by Reuben Abati
The concern that has been expressed over the abduction of more than 200 girls from a secondary school in Nigeria since April 14 is legitimate and understandable. What is not fair, and which stands out in many of the criticisms directed at the Nigerian government, is the attempt to ignore the issues and argue that President Goodluck Jonathan is the problem. This attempt to turn the matter of the abducted girls into a referendum on the Jonathan administration has resulted in a complete misreading of the situation and much deliberate mischief fueled by ignorance and sponsored propaganda.
Take for example, Karen Attiah’s morbid satire, “What Nigerian president should have written” (The Washington Post, July 3). The piece merely repeats worn misconceptions about the Chibok incident and the efforts of the Jonathan administration in Nigeria to find and rescue the abducted girls.
The most popular misconception is the notion that the Jonathan administration has consciously adopted a “do-nothing” strategy, and that the government only responded and considered international partnership necessary after pressure was mounted on it to do something.
The Boko Haram threat dates as far back as 2002. It had become a much bigger menace, and a full-scale terrorist movement, by the time Mr. Jonathan assumed office in 2010. Boko Haram elements and their international allies had carved out enclaves in the northeast of the country. It hoisted their flags and threatened to destabilize the government and impose an Islamic state. During the past four years, Mr. Jonathan has taken proactive steps to combat terrorism on our shores, including military, political and social actions.
In May 2013, a state of emergency was declared in the most affected northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. The state of emergency, lasting six months, has been renewed twice since then, with the full concurrence of the Nigerian parliament.
Nigeria was not acting alone. The military operation involved Nigerian security forces and the Multinational Joint Task Force, set up under the auspices of the Lake Chad Commission with troops contributed by Niger, Nigeria and Chad. Nigeria also shared intelligence and efforts with Cameroon and Benin through the Gulf of Guinea Commission, focusing on piracy, border security and checking the proliferation of small arms and light weapons within the region.
Since 2011, Nigerian security chiefs have met regularly with their counterparts from the four neighboring countries on matters of peace and security. These efforts yielded positive results, notably the decimation of the ranks of the Boko Haram and their restriction to the Sambisa Forest. A Presidential Dialogue committee was set up to pursue the option of a peaceful resolution of the Boko Haram insurgency. Mr. Jonathan also launched a Presidential Initiative for the Northeast, an economic-recovery program. Other steps taken since then include deradicalization programs and the Safe Schools Initiative.
The April 14 abduction of the Chibok girls and subsequent developments marked a turning point in the Boko Haram saga. It was a terrible resurgence of an ongoing challenge, not the beginning.
The assault on schools by terrorists and the threat to turn innocent young girls into sex slaves and prisoners of terrorism is unacceptable. The outrage is understandable. But we must not become so blinded by its horror as to reduce it all to the fault of one man. This is not about the strength or failings of one man. Terrorism is an assault on human rights and our civilization. It requires international cooperation and concerted domestic action.
Mr. Jonathan is fully committed to ensuring that the girls are rescued alive. Yes, it has been more than 80 days since the nightmare began. Americans, Canadians, the British and other friends of Nigeria are all involved in the search, in one form or the other, but unfortunately, with all the technology and intelligence at their disposal, the girls are yet to be found.
Mr. Jonathan is keenly aware of his responsibility for the safety, security and well-being of the Chibok girls and all Nigerians. He wants the girls back like everyone else and is doing everything within his powers to rescue them safely and return them to their distraught parents.
Indeed, in the past several days, we have seen actions speaking louder than any words. Under Mr. Jonathan’s leadership, our military forces have captured the alleged leader of the Boko Haram cell that abducted the girls and have captured or killed of dozens of armed mercenaries responsible for violence and terrorism in the region. The president also welcomes and shares the joy of the parents of the apparent dozens of girls who escaped the Boko Haram thugs.
He is not putting up “appearances.” Yes, of course, he attended the Paris Summit. That summit was helpful in further strengthening existing partnerships with our neighbors.
Mr. Jonathan’s appeal for support and solidarity has brought the Boko Haram challenge to the attention of the world, and galvanized international action. His call for global support and cooperation against Boko Haram certainly doesn’t amount to an abdication of responsibility.
Boko Haram, the political opposition and a section of the local Nigerian media may have turned Jonathan-bashing into a tasteless and unpatriotic sport. It would be sad indeed if the international media were to allow itself to be led by the nose into that game.
Reuben Abati is Senior Special Advisor to President Goodluck Jonathan on Media and Publicity. He wrote this piece for The Washington Times.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.