Amid growing concern within American political and intelligence communities, the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center is bringing together a team of policy and academic experts next Tuesday to explore the question of whether Nigeria, under President Goodluck Jonathan’s leadership, will manage to pull back from the brink, or descend further into regional, civil, and religious conflict.
Two days ago, in Washington DC, State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, drawing attention to the growing terror problem in Nigeria, said “Obviously we were comparing analyses of the threat, and we were talking about how we might strengthen cooperation so that we can better help the Nigerian government get its arms around Boko Haram and comparing analysis how we might do that together.”
Also last Tuesday in Abuja, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, William Fitzgerald, and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Defense, Joseph McMillan, both security and policy experts, led American delegates out of a two-day regional security and counter-terrorism meeting with Nigerian counterparts that both sides say was successful and will lead to American intelligence gathering and counter-terrorism assistance.
Nigeria’s future and status as Africa’s most populous country; the fourth largest oil supplier to the US; and the fourth largest contributor of troops and police to UN peacekeeping operations have always bothered American policy experts who have a concern for Africa.
At next Tuesday’s roundtable on Nigeria, Former US ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, who is currently the Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, will join Peter Lewis, a professor of international relations and director of Africa Studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced Studies at John Hopkins University in Washington DC, and Phillip van Niekerk, former editor of the South African Mail and Guardian and now a managing Partner at Calabar Consulting in Washington DC.
Preparatory to the Tuesday meeting, the Atlantic Council Vice President, Damon Wilson, moderated a conference call briefing two weeks ago, on January 11, to discuss Boko Haram and the rising security challenge it poses to Nigeria where experts contended that “foreign actors who tried for years yet failed to manipulate tensions in Nigeria to their benefit are now finding in Boko Haram the opportunity to acquire a foothold in the country” adding that “Boko Haram’s current reach into neighboring Cameroon, and its links with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Al-Shabaab in Somalia pose a greater challenge to the international community.”
The experts also reasoned that “Boko Haram would not have the longevity and success it has experienced without some sort of support from members of the elite, including those in state institutions” illustrating this point with the recent arrest of Senator Ali Ndume, and arguing “Even if state representatives are not directly engaged with the group, there is a possibility that they may support its agenda in order to manipulate political situations.”
The conferees recalled the views of General Carter Ham, commander of the US Africa Command, back in September 2010 that Boko Haram is “one of the three African terrorist organizations…[that] would be the most dangerous thing to happen not only to the Africans, but to us as well” because it has voiced an intent to target “Westerners, and the U.S. specifically,” and to “closely collaborate and synchronize their efforts.”
Reflecting now on the pattern of violence and attacks from Boko Haram, the conferees concluded that “Nigeria cannot handle this alone, the US and international community must act accordingly, [because] only a cohesive and integrated response with international partners is capable of stifling the threat before it poses a greater challenge to international stability.”
It recommended that the US take two pathways: help raise awareness on the issue of Boko Haram, and channel resources to intelligence gathering in the region, warning that although the violence is “currently concentrated in northern Nigeria as well as several of the states of Nigeria’s “middle belt,” this may not necessarily be the case in the future.” It then proposed that the US government follow the path paved by the House Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence with its last year bipartisan report.
The National Security Adviser, General Owoeye Azazi, in a recent visit and publication in the Washington Times, a hardly regarded right wing paper, argued along this line saying with instances like the Christmas church bombing near Abuja “America is at risk for this type of violence,” and also that “Two Christmases ago, a militant from my country – the infamous Underwear Bomber – tried to blow up an American jetliner over Detroit.”
Mr. Azazi then described as mistaken, the views of “Many observers in the United States and Nigeria” who he said “dismissed Boko Haram as a tiny, weak, even incompetent terrorist group that, at best, was aimed only at destabilizing our democratically elected president.”
Established in September 2009, the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center has a mission to help “transform U.S. and European policy approaches to Africa” by helping to forge geopolitical partnerships with African states and strengthening economic growth and prosperity on the continent. The roundtable is tagged Nigeria on the Edge and will be moderated by Peter Pham, a development and security expert who is also Director of the Michael S. Ansari Africa Center at the Atlantic Council.
*****Find attached a comprehensive document, Boko Haram: Emerging Threat to the US Homeland, prepared by the US House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, Subcomittee on Counter Terrorism and Intelligence… Download here