Despite Joint Rescue Efforts, Many Nigerians Are Still Wary of US Involvement To #BringBackOurGirls
A couple of weeks ago I posted an appeal from a Nigerian American journalist who wrote, “Dear Americans, Your Hashtags Won’t #BringBackOurGirls. You Might Actually Be Making Things Worse”.
Many of you responded criticizing the post with comments like, “The Nigerian government and military were doing so well before we became involved,” and “I say, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. If Nigeria could have found them on their own, they would have done so by now.”
Well, it seems like that author was more on point then many people thought.
When Secretary of State John F. Kerry announced early this month that the Obama administration was rushing a team of experts to help Nigerian officials rescue 276 abducted schoolgirls, the hope in Washington was that Nigerians would react with gratitude and energetic cooperation.
Instead, the U.S. assistance mission here — cloaked in secrecy and producing only vague hints of progress after six weeks of joint efforts to find and free the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants — has produced a more ambivalent and critical response.
One reason is the strong patriotic pride among citizens of this independent, oil-rich nation with a large professional security force that President Goodluck Jonathan said Thursday he had ordered to carry out a “full-scale operation” against the militants. While there is appreciation for the U.S. help, there is also resentment of what some Nigerian commentators call “neocolonial” meddling.
It also doesn’t help when U.S. officials who have nothing directly to do with the current crisis openly diss the Nigerian leadership. One is Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose sarcastic remark about Nigeria having a “practically nonexistent government” hit a deep nerve.
Another sticking point in U.S.-Nigeria relations are the recurrent reports of abuses by Nigeria’s security forces
This comes of news of the deaths of hundreds of Boko Haram detainees. Congress has banned all direct military aid to foreign forces with abusive records.
John Campbell, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria suggested that “very, very few units” of the Nigerian army could pass that test today. One reason for the Nigerians’ defensive reaction to U.S. help in locating the girls “is that U.S. assistance always requires degrees of accountability, which the Nigerians don’t like,” he said.
Until recently, experts said, U.S. officials also tended to focus on Nigeria’s democratic progress and overlook its military abuses. By the same token, Washington did not put Boko Haram on its list of terrorist groups until last year, allowing Nigerian critics to decry its sudden policy change as a matter of self-interest.
The absence of concrete information about the U.S. anti-terror role here has fueled warnings about an American “occupation.” Photos of U.S. drones participating in the aerial search for the missing girls and their captors have added to speculation about foreign spying.
Such skepticism about U.S. involvement contrasts notably with the Nigeria’s strong appeal for cooperation from its neighbors to combat the spread of terrorism.
At a meeting in Paris in early May, Jonathan begged for their help, saying Boko Haram had become “an al-Qaeda of West Africa.”
The response was overwhelmingly positive, with the presidents of next-door Chad and Cameroon committing themselves to an all-out “war on Boko Haram.” It remains to be seen whether such statements will lead to concrete actions, but Nigerians seem convinced that regional cooperation is both more urgent and welcome then Western help in combatting terrorism.
“If we as a region don’t come together to meet this challenge,” said Ike Ekweremadu, a Nigerian senator and official of the Economic Commission of West African States, in a TV interview Monday, Islamist militancy “will spread like a cancer and consume all of us.”
The views expressed are that solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect WHUR or Howard University.
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