Perhaps it was too good to be true. And indeed many thought, prayed, and hoped it wouldn’t be.
When the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan announced last week that the government had reached an agreement with the militant Islamist group, Boko Haram, to free the 219 kidnapped schoolgirls, their parents rejoiced.
“We were jubilating. We had every reason to be happy,” Lawan Abana, a parent of the one of the missing girls, told Reuters. This “agreement” even called for a ceasefire. What a feather this would have been in Goodluck’s cap. Right on on the heels of his country beating back the Ebola outbreak.
But in Nigeria, past is always prologue. Jonathan’s government has said in the past that it killed Abubakar Shekau, the group’s leader, only for him to pop up in new videos, taunting the government. So when more gruesome attacks on five towns took place one day later, it just seemed like the government was toying with the parents and the world, who have waited for six months for tangible results of a release.
Jonathan, it seems, cannot tame Boko Haram. The Islamist separatist terror group has wreaked havoc on the Nigerian government with its bombing and kidnapping campaigns. It is probably now the biggest threat to Africa’s largest economy.
Boko Haram has killed thousands in its attempt to create an Islamic state in a country with millions of Christians and others who practice African traditional religions. The militant group is so well armed that Nigerian soldiers have been accused of refusing to fight them, with a large group being charged with mutiny just before the “ceasefire agreement.”
Yet Jonathan never projects a sense of urgency where these girls are concerned, rarely acknowledging the worldwide #bringbackourgirls campaign. After all, it took him three months and the urging of activist Malala Yousafzai to even meet with the parents. Would this have been his response if those children were of his ilk? Children of his friends? Or his coterie of ministers?
Since Jonathan never made it to Chibok, where the abduction happened, it’s not hard to surmise he’s ceded the territory to Boko Haram. A release now would have been perfect, making him a winner, projecting the strength and resolve he can’t seem to muster—particularly after six months in captivity, and just before he’s expected to formally announce he’ll seek another term at Aso Rock, the Nigerian seat of government in February 2015 when the elections are scheduled. It would be his moment to shine bright in the eyes of the world.
Others who seek the presidency can lay the failures of resolving the Boko Haram crisis firm at his feet. He has, after all, failed to protect the citizenry in northeast Nigeria and the girls remain captive. But right after Saturday’s attacks, doubt began to set in. The alleged negotiator for Boko Haram was dubbed an imposter. And by the one person who could know.
Ahmed Salkida, a journalist who once shared a cell with Boko Haram’s founder Mohammed Yusuf and has been close to the group, set the Twitter world afire when he pooh-poohed the agreement in a series of tweets over the weekend.
Salkida now lives in Dubai, but he’s rarely been discredited on Boko Haram information.
Jonathan can still pull off an October surprise though. Without fanfare or announcements, he can and should do whatever it takes to recover those abducted—then return the boys and the girls to their families—and then blow his own trumpet.