The response to Boko Haram must be internally led

The development of an international campaign – visible on Twitter under the hashtag #bringbackourgirls – has given impetus to calls for greater foreign intervention

Security will be tight as dignitaries arrive tomorrow in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, for the start of the World Economic Forum. The event is to proceed after President Goodluck Jonathan made assurances that “robust” measures were being taken to minimise the threat of attack from Boko Haram, the Islamist group which for five years has waged an increasingly bloody campaign of terror. Mr Jonathan will want to present Nigeria as a success story, a safe bet for foreign investment. Last month, following a rebasing of GDP metrics, its economy soared into the lead as Africa’s largest.

To ordinary Nigerian citizens, however, the security afforded to foreign WEF guests – who include Premier Li Keqiang of China – may serve to offset the lack of control exerted by President Jonathan’s government over the fate of 230 citizens – the schoolgirls abducted three weeks ago by Boko Haram. So far, the government response to this crisis has swung from tepid to farcical. On Sunday the President promised the girls would be found, while admitting he had no idea where they were. Yesterday, a video released by Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, announced the group’s intention to sell the girls into slavery. Meanwhile it emerged that the head of a protest movement criticising the government’s response was under arrest.

The development of an international campaign – visible on Twitter under the hashtag #bringbackourgirls – has given impetus to calls for greater foreign intervention. Britain stands ready to lend technical support, and the US is doing “everything possible”, according to Secretary of State John Kerry. But including Boko Haram in any global “war on terror” – the kind that tends to involve military intervention – would be misguided.

Nigeria’s army has pegged back Boko Haram into the north-east, following the declaration of a state of emergency in May 2013. Local communities may be more inclined to inform on the group as its behaviour grows wilder. It falls to Mr Jonathan to take advantage diplomatically, as much as pursue this loathsome organisation with Nigeria’s own military forces.

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