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“Stop blaming me for Chibok,” says Nigerian president

The American PR firm hired by Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan to “manage” the story of the Chibok girls’ kidnapping have released their first major statement. It makes for shameful reading.

The American PR firm hired by the Nigerian Government last month at a reported cost of $1.2 million to handle the fallout from Boko Haram’s kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls recently published their response to the criticism the president has come under since April 15th when the girls were kidnapped by the Islamic terrorist group.

Titled “Nigeria’s offensive against Boko Haram”, and written by one Reuben Abati, President Goodluck Jonathan’s spokesman and special adviser for media and publicity, it is essentially an unashamed attempt to deflect criticism not from the Nigerian government and its security service as a whole, but from the president himself, Goodluck Jonathan.

Reuben writes that, “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.”

This is a ploy much beloved of governments under fire. UK governments, for instance, do it all the time. Two, three years into office you will still hear their Prime Minister trying to hoodwink dissatisfied citizens by saying things like: Don’t blame us for the country being in a mess; we inherited the problems from the last government and have been battling tirelessly on your behalf to clean up the mess.” Apparently, Goodluck Jonathan and his PR firm are hoping Nigerians will be gullible enough to let this pass unchallenged. Quite unlikely now that everyone knows security forces failed to act on advance warnings about Boko Haram’s raid on the school in Chibok.

If, on taking office in 2010, the president was fully aware that Boko Haram had by then grown into a big menace and a full-scale terrorist movement, why didn’t he make neutralising this threat a priority of his government?

As proof that the president has in fact been doing something besides sitting on his hands, Reuben Abati points to the state of emergency declared in May last year by the administration in the three most affected states.

What Mr. Abati fails to mention is that civilians had almost as much to fear from Nigerian security forces following the state of emergency as they did from Boko Haram. There were several reports of human rights violations and extra-judicial killings by Nigerian security forces following the state of emergency, and not all of those who died, were tortured or disappeared were Boko Haram members. Of course, despite all attempts to safeguard the lives of regular people, innocent people sometimes get killed when a government’s security force attacks a terrorist cell, but Amnesty International had released a report in 2012 cataloguing the atrocities of Nigeria’s security forces.

People gather at the scene of a car bombing that rocked a crowded Market in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri on the 1st of July. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
People gather at the scene of a car bombing that rocked a crowded Market in the Nigerian city of Maiduguri on the 1st of July. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

By the time the president declared this state of emergency, the government had effectively lost control of a part of the country. “Already, some northern parts of Borno state have been taken over by groups whose allegiance are to different flags than Nigeria’s,” were Jonathan’s words at the time, an embarrassing admission for a government that, in Mr. Abati’s words, knew how big a menace Boko Haram was three years earlier.

What Mr. Abati also failed to mention is that instead of visiting Chibok immediately to talk to the families of the kidnapped girls, reassure other residents that the government was on top of the situation and calm the nerves of a very anxious populace, Goodluck Jonathan flew to Kano state where he held a campaign-style event at which he mocked his political opponents.

One full month after the kidnappings, the president had still not shown up in Chibok. A planned visit was then cancelled, prompting Allen Manasseh, whose sister, Maryamu Wavi, was one of the abducted girls, to say, “You begin to question what could be more important to the president than the lives of these students.”

Everyone remembers the damage done to George Bush’s presidency when he failed to visit the Katrina-struck region of New Orleans until four days after the hurricane. A four-day delay was all it took. That and the overall poor handling of that disaster effectively erased any last shred of credibility he had as an effective decision maker. One month after the kidnappings and no sign of the Nigerian president. The administration initially tried to explain away this failure to appear by claiming such a visit would have been a security risk, but the president, responding to a question by a journalist during the Africa Security Summit in Paris, in May this year, let slip the real reason he hadn’t bothered to show up in Chibok.

Apparently, in the president’s mind, such a visit would have made no difference to the girls’ rescue.

