The highly influential Economist magazine has accused
President Goodluck Jonathan’s government of
incompetence, callousness and corruption. In addition, the
publication blamed the festering scourge of terrorist
activities by the Islamist group, Boko Haram, largely on Mr.
Jonathan’s inaction and indifference.
In its current edition, the magazine criticized the Jonathan
administration for its reluctance to accept foreign help in the
past in order to battle Boko Haram insurgents rampaging in
the northeast of Nigeria. The publication also berated the
president’s wife, Patience Jonathan, for ordering the arrest
and detention of protesters demanding action by the Federal
Government to rescue the abducted schoolgirls.
The full statement by the Economist is reproduced below:
Kidnappings In Nigeria -A clueless government
FOR the past few years President Goodluck Jonathan has
publicly shrugged off the deaths of thousands of people,
mainly in the north-east of his country, portraying them as
the unfortunate but unavoidable result of a fanatical
insurgency for which his government cannot be blamed. But
in the past few weeks the plight of 200-plus girls abducted
from a school by Boko Haram, the extremist group chiefly
responsible for the mayhem, has put Mr Jonathan and his
government under an international spotlight, exposing them
not only as incompetent but callous, too.
As outrage spread beyond Nigeria’s borders, Barack Obama
and other Western leaders, hitherto watching more or less
silently from afar, have felt obliged to offer help as well as
sympathy. West African leaders, led by Ghana’s president,
have expressed unusual solidarity. The surge of global
horror mixed with curiosity and bafflement was particularly
embarrassing, at a time when Mr Jonathan was about to
host a glamorous gathering of leaders, including China’s
prime minister, at the World Economic Forum in Abuja, his
capital, where he was hoping to celebrate the recent
international re-evaluation of Nigeria’s economy as by far
the biggest in Africa, well ahead of South Africa’s.
Not that there was the slightest sympathy for Boko Haram
and its maniacal leader, Abubakar Shekau, who purported to
be the man pictured in a video released on May 5th, making
blood-curdling threats to kill all Christians. “I took the girls,”
he declared, standing in front of a tank, flanked by masked
men in uniforms. “By Allah I will sell them in the
marketplace…I will marry off a woman at the age of 12. I
will marry off a girl at the age of nine.” Some of the girls, it
has been speculated, may already have been forced to
marry their abductors for a bride-price equivalent to $12.
The UN warned members of Boko Haram, which means
“Western education is forbidden”, that if they carried out
their leader’s threat they would be committing war crimes.
The girls, abducted on April 14th from a school in Chibok, a
town in the north-eastern state of Borno, are probably being
held in a rebel stronghold. One of these is in the dense
Sambisa forest, 60,000 square kilometres (23,000 square
miles) in area, south of Maiduguri, Borno’s capital. The other
is in the Gwosa mountains, which straddle the cave-ridden
border with Cameroon.
Boko Haram, which was founded in 2002 but began its
violent insurgency in 2009, has been responsible for at least
4,000 deaths, mostly in the north-east. But it has also
demonstrated an ability to strike at the centre of the
country, setting off a bomb last month at a bus station in
Abuja, killing at least 70 people, and another one on May
2nd near a police checkpoint, also in Abuja, killing around
20. The capital is now beset with checkpoints, snarling up
traffic just when the government wants to show off the
place to its foreign visitors.
In recent months Boko Haram has been aiming with
increasing ferocity at soft targets such as schools and
marketplaces, though it had not previously attempted a
mass abduction. On May 5th, however, it was reported that
it had kidnapped another eight girls from elsewhere in
Borno. On the same day it was reported that Boko Haram
had killed 300 people in the Borno town of Gamboru Ngala.
Most secondary schools in the state had been closed before
the mass abduction, for fear of an attack, but the education
authorities had convened the girls at a boarding school so
that they could take their final exams.
As worldwide outrage grew over the abductions, the
American and British governments offered to help. A White
House spokesman said that experts in intelligence, hostage
negotiation and victim assistance would fly to Nigeria. The
British offered to send surveillance aircraft along with
soldiers from its special forces.
The Nigerians have been loth to accept such help in the past
and are wary of perceived encroachments on their
sovereignty. America has operated drones from a base in
neighbouring Niger since 2012, but Nigeria’s government
has long refused American requests to be allowed to do the
same from Nigerian territory. Moreover, Nigerians are proud
of their army, the biggest in Africa, with its long history of
contributions to peacekeeping missions, most recently in
Mali. And they are also notably secretive and prickly about
its operations—and the low standards of soldiery which
foreign experts would see. Though Mr Jonathan declared a
state of emergency in the north-east a year ago, his army
has dismally failed to defeat Boko Haram.
Indeed, it has itself perpetrated numerous atrocities against
civilians suspected of harbouring or lending sympathy to the
rebels, who thrive among embittered young Muslims in the
north, the poorest part of the country. The army was widely
castigated after a military counter-attack on March 14th
following an attempted jailbreak by suspected members of
Boko Haram detained at a barracks in Maiduguri. According
to hospital sources, around 500 people were killed, mainly at
the hands of soldiers. Such human-rights abuses by the
Nigerian army make Western governments edgy about
offering to join the fray, for fear of being deemed complicit.
Corruption, Nigeria’s great scourge, is another reason for
foreign military advisers to keep their distance. Nigeria’s
soldiers say that commanders pocket the bulk of their
salaries, leaving them with little incentive to fight a well-
equipped guerrilla movement that knows the rugged terrain
and forests. Why risk death at the hands of Boko Haram for
no reward? It is hard, in such conditions, to see how
outsiders could raise Nigerian troops’ morale, let alone
improve their military skills.
Patience not always a virtue
Perhaps the worst aspect of the Nigerian government’s
handling of the abduction is its seeming indifference to the
plight of the girls’ families. It took more than two weeks
before Mr Jonathan addressed the matter in public. His
government’s sluggish response and its failure even to
clarify how many girls had been abducted provoked protests
in several cities across Nigeria—itself an unusual event.
To make matters worse, the president’s wife, Patience,
ordered the arrest of two leaders of the protests, bizarrely
accusing them of belonging to Boko Haram and of
fabricating reports of the abduction to smear the
government. In a televised broadcast on May 4th, the first
lady, who holds no official position, warned against further
such marches. “You are playing games,” she said. “Don’t
use schoolchildren and women for demonstration again.
Keep it to Borno, let it end there,” the official News Agency
of Nigeria reported.
Such statements do not give the impression that Mr
Jonathan or his colleagues, who face elections next year,
take the worries of ordinary Nigerians to heart.
The highly influential Economist magazine has accused