July 5, 2014
by Karen Attiah
Last month, The Post published an op-ed by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan answering criticism of his response to the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls by the group Boko Haram. This is what he should have written.
I have remained quiet about Nigeria’s continuing efforts to find the girls kidnapped in April from the northern town of Chibok, because, honestly, I hoped the world would ignore it as just another “African tragedy.” But the attention brought by #BringBackOurGirls forced my administration to abandon its usual do-nothing strategy. I admit that for weeks, the Nigerian military was nowhere to be seen in Chibok and aggrieved parents had to resort to venturing into the jungle on foot to search for their children. But I assure everyone, we are doing our best.
I am speaking out now because national elections are in less than a year and my Washington PR firm needs to earn the reported $1.2 million I am paying it to reverse the criticism that has overshadowed all my good intentions.
I wish to assure Nigerians and the international community that, even though my military officially wrapped up its investigation into the kidnappings, without locating the girls, we are sparing no resources. We will keep the findings of the investigations secret, since my good-faith assurances are enough.
My heart aches for the missing children and their families. In fact, my heartache was so painful that I canceled plans to visit Chibok. Instead, I eased my pain by flying to Paris for a national security summit. My first lady, Patience Jonathan, shares in my grief for the families affected by the tragedy. She was so troubled by the agitation of protesters demanding their girls back that she told them to stop their actions and allegedly ordered the police to detain several protest leaders.
While terrorism knows no borders, and security threats rage on across West Africa, Nigeria has long been reluctant to accept counterterrorism assistance from the United States and other partners. Nothing is more important than stopping the machinations of Boko Haram, except maybe my desire to keep up appearances and show the international community that Nigeria was winning the war against the group. I know that I have characterized Boko Haram as a temporary scourge, but in the wake of the latest attacks and kidnappings of more women just this week, I recognize that it has effectively exploited the inability of the Nigerian military to put up any semblance of a sustained coordinated response. But in spite of all the challenges, we are definitely doing our best.
Despite Nigeria’s status as a regional powerhouse with a population of 168 million, until now it had not occurred to me to collaborate with neighboring countries to fight terrorism. I wish to thank French President François Hollande for inviting me and other West African presidents to Paris to discuss this. When it comes to strategizing on African solutions to African problems, a European should take the lead. Besides, I do my best thinking in Paris.
My critics say that decades of neglect have led to conditions amenable to radicalization in the north. My detractors will point also to human rights abuses perpetrated by the military. Let the finger-pointing stop. I am sparing no resources. I propose to set up an international summit to organize a fact-finding commission of investigative inquiry to study the progress of ongoing investigations of corruption and lack of development in the north. I have again asked President Hollande to provide a forum for this in Paris, though I would accept the French Riviera.
Something positive can come out of the kidnappings more than 70 days ago. The world has seen what can happen when terrorism is left to run amok and the citizens of a country have little faith in the ability of their government to protect them. But I wish to assure Nigerians and the rest of the world that I am doing my best.
Karen Attiah works in The Washington Post’s Editorial department.