pressure with new President Muhammadu Buhari.
"You don't give them a pass, from the president all the way down. Pressure! Pressure! Pressure!" urged Wilson, a Democrat from Florida.
Buhari, a former military dictator, won the March 29 election that Jonathan lost in part for his failure to adequately fight Boko Haram and his callousness over the kidnapped girls.
Nigerians "stood in line for hours; you voted in droves to elect a new government," Wilson said.
In Washington, she and Jackson Lee wear something red - the campaign color — once a week to remind everyone the Chibok girls still are not free. Wilson sported a red Stetson in Nigeria.
Jackson Lee said the two have become champion tweeters on Capitol Hill, out-tweeting Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush and the White House with their demands to #BringBackOurGirls.
Some 276 students were kidnapped. Dozens escaped but 219 remain missing. They were last shown in a Boko Haram video claiming they had converted to Islam. Subsequent videos have said the girls have been married off to insurgents and are training to fight.
Activists pressing the government and military to rescue them have gathered every day at Unity Fountain in Abuja since April 30, 2014.
"The fight for the Chibok girls is the fight for the very soul of Nigeria," campaigner Aisha Yesufu told a small crowd there on Tuesday.
The campaign is growing into a broader movement about general accountability, strengthening a fledgling democracy that eroded under Jonathan — Nigeria's third elected civilian president since military dictatorship ended in 1999.
Buhari met the campaigners in his first month in office. He has said he does not know where the girls are but will do everything possible to bring them home.
Last month, negotiator Fred Eno said Boko Haram is willing to trade the girls for detained insurgents.
Jackson Lee, a Democrat from Texas, said the United States can help Nigeria not just with military training but also in negotiating skills. She told a news conference earlier Tuesday of previous efforts with Boko Haram: "They came to the table twice and they almost had a deal. But because no one at the table had the technical skills to close the deal, the deal fell apart."
At Unity Fountain, Jackson Lee and Wilson urged campaigners to look to the American civil rights movement for inspiration.
"Every single elected official is to be held responsible for those (Chibok) girls," Wilson said.
Yesufu, the Nigerian campaigner, said much must be done, not just for the Chibok girls, but hundreds of kidnapped girls and women rescued this year, and hundreds of thousands of children driven from school by Boko Haram, whose name translates roughly as "Western education is forbidden."
Yesufu blamed lack of education in the north for the creation of Boko Haram, whose six-year uprising has killed 20,000 people.
"If people are uneducated, if people are unemployed, when the terrorists come calling and they give them money, of course the youths are theirs to have," she said.
Yesufu said that, once rescued, the Chibok girls must get the education that Boko Haram tried to deprive them of.
"They are going to be survivors. They are going to be the kind of women that we are going to say 'Wow!'