Goodluck Jonathan's Slow Motion Response to an Appalling Crisis
By Stephen Hayes - Associated Press
The kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls, followed by the announcement by the leader of Boko Haram – the terrorist group which has claimed responsibility for taking them – that the girls are to be either sold or forced into slavery is beyond appalling. It amounts to mass rape. It also does no honor to Islam. Although child marriage may be permitted under Islam, certainly kidnapping and rape is not. It is primitive and barbaric that deserves the strongest condemnation of the entire world.
According to news reports, more than 300 school teenage schoolgirls were kidnapped from their school in a remote section of northeastern Nigeria last April 15.
The mass kidnapping and the response by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan's administration may determine the future of his tenure and who is to succeed him. So far, the political leadership has handled the situation poorly. The question that hangs over the whole matter is how could more than 300 girls be kidnapped en masse and no one seems to know where any of them are? The president of Nigeria has admitted publicly he has no idea where the girls are, and only now has he begun to ask for outside help in finding the girls.
The whole matter raises many other questions, including why few, if any, of the northern governors, most of them in opposition to the Jonathan administration, have publicly been of assistance. One hopes that some have been quietly working with helping in the search. Nigerian politics, like those of many countries, are especially complicated. The northern governors, nearly all of them Islamic, believe that Jonathan has twice broken a political understanding that the ruling People's Democratic Party has that the presidency rotate between the north (mostly Islamic) and south (mostly Christian). Jonathan is a southerner who assumed the presidency in 2010 when his northern predecessor fell ill and died. Some northern factions believed Jonathan violated the agreement by standing for election to a full term in 2011 and then did so again by announcing that he will seek re-election. There may be no sense of urgency by the governors of the north to help Jonathan out of this. That they seem to know as little as Jonathan about the girls also raises questions about the connection between the rulers and the ruled, as well as the threat from Boko Haram that some may feel.
The Nigerian Government has also been slow in reacting to the crisis because much of their focus on Boko Haram has been a defensive one, aimed at protecting those participating in the upcoming World Economic Forum, to be held in Abuja this week. Several hundred of Africa’s top business leaders, along with various other representatives of Western governments and businesses are planning to be in Abuja for the group's annual Africa Forum. The forum’s presence in Abuja was to be a major feather in Jonathan's cap, and a showpiece of Nigeria for global business. Ironically, now the forum finds itself in a very awkward position of doing business as usual in the face of one of the most serious political crises in Nigeria since the Biafran Civil War. Yet, it is almost impossible for the group to cancel the forum, given that this program is a major part of their overall master plan for Africa. To cancel the forum would also be an enormous vote of no confidence in Nigeria’s ability to manage its most serious problems. The fact that the bulk of Nigerian security has focused on this meeting of the economic elite and not on the search for the schoolgirls has not gone unnoticed in Nigeria and elsewhere, as is underscored by demonstrations in New York and Washington.
How the Nigerian government handles these next 10 days may be not only the most important to Jonathan but to those that follow him.