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Published On: Tue, May 13th, 2014

Boko Haram: French offer tempting but…

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President Francois HollandeFrance has offered to host an African security summit to focus on the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria. Our neighbours in the Lake Chad Commission – Niger, Chad and Cameroun – will be the other African participants. From Europe will be the host, the European Union and the United Kingdom. From the Americas will be the United States.

French President, Mr. Francois Hollande, spoke to the BBC about the summit while on a visit to Azerbaijan on Sunday. He said he had mentioned the idea to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in a telephone conversation and that if the Nigerian leader found it agreeable the meeting should kick off this Saturday.“I suggested, with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, a meeting of Nigeria’s neighbouring countries…If the countries agree, it should take place next Saturday.” He did not say whether President Jonathan was enthusiastic about his suggestion. And no word as yet has come from his office.

It is recalled that France is one of several countries that in the last one week have pledged assistance to Nigeria in the search for over 200 schoolgirls abducted from their school at Chibok in Borno state by Boko Haram since April 15. Earlier this week the sect released a video in which it claimed responsibility for the abductions and threatened to sell them into slavery. And on Monday, it released another video, this time, of some of the girls in hijab and seated in the sand. The US, Canada, UK and China have also joined in the international search for the missing girls. This international solidarity against the sect has been galvanized by a viral hashtag BringBackOurGirls campaign involving several world presidents and their spouses. On Saturday, President Barack Obama surrendered his weekly weekend address to the American people to his wife Michelle who used it to launch a global campaign to free the Nigerian schoolgirls.

We thank those world leaders who have stepped up to the plate at a time when our government has been hopelessly clueless as to what to do to free the girls. After three weeks without any concrete plan by the Jonathan presidency for the girls’ rescue, former Republican presidential candidate, Senator George McCain, urged President Obama to seize the initiative since there did not appear to be a government in Nigeria. Typically cynical of American politicians, but McCain was right this time because if there were a government, it failed to act when it was expected to.

We welcome the decision of those sympathetic governments to limit their assistance to the involvement of technical experts in intelligence gathering, satellite imaging and hostage negotiaton. There will be no troop deployment on the ground because it is a sensitive issue for both countries offering help and Nigeria that needs it. It is for this same reason that we say, though the French suggestion of an African summit on Boko Haram is welcome, it should hold not too far from the countries in the eye of the storm. In other words, it should be strictly a West African affair, with France and the other western countries coming in as observers/advisers.

There is already a structure on the ground in the form of the Lake Chad Commission comprising Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroun. The summit can hold in any of these countries. It is they that know where the shoe pinches.


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