By Akinbode Fasakin:
After the abduction of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok, Nigeria, on April 15 and the outrage it generated globally, one would assume that the Nigerian government under President Goodluck Jonathan would come alive with a new determination to bring back these girls and work to address the myriad of security issues present in Nigeria. Subsequent events, however, particularly the bomb explosions at Emab Plaza in Abuja on 25 June and those of May 20 and 25in Plateau and 27 and 31 May 2014 in Borno states, as well as the incessant killings and alleged abduction in Borno villages, further undermine the Nigerian government’s response to terrorism and general security problems facing Nigeria. These ceaseless attacks by Boko Haram reinforce the fact that the militarisation of the area by the Nigerian federal government has not prevented the group from carrying out its operations.
There are also inadequate troops to prevent the daily bloodbath in Borno. According to a military source, ‘they claim that there are 10,000 soldiers in Maiduguri but it is a lie. If we have 10,000 soldiers, Boko Haram would have ended.’[i] Now, Boko Haram, according to a recent report, controls Boni Yadi, where the group had killed about 45 security personnel and hoisted its flag – proclaiming the town as its capital. This style chimes with the Azawad declaration of an independent state in Mali in 2012. The repeated challenges to state sovereignty from irredentist and radicalised groups in these regions cannot be described merely as acts of terrorism; they are signs of serious weaknesses of these states. The failure of the Nigerian government to secure these areas, currently under a state of emergency, worsens the loss of confidence in the current administration as well as its ability to secure the safe return of the missing schoolgirls.
Unfortunately, the Nigerian government is not only failing to win the war on terror, but it is also showing a high level of insensitivity to the agonies felt by parents of the abducted girls and the plight of Nigerians’ security in general. This is not just due to the government playing politics with the issue, but even more so because it is failing to listen to the voices of its constituents. The President has not yet visited the families of the abducted girls. Rather, the government has pitched its tent with foreign partners that it assumes has the ‘specialized’ intelligence to rescue the abducted girls and offer the magic solution to the barrages of security problems in Nigeria. At the same time, it uncritically interrogates the rationale for which foreign intervention is provided by foreign countries in the current situation. The Nigerian president would rather discuss Nigeria’s security situation abroad, a point the Paris summit on Boko Haram expresses. This summit, called by President Francois Holland, was intended to protect French interests for according to a French diplomat, ‘among Western nations, France is the main target for Boko Haram. That’s why we are getting involved.’[ii] While President Goodluck travelled to Paris, a move that may help preserve France’s interest, his administration has not considered a security summit that draws Nigerian security experts from within and outside the country.
By refusing to visit Chibok, the Nigerian President undermines the empathy and compassion the families of the victim could experience from his visit. As the leader has a responsibility to empathize, as well as manage trust and attention, the President’s visit to the families of the abducted students carries significant weight. It can also offer the government the opportunity to present its efforts so far and the extent of the progress the administration has made in the girls’ search and rescue operation. This will, without doubt, increase these families’ confidence in the administration and present the government with an opportunity to listen to what these families have to say. This will certainly lighten the burden of the pain these families feel and present the Nigerian government as responsible to its people. As far as the Nigerian government is concerned, however, such thought has not been given a priority. The government can now delight in the fact that the Chibok girls’ abduction story is gradually falling out of the global limelight and rapidly losing steam; the hashtag #bringbackourgirls is fast falling into disuse. While it is yet unclear if foreign involvement and tactics that the government seems to rely on will lead to the safe return of these girls and their reunification with their families, one cannot but express a premonition of the futility of this alliance and the likelihood it will worsen the security situation in Nigeria.
