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Seven weeks after militants kidnapped almost 300 girls in Northern Nigeria, the Nigerian military is claiming to have located them, but the next steps are unclear. At least four countries, including the United States, have provided military assistance to Nigeria in recent weeks, but human rights advocates note the problematic track record of the Nigerian military. We get an update.
- EJ Hogendoorn Deputy Program Director for Africa, International Crisis Group
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, money and migrants from China are creating a new dynamic in Africa. But first, seven weeks after militants kidnapped nearly 300 school girls in northern Nigeria, the Nigerian military is claiming they've located them. At least four countries, including the United States, have joined the hunt for the girls.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut many observers and human rights advocates are raising concerns about assistance to a military with a questionable human rights record. Joining us to discuss this is EJ Hogendoorn. He is deputy program director for Africa at the International Crisis Group. EJ, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. EJ HOGENDOORNMy pleasure.
NNAMDIWhat do you make of the latest update that the military now knows where the girls are?
HOGENDOORNWell, I treat with a bit of skepticism. As you probably well know, the military has made a lot of claims over the past couple of weeks about this fiasco and I don't know if it's true or not. I suspect that they probably know where some of the girls are. I doubt that they know where all the girls are, because we don't think that they are all based in one location anymore.
NNAMDIAny idea why the military would be making what some would consider these grandiose claims?
HOGENDOORNWell, I think that they're under a lot of pressure both by Nigerian civil society and the executive to show that they're actually doing something about this problem.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. Do you think the U.S. should be involved militarily in rescuing the kidnapped Nigerian girls? 800-433-8850. Or you can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. EJ, you say there's likely no military solution to address this.
HOGENDOORNWell, what is really driving people to join Boko Haram and what makes people so much sympathetic to Boko Haram's call for reform is that the Nigerian State has suffered for decades from systemic, chronic corruption, bad governance and underdevelopment. And because there are so many desperate people, particularly in the northeast of Nigeria, there is a ready pool of radicalized youth that are joining groups like Boko Haram.
NNAMDISo it's difficult to isolate Boko Haram in that situation and simply go in militarily and extricate those girls without causing harm to a great number of other people?
HOGENDOORNWell, certainly that's what we think. I also believe that if, in case -- or if, in fact, it's true that the girls have been divided into separate groups, we really run the risk that if there is a rescue attempt, that the other girls could be threatened or harmed. Unfortunately, Boko Haram does have a number of different factions. The most prominent one is a group called Ansaru. And they actually killed some of their hostages in an attempt to try to prevent the military freeing of those kidnapped individuals.
NNAMDIRemind us, what does Boko Haram want?
HOGENDOORNWell, Boko Haram initially at least wanted a fundamental reform of the Nigerian State. When they were founded in 2002 by their then leader, Mohammed Yusuf, they were essentially calling for full implementation of Sharia and essentially government by what they considered to be good Muslims. So essentially what they wanted was reform of the Nigerian State. Since then, they have really morphed in very obscure ways. And it's difficult to tell whether they have a coherent political strategy any more.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we are talking about the kidnapped Nigerian girls and the claim by the Nigerian military that it has located the girls. Our guest is EJ Hogendoorn, deputy program director for Africa for the International Crisis Group. And we're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Or you can send email to email@example.com. Or send us a tweet @kojoshow. You point out, EJ, that this kidnapping was likely an effort to release, or to secure the release of some of Boko Haram's members.
HOGENDOORNYes. Basically since 2009 and the initial crackdown on the group, Boko Haram has consistently demanded the release, particularly of family members of Boko Haram members, but also of Boko Haram leaders themselves who have been incarcerated for a number of years by the Nigerian Security Services.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. What do you think the international community should be doing to rescue Nigeria's kidnapped girls. Before we talk about the military, here is Gary in Sterling, Va. Gary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GARYThank you. I'm curious about corporate irresponsibility, like in the management of the oil in Nigeria. Because it wasn't so many years ago that a Nobel Prize winner was hung over there. And Saro-Wiwa, I believe was his name.
NNAMDIKen Saro-Wiwa, yeah.
GARYAnd, you know, it's like the corporations just been trashing those people and using bribery to get around and conduct all of their business.
NNAMDIWhat role do you think the corporations can play in the current situation?
GARYYeah, that's essentially my question. You know, they're not putting out the, you know, they're taking all the profits and, you know, passing off the pain.
NNAMDIWell, I don't know if there's any role that the corporations themselves can play in this situation, even though they are presumably influential in some government circles. What we're dealing with here, Gary, is more the military, which is what tends to complicate this matter a little bit, EJ. Can you give us a little bit of background on the Nigerian military and its human rights record?
HOGENDOORNWell, unfortunately, the Nigerian military does have a relatively bad human rights record. It's been involved in a number of excesses, particularly in the northeast states over the last couple of years. They have been fairly aggressive in combating Boko Haram and have oftentimes asked few questions about whether or not people they sweep up are members or not.
NNAMDIThe Nigerian military has been in and out of power for the 54 years since Nigeria's independence. By my count, 29 of those years were spent under military rule. Is there a relationship between the military government and the endemic corruption that so many people have cited as a problem in Nigeria?
