By Shreya Deora
Edited by Sanchita Malhotra, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
Recently the Nigerian government has come under a lot of criticism internationally for its poor response and attitude towards the Boko Haram tribe and their monstrous activities. It’s been two months since the Boko Haram terrorist group kidnapped 200 girls from a school in Chibok overnight. And the Nigerian government is nowhere even close to figuring out where they are, let alone any rescue operations.
The terrorist group, known in the Hausa language as Boko Haram means ‘Western education is sin.’ This group was founded in 2002 and was mainly focused on opposing Western education. In 2009, they started military operations to create an Islamic state. Since then, they have launched various military attacks in Abuja, Kano and north eastern regions of Nigeria. Ever since the state of emergency was put in place, such attacks and continuing violence is not new to the Nigerian regions.
But surprisingly, the response of the Nigerian government has been very disappointing. Instead of initiating rescue operations and deploying military forces to control the situation in these conflict areas, the Nigerian government has not only been highly inefficient and least perturbed by the attack, but has also just added to the confusion. In the aftermath of the abduction, the military took out a formal statement reading that most of the girls have been rescued and only eight girls were still being held captive. But locals still maintained that most of the girls were unaccounted for and they went into the Sambisa forest to look for them, without any result. What has come across as a major criticism to the government is that these locals have witnessed no sign of government troops or military trying to look for these girls. This has constantly been followed by conflicting statements from different people within the government to the media.
Nigerians took to social media to show their deep rooted anger and disappointment at the Nigerian government’s indifference to the whole incident and their almost negligible response to the attacks. Various protests and rallies have unified people from all over Nigeria to push the government into taking some responsibility for the terrorist attacks. The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls spread like wildfire on social media, with Michelle Obama and Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai also joining the campaign. The international community woke up to join the movement and pressurized the government to take some action.
President Goodluck Jonathan finally made his first statement saying that the government is seeking help from the international community to tackle this security threat.
At the same time, Boko Haram released a video where the Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau states that they are behind the abduction of the girls, and threatens to sell them as slaves. They released a 17 minute video showing some 130 of the abducted girls; in full length hijabs and reciting Koranic verses; stating that they have converted to Islam. They have demanded the release of their own from the Nigerian prisons in exchange for those girls who have not converted to Islam but this is not acceptable to the government at Abuja. There is also a lot of speculation around the idea that the girls could have been transported to cross borders into Cameroon and Chad, even though it has not been confirmed as of now.
The constant and repeated pressure from the international community has made Nigeria accept foreign help. US, Britain, France, China and Israel, have all sent military and other specialists to Abuja to help them in the rescue operations. US is sharing commercial satellite imagery with Nigeria, and China has also offered to help them with intelligence that could assist in the rescue operations. But in spite of all the help that the foreign governments are offering, the rescue operation still remains in the hands of the Nigerian government, with foreign specialists acting only in an advisory role on security, governance and response to such warnings.
But a major hurdle that still remains is that the Nigerian military seriously lacks training and modern equipment. Apart from the military capacity, there is also the problem of lack of trust and politics within the concerned government.
The response of the Nigerian government is heavily soaked in politics and indifference. In spite of the international help that is being offered, the government is still nowhere near rescuing these girls. The north eastern states where Boko Haram is said to be the strongest is run by opposition ministers hence making it difficult to have a sincere relationship between the centre and the local leaders to solve this problem. The trust deficit makes them wary of falling into a political crisis, hence slowing their responses. And because of the political divides arising before the upcoming election, the government has distanced itself from the crisis.
The accounts of the fifty three girls that managed to escape are also highly chilling. The Boko Haram group is strictly against education of women. Women who have escaped in the past have recounted incidents of women being used as sex slaves for their troops and being forcibly married to commanders as a reward.
The mutiny and the terrorism in the Niger regions is not something that has just started occurring. It has years of militant attacks backing it up. The number of raids, killings in schools and colleges, burning of houses and property has increased substantially over the past years, especially after emergency was announced. In the first three months of this year itself, about 1500 people are estimated to have been killed in such attacks. Only after the abduction of these school children, has the international community unified into one strong pressure group as well. But the Nigerian government and the people have been witnessing this for years. And for the Nigerian government to not have been able to curb these attacks, and even to have let them grow and get so powerful, cannot be excused. The laid back attitude of the officials, the political mess in the government, the lies and conflicting statements made out to the public, only add to their critique. The military has refused to share the information of the rescue operations leading the Nigerian people to lose more faith in the government.
Considering that Nigeria is the most productive country in the region, and is very rich in resources, there is also the threat of foreign aid turning into intervention. It will not be the first time that countries like USA might turn foreign aid into interventionist policies in the name of human rights violation. If that happens, Nigeria, which has strongly valued its sovereignty in the past, might just end up regretting accepting international help in its domestic problems. Though as of now these foreign governments have not directly pressurized or strong armed Nigeria into any such policies, but there seems to be ample opportunity for them to do so.
What is left to be seen though, is that can Nigeria still step up to fix the problem? Will the government, with the help of foreign aid, finally be able to make some substantial progress? Will these girls ever come back home? Will the international community only provide the advisory aid that they currently are, or will they step up to intervene in Nigeria’s domestic matters? After all, it is not a domestic problem anymore, but a horrendous violation of human rights, freedom and dignity that is affecting people all over the globe. But the answers to such questions, only time can tell.
Shreya is a graduate in B.A. Economic Honors from Kamala Nehru College, Delhi University. She is an avid debater and a passionate reader. She proclaims to be completely tune deaf, while being a jazz, blues and alternative music fan with equal conviction. She hopes to study Economics further and is particularly interested in Behavioral Economics, Micro Economics and International Economics. She plans to take a year off just to travel, hopefully without being constantly motion sick.