Nigeria and U.S. are Wary Partners in Search for Kidnapped Girls

Nigeria distrusts U.S. efforts to help fight terror, while the Americans are frustrated by Ni­gerian military abuses. (Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images)
Nigeria distrusts U.S. efforts to help fight terror, while the Americans are frustrated by Ni­gerian military abuses. (Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images)

When Secretary of State John F. Kerry announced early this month that the Obama administration was rushing a team of experts to help Nigerian officials rescue 276 abducted schoolgirls, the hope in Washington was that Nigerians would react with gratitude and energetic cooperation.

Instead, the U.S. assistance mission here — cloaked in secrecy and producing only vague hints of progress after six weeks of joint efforts to find and free the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants — has produced a more ambivalent and critical response.

One reason is the strong patriotic pride among citizens of this independent, oil-rich nation with a large professional security force that President Goodluck Jonathan said Thursday he had ordered to carry out a “full-scale operation” against the militants. While there is appreciation for the U.S. help, there is also resentment of what some Ni­ger­ian commentators call “neocolonial” meddling.

“Part of it is national pride, perhaps one should say national vanity,” said John Campbell, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Particular umbrage has been directed at comments by two U.S. officials who have nothing directly to do with the current crisis. One is Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose sarcastic remark about Nigeria having a “practically nonexistent government” hit a deep nerve.

“Let no Nigerian be fooled by these so-called friends who have ulterior motives,” read a two-page ad in last Sunday’s newspapers, signed by Muhammadu Mamman. Excoriating McCain as an ignorant “war-monger” with no knowledge of Nigeria’s proud past, he asserted that “only the Nigerian gallant forces can bring the girls back.”

The second target is former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is criticized here both for having failed to designate Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization and for making unflattering comments characterizing Ni­ger­ian leaders as corrupt and indifferent to people’s suffering.

Nigerian opposition leaders make the same criticisms. They say that despite the establishment of democracy in 1999 after years of military rule, a mix of official corruption and negligence has abetted the rise of Islamist extremism in the impoverished Muslim north.

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SOURCE: Pamela Constable and Karen DeYoung 
The Washington Post

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