In the northern states of Nigeria, a war has been raging. A local militant group, known as Boko Haram, has been instigating political and sectarian attacks since 2010. Born out of anger over western teaching institutions, it quickly fomented into a radical Islamic group that would only speak Arabic, and attacked local Muslims and Christians over their lack of conviction.
Murders, pillaging and assassinations have ranked high on their preferred method of terror. However, it seems their most recent assaults have finally caught the global eye. On April 14th, the abduction of 276 schoolgirls in the northern province of Borno has finally spilled these events over past the edges of the north, and into the international news.
Nigeria has the largest economy in Africa and has been undergoing huge redevelopment projects in Lagos and Abuja. Attracting foreign investors and keeping them interested meant playing down the country’s instability up north. As a result, Boko Haram has gone on a spree of violence and repression while many in Nigeria feel the government has turned a blind eye.
The President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, who didn’t respond to the plight of these girls until international press swooped in, assured his country that they would do everything possible to find them, including dispatching troops with helicopters and airplanes.
However, the government’s response has been futile, and news of eight new girls kidnapped this week spurred anger in the capital. Women in Abuja took to the streets protesting the lack of response by the government.
It was then that the wife of President Goodluck Jonathan, Patience Jonathan decided she’d had enough. Not against the terrorist group that had plagued her country for years, but she had grown weary of those complaining about it. In a statement she was quoted as saying, “If you demonstrate and police do you anything, you are on your own. Borno women are playing game. Nigerian women should not go out for demonstration. Don’t use school children for demonstration again. Borno women are not ready for cooperation.”
This comes after a statement where she accused the wife of the governor in Borno State of simply ‘not caring’ when she failed to attend a meeting which included a number of police, the commissioner of women’s affairs, and several principals of local schools. Because the wife of the governor didn’t show up, Mrs. Jonathan broke down in tears and concluded that Borno women are playing games and must not care.
It was under this guise that the leader of the #BringBackOurGirls protests, Naomi Mutah Nyadar, was arrested and detained in the capital. Crowds swelled around the police station as demonstrators demanded her release. She was whisked away to another detention center before being released a few hours later. Associated Press reported that the First Lady of Nigeria was behind the arrest of Ms. Nyadar.
This sort of political pandering and hijacking of agendas is rampant in Nigerian politics, and very few within the country are falling for it. Messages poured in condemning Mrs. Jonathan’s ‘crocodile tears’ while others dubbed her ‘Mrs. Confusion.’ “This calls for a bigger protest by every well meaning Nigerian,” declared one man in Lagos.
Meanwhile, a videotape has emerged of a man claiming to be selling these girls. During the hour long video he rambles on about Allah convincing him to sell the girls, repeating several times he is going to sell them all into marriage. Although the mental health of the man in the video is clearly questionable, and there is no proof he has the girls in the first place, it has still caused a stir in governments worldwide.
The United States will be aiding Nigeria in their search for the missing schoolgirls as the world waits to hear of their fate. However, the political stage in Abuja is now shakier than ever. Anger is pouring over into the streets as Nigerians wonder why the government is fighting them on this issue. The movement to bring back Nigeria’s kidnapped schoolgirls is the last thing you’d expect to bring divisive political squabbling, and yet somehow it’s become a point of contention of north vs. south and Borno vs. the government.
One thing is clear: the world is watching and waiting. And if the government of Nigeria fails the international audience now, their future within the country’s power structure is in jeopardy.