Unable to account for the over 276 teenage girls kidnapped in Nigeria almost a month ago, the government of Pres. Goodluck Jonathan has agreed to step up the fight against the Boko Haram militants with regional and international support.
At a summit last week in Paris, the Nigerian president met with African leaders and where they agreed to wage a “total war” against the rebel group now said to be overrunning neighboring Cameroon and Chad. The meeting was hosted by France and attended by representatives of the U.S., the UK and the European Union.
African presidents in attendance were from Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin.
The rebels, seeking to install a radical form of Islam, are believed to be better armed than the Nigerian military, with advanced weaponry thought to be coming from the stockpile of former president Moammar Gaddafi whose entire trove of military might was “liberated” upon his murder in 2011.
Nigerian foot soldiers gave evidence over the weekend of the imbalance of fighting strength when they shot at their own commander after being ordered into a Boko Haram ambush. The deadly ambush led to over half a dozen casualties among the soldiers.
Speaking before the talks in Paris, UK foreign secretary William Hague urged West African nations to put aside their differences. “This is one sickening and terrible incident,” he said of the kidnapping, but (the insurgents) continue almost every day to commit terrorist attacks and atrocities of other kinds, so they have to be defeated in the region.”
He said Nigerian security forces were not well structured to deal with the threat posed by Boko Haram.
“We can help with that, which is why we are offering to embed military advisers within the Nigerian headquarters,” he said. “Nigeria has the main responsibility and must be the leading nation in tackling this and that includes to mount an effective security response.”
Yet low morale and other problems within the Nigerian military – low pay, poor housing, ageing weapons – have even been cited by the soldiers themselves. “Our equipment doesn’t work and they give us just two magazines (about 60 bullets) to go into the bush,” one officer complained to Sky News.
Other soldiers told the Associated Press that some in their ranks actually fight alongside Boko Haram – a suspicion echoed by the President who admitted publically in 2012 that Boko Haram members and sympathizers had infiltrated every level of his government and the military.
U.S. State Dept. officials attending the Paris meeting said the group would meet again soon and that sanctions could be imposed against Nigerian officials in the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, supporters of the President are said to be calling for postponement of next year’s general elections by 18 months. Their campaign is called “Preserve Nigeria’s democracy: Postpone the 2015 now.”