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  January 13, 2015

Making Sense of Boko Haram Attacks on Nigerian Civilians (2/2)

The Nigerian government's requests for assistance in fighting Boko Haram is ignored by the international community, says Nii Akuetteh
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Nii Akuetteh is an independent analyst of African & international affairs, seen regularly on Al Jazeera and many other global TV outlets and published frequently, especially by Pambazuka News. He is the former Executive Director of Africa Action, and he was a professor of African Studies at Georgetown University.


SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

I'm in conversation with Nii Akuetteh. He is a independent analyst of African and international affairs. He's also the former executive director of Africa Action, an adjunct professor in African studies at Georgetown University.

Thank you again for joining us, Nii.


PERIES: Nii, so, in our earlier segment, we were talking about the U.S. policy towards Boko Haram and Nigeria, as well as the response of the international community in relation to these attacks. Can you tell us more about that?

AKUETTEH: Absolutely. First and foremost, of course, Boko Haram, by all accounts, arose out of Nigeria. Their concerns were, they claim, with Nigeria. So I want to say that the central responsibility lies in Nigeria. They spilled over the borders into Chad and Cameroon, and even sometimes Niger. So first it is a Nigerian issue. Second it is a West African issue. I don't want to forget that. But I also think it is an international and a global issue. And they've been around for five years.

And I do think, as an activist in Washington, where my focus is: to look at developments between Africa and the United States and how the world treats Africa. I have been unhappy because I don't think the United States in particular and the international community in general have paid the proper kind of attention to helping Nigeria deal with this serious extremist, violent extremist insurgency.

There are so many angles at which you can come at this from. Here is one. You know President Obama went to West Point, and he actually said that for the rest of his term, of course global terrorism was his number-one security issue. And his strategy for that, because it is clear to him the American people don't want him to send U.S. troops overseas massively like Bush did, so he said, look, my strategy is to help and train other countries' soldiers so that they can defeat the terrorists who are our enemies and their enemies. This is a partnership.

And he mentioned five countries. All of them were in Africa. So even if you are focused on just American interests and security interest in a hard-nosed way, it is in U.S. interest to be helping African countries to deal with these issues. And the issue is very serious in Nigeria. And yet I feel that U.S. policy has been nonchalant. And all you have to do is compare the attention and the resources and the discussion focused on ISIS, which has been a problem less than--has been in the news less than one year. Boko Haram has been in the news and has been killing Nigerians for five years. And therefore I do feel that the international community has put--once again, this for me is a pattern of decades. African issues are not treated with the importance that they deserve, and Boko Haram and Nigeria are a big issue.

One other example. This past week, everybody was focused on the attacks in Paris, which were horrendous. Seventy innocent people were killed. You know, thousands have been killed in Nigeria. We haven't seen that kind of media focus, we haven't seen that kind of international focus. So, again, it is a Nigeria problem, it is a West Africa problem, it is an African problem, but it is also very much a global problem. And I see that the global community, I am convinced, has a double standard.

PERIES: Right. Nii, what is the regional media doing in terms of covering this issue? Do you feel that it's getting deeper analysis there?

AKUETTEH: It is getting some. It certainly--they certainly cover it more than the international community. On the other hand, none of the countries in Africa, in the region, none of the media organizations has the resources that mention American news media hub. And so they can only--the African media can only do this much, and, therefore, if you rely just on them, you don't get enough of it. You don't get enough.

So, again, because I'm based in Washington, a lot of times what I'm looking at, I do it comparatively: how much attention is being paid to, say, ISIS versus how much is being paid to Boko Haram. And, again, I'm unhappy. It's not just government policy; it is also lack of media attention.

PERIES: Right. And what is the response of the Nigerian government to what is going on? I mean, obviously there is a sort of a military response, which is evident in the attacks. But what is sort of the official response in terms of coping with the situation currently?

AKUETTEH: I think that is a great question, because it goes even to the heart of what we were just talking about, the attitude of the international community.

So there are two sides to this, to the answer that you are looking for. If you focus on what the Nigeria authorities say, they say they are doing their best, they take the issues seriously, they are doing their best. However, Nigeria in some ways is pretty divided. You can look at that as a vigorous democracy, because the ruling party and the president gets criticized all the time, so there are a lot of Nigerians who say the government is not doing the right thing. You know, you hear this phrase all the time: it lacks political will, it doesn't care about the North, it's not addressing the issue.

By the way, Nigeria has very important general and presidential elections in exactly one month, and therefore these arguments and issues have become part of the political process. So the government says it is doing its best. There are Nigerians who say, no, the government is not doing what it should have, and it has allowed the problem fester too long. And then, of course, as I was saying, I'm unhappy with the international community's engagement. I don't think they are treating it seriously. But their argument is: we are frustrated with the government. Of course they will tell you this privately. [incompr.] They don't think the Nigerian government is doing a good enough job. So until it does a good enough job, their hands are tied.

I disagree with that analysis, because, again, I think if you look in the Middle East, if you look at, say, the government of Iraq, the U.S. takes ISIS seriously and says, we are going to help you, we are going to do everything we can. They even forced Prime Minister Maliki out. They helped them build their military. The kind of help that they are giving Nigeria is miniscule compared to that. And there was one incident. In fact, U.S. relations with Nigeria right now, in my opinion, are wobbly, because the Nigerians are not happy. They asked the United States to sell them helicopters with which to fight Boko Haram, and the United States refused.

Now, again, I mean, I'm a democracy activist. So I embrace democracy and respect for human rights. But in the middle of the war, when Boko Haram abuses rights far more than anybody can think of--certainly they abuse rights more than than the Nigerian military--it seems to me that the international community in general and U.S. in particular ought to give the Nigerians the help they need so they can defeat this insurgency before it spreads further, because right now it's in three countries. West Africa is very fragile. If it gets into--it could get into Central African Republic and then South Sudan, it could get West into Mali. And so you've got all of the northern half of Africa actually threatened by this problem. So, again, I come back to my point that I wish the international community would stop quibbling and give Nigerians and West Africans the help they need to defeat this problem, because it is a very serious problem.

PERIES: And, Nii, finally, what are, I guess, the character and the makeup of Boko Haram that the Nigerian government has to understand in order to tackle it?

AKUETTEH: It seems to me that there is a bit of a speculation as to who is behind them or who is funding them, where is their money coming from, where their arms coming from. So in many ways they are shadowy. But we do know that they've been recruiting. Obviously, they have money, they have won most of the engaged battles, although their modus operandum is to use suicide bombers. But they also do sometimes attack the military. And they win the battles and their claims that they are better armed than the Nigeria military. And therefore the question about exactly who they are and who's funding them is a little bit murky.

And this is one of the other issues where I think the community can do better, because, as you mentioned in the intro, back in April--this was, what, nine months ago--after four years, they kidnapped so many girls and it became an international issue. The United States stepped forward, Great Britain stepped forward, France stepped forward, Israel stepped forward, I think even China stepped forward, and said, okay, enough is enough. These five major international military powers said they were going to help the Nigerians. This was back nine months ago. And we don't see any result. The Nigerians complained that these international powers, who actually have intelligence capabilities so they can find out where their money is coming from, who these people are, where the arms is coming from, the Nigerians claim, complain that the intelligence is not being shared with them. So we ask the question: what is the cooperation? If we are not sharing intelligence and if you won't sell them military equipment to fight what is a serious problem, again, it looks very different than the situation with fighting ISIS.

PERIES: Right. Nii, I thank you so much for joining us and explaining all of this to us. It's all new unravelings.

AKUETTEH: Thank you.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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