Nigeria’s Hostage Crisis: A Symptom of U.S. Inaction
Last week, a team of U.S. experts arrived in Nigeria to assist the government there in its floundering search for 234 schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamic extremists on Apr. 14. One can hope that America’s involvement in the ongoing search for these innocent young women, snatched from their classrooms in the dead of night, will ensure that they are returned safely to their families. However, despite that the U.S.’s intervention in Nigeria is much welcome, its timing strikes me as long overdue.
Nigeria is home to an overly exploited, underserved, and underrepresented population of 177 million. Its wealth, acquired through a petroleum-based economy designed to capitalize on the country’s huge reserves of oil, has largely been mismanaged and squandered by the privileged. Consequently, most Nigerians have seen nary a penny of these petrodollars. Indeed, in 2010, a staggering 70 percent of Nigeria’s population was estimated to languish below the poverty line.
In addition to widespread poverty, Nigerians have long had to endure ethnic and religious tensions, most of which are concentrated in and around Nigeria’s geographical centre (near the city of Jos), which divides Muslims in the north from Christians in the south. Nigeria’s sectarian violence has only escalated in the years since President Goodluck Jonathan’s inauguration in May 2011, as has the incidence of terrorist attacks associated with homegrown militant groups like Boko Haram, which is responsible for the ongoing abduction. That Nigeria’s president is now resented by a large swathe of the population, for having broken his campaign promises to reinvigorate the country’s listless economy and reform its corrupt government, only exacerbates a situation that seems already tenuous.
Even to the U.S. can we apportion a share of the blame for some of Nigeria’s current problems. Though the U.S., which has a history of supporting questionable regimes for its own self-serving ends, has an apparently unblemished record in regards to Nigeria, its well-established status as the world’s largest oil consumer makes it indirectly complicit in several hundred oil spills that have polluted the Niger Delta and wrecked the livelihoods of tens of thousands. Between January and September 2013, Eni S.p.A. and Shell Oil Company, each of which extract a considerable amount of oil from the region, reported 471 spills and 138 spills, respectively. These oil companies, in particular Shell, have since shown themselves reluctant to properly compensate victims of the oil spills, inciting much outrage amongst both affected and unaffected Nigerians.
In any case, despite that Nigeria, like a multitude of other nations in Sub-Saharan Africa, is sorely in need of foreign assistance, the U.S., prior to the recent schoolgirl kidnapping, has been mostly a spectator to, rather than a participant in, Nigeria’s struggle against the violent unrest. Other than designating Boko Haram a terrorist organization in 2013, the U.S. did little to make good on a promise, made by President Obama at the UN General Assembly last September, to help Nigeria fight terrorism within its borders. And in regards to Nigeria’s other problems––widespread poverty, government corruption, and the oil spills––the U.S. has been ambivalent in the extreme.
Because Boko Haram and other radical groups like it thrive on popular dissatisfaction and resentment, the international community and, in particular, the U.S.––which, being the world’s largest economy and a nation of immigrants to boot, bears a greater responsibility to the world’s peoples than most––must act decisively to lend Nigeria (and other nations like it) a helping hand. For however viciously these radical groups act towards the public––the recent schoolgirl kidnapping being but one example of their callous treatment––their stated objectives, whether well-intentioned or not, often coincide with those of the underserved masses who harbor legitimate grievances towards their governments. Unless the international community acts, for once, in favor of these aggrieved masses, the terrorists will continue to emerge victorious in their violent struggle against global order.
Of course, the U.S. cannot be expected to intercede in the affairs of every nation on Earth. For all its power and wealth, the U.S. is but one nation. It has its own problems and cannot always be relied upon to fix those of others. That being said, the U.S.’s stature and influence are such––even today, after Iraq––that its ability to rally its fellow nations remains undiminished, in which case the U.S. need not act alone. Therefore, is it so naive of me to call on the U.S. to become an advocate of all the world’s disadvantaged?
“The Violence in Nigeria: What’s Behind the Conflict?,” by Meg Handley
“Oil spill coats river, sea in Nigeria’s impoverished Niger Delta,” by Al Jazeera and Reuters
“Nigerian community rejects Shell oil spill compensation offer,” by Al Jazeera
Copyright © 2014 Elliot Silverberg. All rights reserved.