The presence of foreign troops on Nigeria’s soil is unfortunate. Apart from the fact that these troops are likely to receive the credit for whatever success the anti-Boko Haram military operations brings, if any, their presence carries the possibility of thrusting Nigeria deeper into the dungeon of global terrorist attacks by Boko Haram or other like-minded organizations around the world. Nigeria is therefore likely to further incur the wrath of the fundamentalists from within the country and around the world who resent American presence and activities in the Middle East and believe. As Osama Bin Laden noted, Muslim-populated areas are now ripe for radical changes and attacks against Western interests and pro-West regimes.[iii] The presence of 80 intelligence experts from the United States and other military support from the UK, France and Israel is not only an indication of the weakness in capacity to respond to this abduction by the current administration, but an alignment of a secular state with Western countries, that these fundamentalists perceive as being Christian countries. As positive as it may be that many foreign forces are rendering help to Nigeria with the search and rescue operation, the negative implication of this is that Nigerians are now more vulnerable and exposed to forces sympathetic to the Boko Haram’s cause. Worse still, many of these foreign troops will not share raw intelligence information with the Nigerian forces.[iv]
The fact that one cannot sweep under the rug the interests of the foreign troops, currently assisting Nigeria in the Chibok girls’ search and rescue operation, is another issue. Even though it is difficult to authoritatively state the rationale for the intervention, the alacrity with which the American government responded to Nigeria’s call for international assistance leaves much to be desired. Is Uncle Sam up to something or merely acting altruistically? States mostly act in their self-interests and as a state whose foreign policy is underpinned by realism, is America doing Nigeria a favor for nothing? In addition, even though the US might have responded to the abducted girls’ rescue out of its desire to offer Nigeria some help, the US selectively responds to issues of insecurity. Nigeria’s reliance on foreign troops further militarise the war against terrorism without giving a room for understanding the content and context of the crisis. Apart from the fact that the US intervention fails to restore peace in Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, the deployment military troops to Nigeria will not solve the roots of the problem. Not only that, this intervention raises serious questions about how much faith the Nigerian government has in imported specialized intelligence over its own forces. Perhaps, this explains why the Nigerian President cancelled the negotiation process that would have led to the exchange of the girls for Boko Haram insurgents in government’s prison.[v] It is doubtful, however, if the government would take the same action had the children of the President been involved.
Nigerians are talking; the government is presumably acting, but there is disconnect between Nigerians perception of security and the government’s implementation of a security agenda. Though the Chibok abduction, according to government, has ascended to a national priority status, it is yet unclear if the return of these girls will happen soon. Furthermore, it is doubtful if it will either reduce or prevent future abductions by Boko Haram or similar groups in Nigeria.
The government requires concrete and holistic, long and medium-term, strategic plans that inform short-term intervention. In the short-term, however, the continuation of negotiations that can result in the release of the girls is necessary. In the long-term, genuine efforts that capture a wide range of Nigerian security experts’ views on insurgency, radicalisation, extremism, militancy and other forms of insecurity is required. It is neither a time for mudslinging, name-calling nor for spewing half-baked and contradictory statements from the officialdom. This period is critically important in terms of the intersection between the government’s perception of security and the Nigerian people’s security. The security of the people begins with the creation of an atmosphere that is conducive to their personal and collective safety, freedom and development. Nigerians are averse to the deception, corruption, secrecy, and pretense with which government is thus far handling national security. What the population is saying is simple: do what is needed, bring back our girls, our security, and our country.
Akinbode Fasakin is a Fellow of the African Leadership Centre at King’s College London. He is currently undertaking research on leadership and national security in Nigeria.
[i] Godwin, Ameh Comrade. ‘Military chiefs are aiding Boko Haram, they did not send 10,000 troops to Borno – soldiers,’ Daily Post Newspaper. 7 April 2014. < http://dailypost.ng/2014/04/07/military-chiefs-aiding-boko-haram-send-10000-troops-borno-soldiers/>
[ii]See Philippe Wojazer, ‘France holds Summit on Nigeria’s Boko Haram Threat’ http://africajournalismtheworld.com/tag/paris-boko-haram-summit/
[iii]See Olawale Ismail, Radicalisation and Violent Extremism in West Africa: Implications for African and International Security, Conflict, Security and Development, Vol. 13, No. 2, 2013.
[iv]This point was made by the American Peter Pham, Director of the African Program at the Atlantic think tank in Washington. According to him, The the Nigerian security forces are unreliable as it is being penetrated by people who are sympathisers. See Oran Dorell, ‘Obama Sends U.S. Troops to Chad to Find Nigerian Girls’ available on http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2014/05/21/usa-search-for-nigerian-girls-goes-to-chad/9389703/
[v]David Williams and Ian Drurry, ‘UK troops to help free Nigeria girls: Hundreds sent to country to assist local forces in battle against Boko Haram’ http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2641151/UK-troops-help-free-Nigeria-girls-Hundreds-sent-country-assist-local-forces-battle-against-Boko-Haram.html