HOGENDOORNWell, certainly the military governments were corrupt as well. But I think most Nigeria observers would argue that since the return of civilian rule, corruption has grown in fact. And surprisingly or not, but there are a number of Nigerian people that I have at least spoken to, who look fondly back to that time when things ran a little bit better.
HOGENDOORNThat said, most people also think that we are not in the same place in Nigeria as we were 20, 30 years ago, when coups were relatively frequent occurrences. It seems that there is much more civilian control over the military. But unfortunately what that also means is that the Nigerian military is not as capable as it has been in the past.
NNAMDIThe Nigerian government was criticized because it was known that the girls were being targeted apparently. But responding to that threat before it happened may not have been as easy as one would think.
HOGENDOORNWell, that's the real challenge. I mean, essentially we're talking about a huge, underdeveloped area, with very bad roads, dilapidated infrastructure. It is very, very difficult for people, let along the military, to move around. Basically the three states that comprise the epicenter of the Boko Haram insurgency are as large as Syria, larger than the State of New York -- I'm sorry, of and California. And essentially this is a problem of numbers. The Nigerian military simply doesn't have enough people to manage this problem by themselves.
NNAMDITell us a little bit about the American military support. How is the U.S. military involved at this point?
HOGENDOORNWell, at the moment, as far as we can tell from what we've seen, the U.S. has sent 80 personnel to Chad to help operate drones and other intelligence equipment that is supposed to help coordinate the intelligence-gathering efforts on behalf of the Nigerian military. I understand that they're also trying to provide some coordinating and facilitating roles, vis-à-vis other neighboring states, which are also suffering to some degree from the Boko Haram insurgency.
HOGENDOORNBut that is, at the moment, the extent of it. There is a certain amount of training going on, but because of the Nigerian military's questionable human rights record, it's been very difficult for the United States to give direct assistance to the Nigerian army.
NNAMDIYou know, that although they have little faith in the Nigerian military, Nigerians have mixed feelings about the U.S. military presence.
HOGENDOORNWell, I think that, in general, it'd be fair to say that the Nigerians would be grateful for any assistance the U.S. and other Western allies could give in locating these girls and getting them freed. That said, I think many Nigerians would be very, very nervous about any kind of permanent U.S. security presence either in Nigeria or the region as a whole.
NNAMDIOn to Larissa in Washington D.C. Larissa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LARISSAHi, thank you for taking my call. I'm surprised that we, you know, we try to fix other countries' problems all the time, when we cannot fix our problems. Why?
NNAMDIWell, you may want to have EJ Hogendoorn talk a little bit about why Nigeria is important to the U.S. -- why it might be important strategically and otherwise.
HOGENDOORNWell, Nigeria is a hugely important country in Africa. It is also one of the United States' major energy suppliers. And in that sense, the U.S. government and other international partners are very, very concerned about stability in Nigeria. Were things to go south in Nigeria, it could potentially destabilize all of West Africa, with huge consequences for the U.S. business interests and also for humanitarian concerns.
NNAMDIDoes that answer your question, Larissa?
LARISSAWell, not really. Not really.
NNAMDIBut it does give one indication of why the U.S. might be interested in trying to do something or giving the appearance of trying to do something. How problematic is the Nigerian military's human rights record for the U.S., EJ?
HOGENDOORNWell, it's very problematic. As you've discussed, there have been a number of incidents that were very problematic and have raised real concerns about the Nigerian military's ability to conduct this war in a -- in a legal manner. That prevents the United States government from then providing direct assistance to the military. There's something called the Leahy provision under the U.S. Statutes, that essentially prohibits the U.S. from giving military assistance to units that have not been vetted for human rights concerns.
NNAMDIThis is an issue. This kidnapping has attracted attention, concern all over the world. But from what you have just described, what does this all mean for all of those people around the world in general and the Nigerian people in particular? There seems to be nowhere to turn for them.
HOGENDOORNWell, it's a huge challenge for Nigeria. I mean, the kidnapping to some degree has hit the media radar like a tsunami. That said, there have been numerous incidents of atrocities committed by Boko Haram -- you know, the burning of students in their dormitories in the past, you know, targeting of villages just because they are accused of being -- collaborating with the Nigerian State. So this is just a litany of abusive practices. The real challenge is that the Nigerian military is not in a position to combat this problem by itself. And even it's not in a position to combat this problem with the assistance of other partners.
HOGENDOORNWhat needs to happen is fundamental reforms need to be enacted by the Nigerian government. And whether or not political leads have the political will to do so really remains in question.
NNAMDIFinally, what about the regional dynamic? How is that playing out? What support or what difficulties does Nigeria encounter in neighboring countries?
HOGENDOORNWell, that's a really interesting question. Basically, Boko Haram recruits most of its people from a community called the Konori that lives not just in northeastern Nigeria but also in Cameroon and Niger. Because of those family ties, Boko Haram members are easily able to move across these porous borders and essentially have safe havens in Cameroon and Niger and been able to escape the clutches of the Nigerian army.
HOGENDOORNIt makes it very difficult for the Nigerian army to combat this problem unless there is greater regional cooperation. And of course, those neighboring states are somewhat nervous about allowing the Nigerian military to operate in their areas as well.
NNAMDIE. J. Hogendoorn is deputy program director for Africa for the International Crisis Group. Thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, how money and migrants from China might be creating a new dynamic in Africa. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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