The Associated Press today revealed what many had already suspected, that for weeks the Nigerian government refused international help to find 300 young girls kidnapped by the Islamic Extremist group Boko Haram. Spurning offers of assistance, it wasn’t until nearly a month later that Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathon finally acquiesced to official Western offers of help on May 6th. On May 7th, with US help on the way, Michelle Obama was finally free to speak her mind but many are wondering why it took Jonathon so long to say yes to help?
At least some of his reluctance may have to do with the fear that his very own government harbors Boko Haram sympathizers. As far back as 2012, Jonathon believed this to be the case.
Nigeria’s president has said for the first time he thinks sympathisers of the Islamist Boko Haram group are in his government and security agencies. Goodluck Jonathan’s comments come amid a wave of violence blamed on Boko Haram which has left dozens of people dead in the north, most of them Christians. Mr Jonathan also said the security situation was now more complex than during the civil war four decades ago. More than one million people died in the 1967-1970 Biafran conflict. More than 80 people have been killed in recent weeks in attacks apparently carried out by Boko Haram, adding to the more than 500 killed in the past year.
But that doesn’t explain why Nigeria denied Western help. Even as Jonathon was telling the U.S. and U.K. that they did not need help he was also framing the issue differently to the media. On May 4th he said the following:
He said his government has spoken to the United States and several other world powers, including France, Britain and China, for help with its security issues. “We are talking to countries we think can help us out. The United States is number one. I have talked to President Obama at least twice,” he said.
Jonathon’s claim to have spoken with President Obama “at least twice” seems to give the idea that forward progress was being made. This made anyone following the issue wonder ” what was the holdup.” However, it appears Jonathon was actually denying help in these conversations, not discussing what help would be best. But there’s another reason that very few are discussing.
Take a look at the first quote up there and you’ll see a mention of the Nigerian Civil War (here’s a link to a documentary on it). That conflict, largely a result of inter-tribal conflict and a clash of cultures that lingered from colonial days, took the lives of 1-3 million civilians alone.
Now with Boko Haram seemingly killing at will, the group burned 50 boys to death in February of this year and killed 300 more people just last week, things in the nation are hitting a boiling point with Christians and Animists on one side and Muslims on the other. It’s starting to look like war is inevitable. This is a recipe for atrocity.
What’s more, while there’s no doubt that Western nations will be able to assist in locating and perhaps reclaiming the missing school girls for their families, Western assistance could also serve as a rallying cry for other extremist groups in the region of which there are many.
Poverty, corruption, ethnic division, and the threat of terrorism form a potent and toxic cocktail for any government to deal with but Jonathon is, objectively, between a rock and a hard place regardless of his complicity in not handling the kidnapping well from the beginning.
Now he’s considering offering Boko Haram members amnesty in an attempt to stop the bloodshed and perhaps come to an accord. This is unlikely to work considering Boko Haram currently seems to hold most of the cards. On the contrary, there will likely have to be even more bloodshed. Nigeria is a nation still becoming. The question is can the West assist Nigeria without becoming involved in its internal conflict and, if it can, will Nigeria come through this difficult period more unified or less?