By PATRICK HUNTER
I have to admit that I haven’t followed the performance of President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria closely, and certainly not close enough to make an overall judgment on his presidency. So, I am not going to try to form an opinion on his whole presidency based on his performance in a couple of areas. But it has to be concerning and disconcerting about the seeming lack of urgency and concern in dealing with the kidnapped girls in his country.
The event that has triggered a worldwide campaign to “Bring back our girls” was the kidnapping of some 300 girls from a school in Chibok, in northeastern Nigeria. A small number of them – about 30 – managed to escape. But this kidnapping happened, apparently, in the middle of the night of April 15. Since then, a video of the girls was released in which they were all wearing what can be generally referred to as Muslim attire.
A pro-Islamic group known as Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. It is not clear what the objective of the kidnapping is but speculation is that – at least in part – to deny the education of the girls.
Jonathan was spurred into some kind of activity by the massive outpouring of worldwide fury over the kidnapping and the apparent lack of a response by the Nigerian government. Countries, such as the U.S. and UK, offered technological resources to the Nigerian government and military to find the location where the girls were being kept. Indications are that they have had no success. That I do not believe.
What I do believe is that the location is known, but they are being held in such a protected way that any attempt to free them could result in something catastrophic, up to and including the killing of the girls.
Nigeria is a substantial country. With a population of about 170 million, and a gross domestic product (GDP) of about $500 billion, Nigeria is a considerable power on the African continent. It is a country, not unlike any other, that has faced its problems and challenges with forces inside and outside. The Biafran war comes to mind – the declaration by one part of the country to be an independent state, leading to a vicious war to defeat those forces to bring them back into the Nigerian fold. And, throughout its history, it has faced several coups.
Boko Haram seems to be taking up that challenge with a new approach. While I do not want to enter into a debate about the “whys and wherefores” of Boko Haram’s goals, I find it despicable that they would use a tactic such as kidnapping young girls to further their demands. If they would choose to use this method to achieve what they want, what does it say about what they would do should they win statehood?
In the public eye, Jonathan and the Nigerian establishment were caught napping. Whether they were unaware of the kidnapping for two weeks, or the release of the information overtook them as they operated in secret to resolve the issue is not clear. On this I will not give the benefit of the doubt to the Nigerian government. I believe they were indifferent about the kidnapping and were forced into action when it became public.
Since the first revelation of the kidnapping, there have been subsequent kidnappings which would suggest that the security forces were outsmarted by Boko Haram. More importantly, it showed that the Nigerian security forces failed to take appropriate action to protect and prevent other similar kidnappings. Now, the latest word is that Boko Haram is demanding the release of imprisoned supporters for the girls’ freedom.
Governments around the world have taken on the standard position that they will not negotiate with terrorists, but they do. This may have to be the option taken to obtain the safe release of the girls.
The next presidential election in Nigeria is scheduled for February 2015. Jonathan is eligible for re-election. This will be a major baggage for him to take into a presidential campaign – baggage that seems like a failure to take the security of his people seriously. But, that’s me reading from the outside, looking in. The people of Nigeria, on the ground, will make that decision and one has to believe that the kidnappings plus the overall lack of control over Boko Haram has to be a major issue he will have to contend with if he seeks to continue as president.
Meanwhile, this failure has to be placed firmly in the “shameful” category. I can only add that I hope the girls will be freed as soon as possible and returned without further harm to their parents and way of life.