Africa’s leading oil-exporting state and most populous country, Nigeria has been designated by the West as Africa’s largest economy, yet the security situation inside the country is deteriorating. The Pentagon recently concluded naval maneuvers off the coast in the Gulf of Guinea, and cooperation on military and intelligence affairs with the United States has reached an unprecedented level.
In the wake of the escalating attacks by the underground military and religious group Boko Haram, the Nigerian government has stated that it will accept assistance in the intelligence arena from around the world. Such a statement implies that Western intelligence services, including those of the U.S., are involved in counterinsurgency operations inside the West African state.
The New York Times noted on March 5, “American officials are putting the finishing touches on a plan for United States Army instructors to help train an 850-member battalion of rangers as part of Nigeria’s new Special Forces command.”
Commenting on the Times article, the Council on Foreign Relations pointed out, “There has long been a small-scale relationship between American and Nigerian militaries, mostly focused on training regional peacekeepers. In the past, it was the Nigerians who were reluctant to expand this relationship out of a mixture of national pride and a dislike for the transparency and accountability upon which the U.S. insists. Things are different now, apparently.” (March 5)
The security crisis is marked by the recent bombings that targeted civilians in Abuja and the kidnapping of more than 280 high school girls in the North at a village school in Borno State. Demonstrations have been held by women in several cities demanding the security services take decisive action to rescue the girls.
Security and economic development in Nigeria
These events were taking place on the eve of the 24th World Economic Forum on Africa in Abuja May 7-9. The conference, which will bring in many foreign leaders and businesspeople, is taking place after Nigeria was recently proclaimed the largest economy in Africa, edging out the Republic of South Africa.
Western financial publications have been championing what they describe as phenomenal economic growth on the continent. New findings of oil, natural gas and other strategic resources have fueled investments. But the conditions of the majority of working people and farmers have not fundamentally changed.
A rise in the price of consumer goods and energy for households is placing strains on those in poverty. At the same time, the increasing attacks by the Boko Haram group are exposing the flaws within the security apparatus and the failure to resolve regional conflicts that have plagued Nigeria since its independence from Britain in the 1960s.
In response to security concerns surrounding the WEF, Federal Republic of Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan has ordered all schools and government buildings closed for the duration of the gathering. The closings could ease traffic and make streets more accessible for security checks.
Tensions are high as a result of two bombings in the vicinity of where the WEF conference is being held. On April 14, 75 people were reported killed when bombs were planted in an area with dense pedestrian traffic. On May 2, another explosion, just 200 meters from the previous blast, raised questions about the ability of the government to provide adequate security for the conference. The Boko Haram religious sect has claimed responsibility in the attacks as part of its efforts to expand a campaign against the Nigerian government.
Most of the previous Boko Haram attacks have taken place in the northeast of the country. Three states in the region are currently under an emergency order as the military and police conduct counterinsurgency operations.
Student abductions pose crisis for government
In the midst of the expansion of the Boko Haram attacks, the kidnapping of more than 280 school girls in Chibok, Borno State, has sparked protests led by women across the country and internationally. Initial reports from the military that suggested most of the girls had been returned have proven to be false.
On May 5, a Boko Haram spokesperson took responsibility for the abductions, saying that the girls should not be in school but married. The group said that the girls will be sold into marriage and not returned to their families.
In a video purportedly released by Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, he states, “I abducted your girls. I will sell them in the market, by Allah.” Shekau is shown in the video laughing and standing in front of an armored personnel carrier, alongside two masked men holding AK-47 rifles.
“Allah has instructed me to sell them. They are his property and I will carry out his instructions,” Shekau said.
The failure of the President Jonathan administration to rescue the students has severely damaged Jonathan’s credibility. Demonstrations led by women in the country generated controversy when it was reported on May 5 that the first lady, Patience Jonathan, had ordered the arrest of Naomi Mutah Nyadar, one the protest leaders. The first lady later issued a press release denying that she had ordered Nyadar’s arrest and that the government critic was under investigation for misrepresenting her relationship with the abducted girls.
Africa needs its own continental military force
The increasing role of U.S. intelligence and military forces in Africa is a reflection of the character of modern-day neocolonialism. By increasing investments in the mining sector of African nation-states, the Pentagon and other imperialist countries have more than enough reasons to intervene under the guise of assisting the continent in enhancing its security capacity to meet so-called “terrorist threats.”
Nonetheless, the escalating role of the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. Department of Defense in the internal affairs of Africa has not improved security, but is leading to growing insecurity and instability of the various states across the region. In Mali, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Somalia, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and other states where the Pentagon has a substantial military presence, security threats and instability have not subsided.
The resolution of questions of economic development for all and the overall security of African resources and populations depends upon forces internal to the continent, and not those from the outside. Imperialism was built on the oppression and exploitation of African people, not on their prosperity and peaceful existence.
As the 51st anniversary of the founding of the Organization of African Unity, the predecessor of the African Union, approaches, the political unification of the continent becomes crucial in the overall security of the individual nation-states and the continent as a whole.
As Kwame Nkrumah, the founder of the modern state of Ghana and the chief strategist and tactician of the African Revolution, stated in an address before the Ghana parliament in early August 1960: “A loose confederation of economic co-operation is deceptively time-delaying. It is only a political union that will ensure uniformity in our foreign policy, projecting the African personality and presenting Africa as a force important enough to be reckoned with.“ (“Black Star” by Basil Davidson, 1973, p. 188)
Nkrumah went on to say, “I repeat, a loose economic co-operation means a screen behind which detractors, imperialists and colonialist protagonists and African puppet leaders hide, to operate and weaken the concept of any effort to realize African unity and independence.”