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

Player utilities

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

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: To West Africa now and the ongoing kidnapping drama in Nigeria. 8 more girls were abducted last night in northern Nigeria. It's suspected the kidnappers were members of the Islamist militant group, Boko Haram. They're already holding more than 200 girls who were abducted from a boarding school 3 weeks ago. Yesterday, in a video, one of Boko Haram leaders warned that more kidnappings would follow. Many Nigerians are angry at their government for failing to rescue the girls or even finding out where they are. The United States has offered to help and today the White House said a US team will head to Nigeria soon to assist in the search. John Campbell is a former US ambassador to Nigeria. He's now with the Council on Foreign Relations. Campbell says that the kidnappings have taken place in a remote part of northeastern Nigeria that borders Chad, Cameroon and Niger.

John Campbell: The countryside up there looks a little bit like west Texas. That is to say it's not desert but it's dry and there's a lot of scrub and there are mountains. In fact, to me, this is extremely puzzling. How do you hide more than 200 girls? This is a remote isolated part of the country.

Werman: Why would Boko Haram do this to the girls, specifically abducting these girls? Is it revenue from ransom? Do they just want to terrorize the north and continue that strategy?

Campbell: No, I think it should be put in the terms of western education is evil, it's forbidden, it promotes secularism, it promotes state worship. A secular school, from Boko Haram's perspective, blocks the creation of God's kingdom on Earth.

Werman: This is totally contrary, isn't it, to Nigeria's state mission? They want to educate everybody.

Campbell: Absolutely. Absolute guarantee of religious freedom.

Werman: Why did the government take so long to react to this and start really talking to the people whose daughters were abducted?

Campbell: I think, in my view, the government has handled this whole thing very, very badly in part because the government simply does not know what to do.

Werman: When it comes to the military force of Boko Haram and Nigeria's National Military, how do they compare? What advantages does each have over the other and what are their weak points?

Campbell: The Nigerian military has been underfunded for a long time. It's extremely small for a country that has a population larger than that of the Russian Federation and, by all reports, its morale is not particularly good. Boko Haram is a band of true believers, of fanatics and others who are paid to carry out Boko Haram operations. Boko Haram is involved in bank robberies, in stealing weapons from government armories, so I don't think money is a particular disadvantage for Boko Haram.

Werman: I still don't understand why the government of President Jonathan isn't just sending the Nigerian military out to find these girls.

Campbell: There are a couple of difficulties with that. First of all, the Nigerian military, in terms of numbers, is probably larger than Boko Haram. On the other hand, the number of people in the north who support or acquiesce to Boko Haram is also large. Then there's the further strategical and tactical issue, and that is in previous kidnapping cases where there has been an effort to free the victims through military action, the kidnappers have simply murdered them right on the spot.

Werman: This all takes place on the eve of the World Economic Forum on Africa, which is going to be in Abuja for the first time ever. How is that forum going to play against the backdrop of this crisis in the north?

Campbell: I would suspect that the World Economic Forum may have contributed to Shekau's decision -

Werman: The leader of Boko Haram.

Campbell: Yes, the leader of Boko Haram, well, a leader of Boko Haram, to issue his video yesterday. For Shekau and company, the administration in Abuja is evil and therefore anything that you can do to embarrass or discredit it is something that you will try to do. Security, I understand, in Abuja now is extremely tight but I don't think we can rule out the possibility that Boko Haram might try to stage another action.

Werman: Without tearing Nigeria in two, how do you deal with Boko Haram? How do you resolve this?

Campbell: Very, very difficult question. Nigeria has national elections in 2015. The elections are part of the context here. Not for Boko Haram but for how the Nigerian establishment responds to Boko Haram. The Nigerian establishment is basically made up of competing and cooperating elites. What Boko Haram is is an attack on those elites. What is new here is that in Lagos and Abuja and in Port Harcourt and in the financial community in London and in New York, the depth of the crisis has largely been ignored because the issues have been in the far north. What the kidnapping of these girls has done is that it's brought it very close to home and it has now stirred up Nigerians to ask, essentially, why isn't the government doing more?

Werman: Former US ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell. Thank you.

Campbell: Thank you.