7 May 2014

Nigeria: Abducted Girls Place Dark Spot On Nigeria's Leader Legacy

Israel offered Nigeria help on Sunday in locating 200 schoolgirls abducted last month by Islamist rebel group Boko Haram in an attack that has drawn ... ( Resource: Israel Offers To Help Nigeria Find Abducted Girls )


Facing countless attacks by Boko Haram Islamists, Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan's main goal is to preserve his name and the country's image, but now, the world is witnessing his failures, says DW's Claus Stäcker.

How many Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped? Are they 200, 276 or more than 300? Are they in Cameroon, Chad or confined somewhere "in the dense forests of northeastern Nigeria" as some news outlets have speculated? No one knows anything for certain because facts and figures hardly exist in Nigeria and those who know anything are hardly allowed to say so.

The democratically elected but increasingly embattled President Goodluck Jonathan has embarked on the militarization of the country. He is counting on the army to secure his re-election in 2015. He has deposed even well-intentioned critics. Some of them have been sent behind bars. A state of emergency Jonathan declared has cut off roads and communication in several states for months.

6,000 killed in five years

Not all abductions by Boko Haram are publicized. Rarely is the whole truth told when it comes to attacks. 106 people were killed in mid-February. About 40 more by the end of February, 106 died in April, more than 200 lost their lives on Tuesday (06.05.2014).

These numbers represent enormous suffering but hardly anyone can verify them. In the past, pipeline explosions and ferry accidents which claimed many casualties were reported without much empathy. In less than five years, the Islamist sect Boko Haram has slaughtered over 6,000 people. The army responded with vengeful attacks that caught innocent bystanders thereby intensifying the conflict.

Commissions have been established and numerous reports written. But dialogue between the group and the government has never taken place. President Jonathan seems to be convinced that military force alone can bring Boko Haram to its knees. He does this to portray himself as being a strong man in front of the voters and to present himself as a self-confident leader to the rest of the world.

Recent data have confirmed Nigeria as Africa's biggest economy. The gross domestic product (GDP) of Africa's most populous nation has overtaken South Africa by at least three times. No one can argue it merits hosting the regional World Economic Forum in Abuja. However, instead of receiving praise and honor for such an event, Nigeria is facing growing criticism and uncertainty.

Lowest point for President Jonathan

Though such possibilities exist, Jonathan has not sought to contact the people mostly affected by the terrorists nor has he made any effort to reach out for dialogue with the Islamists.

The mass kidnapping of 200 or 300 school girls in Nigeria is notably the lowest point of his counter-terrorism policy. And a TV appearance by Jonathan to try and defuse the tension was a total disaster. Especially after the president mentioned that he was glad the girls were unharmed.

His remarks must have added fuel to fire for the hundreds of women clad in red who have been protesting in Abuja for days. Buoyed by the world's attention to the plight of the girls, thanks to social media, the women's anger is now not only directed against the holy warriors who abuse the girls as sex slaves and treat them as commodities but also to a government they see as being inefficient and insensitive.

Even US President Barack Obama was forced to react to the unexpected public pressure from his own country. Military and FBI specialists are now to help in the search for the missing girls. However even this announcement should be taken warily. US experts are still searching in vain for war criminal Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord's Resistance Army in the vast expanses of Central Africa.

But what is new and commendable is that the world has for once shed its indifference for a moment and is sharing the suffering of Nigerian mothers.

Claus Stäcker is the head of DW's African Languages Service

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