Nigerians have complained for years about the detachment of politicians and senior government officials from the people they are elected to serve, and this was further proof. It also suggests the president is of the opinion that Nigerians are so stupid that they expect him to find and rescue the Chibok girls himself. That’s not what people mean by “leading by example.” No one expected George Bush to personally go after those responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

Even before this latest show of cluelessness, anyone wiling to give the president the benefit of the doubt would have given up a couple of months ago when, misunderstanding the criticism of Nigerians, Goodluck Jonathan told protesters to direct their protest to Boko Haram terrorists and not the government, and that the protesters should learn from the citizens of other countries who do not blame their governments for terrorist acts.

The president of any other country would have handed in his resignation even before the Chibok schoolgirls were kidnapped. In April this year, following criticisms of his government’s response to a ferry disaster which claimed the lives of more than 300 people, the South Korean prime minister, Chung Hong-won resigned. Boko Haram has killed many thousands since launching an uprising in 2009, and still the president of Nigeria hangs on. What for? Nigerians know what for.

By Times Magazine political cartoonist, Peter Brookes
By Times Magazine political cartoonist, Peter Brookes

Eyes on the crown
Before the 2011 presidential election, Goodluck Jonathan claimed he had no ambition to contest the 2015 election. It was a smart declaration, because it signalled to voters that should they elect him for just one more term, he would be free to do what was right for the country rather than what was politically advantageous since he wouldn’t have to worry about his re-election chances.

As many expected, Goodluck Jonathan was elected president, but so far this year, there has been no indication that the president intends to vacate the scene this year, and the Nigerian Vanguard explains why once Jonathan does declare his intention to run, the result of the elections is likely to be be a foregone conclusion. Former president Obasanjo’s damning appraisal of Jonathan’s leadership which stated that seeking re-election would be a “morally flawed” decision does not appear to have sunk in.

The PR firm’s “Don’t blame Jonathan” statement suggests next year’s election is what occupies the president right now, not rescuing the Chibok girls or leading the country, which is why you can’t but raise a sceptical eyebrow when you read that items found during the last operation carried out by the military to remove Boko Haram from their forest bases had implicated some politicians and political parties. How many of those “implicated” will turn out to be members of the opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), especially former members of Jonathan’s ruling PDP party who defected to the APC? Will the implicated include some of those who threatened to impeach the president?

Police stand guard during a demonstration in Lagos on May 1 calling on  government to rescue the kidnapped school girls. Photo: Reuters/AP
Police stand guard during a demonstration in Lagos on May 1 calling on government to rescue the kidnapped school girls. Photo: Reuters/AP

How not to waste $1.2 million on PR
This is the second time in less than a month that the Nigerian president has taken to an American newspaper to try to deflect the blame and criticism … On the 26th of June, Goodluck Jonathan penned an Op Ed for The Washington Post in which he talked about how his “heart aches” and how “deeply concerned” he was that his silence was “being misused by partisan critics to suggest inaction or even weakness. My silence has been necessary to avoid compromising the details of our investigation.”

Presidents leading their country at war have been able to communicate with their citizens without compromising security. If president Goodluck Jonathan could not find the words to do the same with respect to what was or wasn’t being done to find and rescue the Chibok girls, that’s an indication of incompetence, not an act of intelligent reticence.

It is not clear why the government’s PR firm chose The Washington Times for their “Don’t blame Jonathan’ defence rather than The Washington Post again. Perhaps it was because the president got burnt by that last Op Ed, which the paper promptly proceeded to satirize by publishing what the president should have written in his Op Ed, all of which still stands. Excerpts:

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 cancelled 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.

Dozens of kidnapped women and girls managed to escape from their captors last week, but three months after the initial Chibok kidnappings, at least 200 of the schoolgirls are still missing.

Below is the timeline of incompetence created by Act4Accountability

#BringBackOurGirls [1200 x 2000]

 

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