Conflict & Justice

Nigeria is embarrassed by more kidnappings on the eve of hosting the World Economic Forum

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REUTERS: Akintunde Akinleye

A woman holds a sign during a protest demanding the release of abducted school girls from the remote village of Chibok in northeast Nigeria.

When business and government leaders gather in Abuja, Nigeria May 7-9, they will be in the middle of a crisis that threatens to undermine the government of President Goodluck Jonathan.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

The capital city and other outlying areas are under tight security following bomb blasts by the Islamist militant group, Boko Haram. The group also said it was behind the kidnappings three weeks ago of more than 300 school girls, aged 12 - 15, from their school in the northeastern part of the country bordering Chad, Cameroon, and Niger. 

It's a part of the country that looks like west Texas, said John Campbell, former US ambassador to Nigeria. 

"It’s not a desert but it's dry and there's a lot of scrub and there are mountains," Ambassador Campbell says. "And to me, this is extremely puzzling. How do you hide more than 200 girls?" 

The name 'Boko Haram' means "western education is forbidden." One of its leaders, Abubakar Shekau, appeared in a video Monday, saying that his group abducted the girls because "western education is sinful." He also threatened to sell the girls as slaves and warned of more kidnappings.

On Tuesday, eight more girls were taken.

President Jonathan had come under heavy criticism for not taking the kidnappings seriously and not doing enough to find the girls.

In my view, said Ambassador Campbell, who is now with the Council on Foreign Relations, "the government has handled this whole thing very, very badly. In part, because the government does not know what to do."

Following a series of protests by the families of the abducted girl, President Jonathan appealed for international help. On Tuesday, the White House said that a US team will head to Nigeria to help in the search for the girls.

All of this takes place against the backdrop of the World Economic Forum, which will be held in Nigeria for the first time. Campbell, who was ambassador to Nigeria from 2004 to 2007, suspects Boko Haram timed the kidnappings to the start of the World Economic Forum. 

For Abubakar Shekau, “anything you can do to embarrass or discredit (the Nigerian government) is something you will try to do."  And he said, he can't rule out possibility that Boko Haram might stage another action."

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