Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan is having a good week. On Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Nigeria Ebola-free after six weeks with no new cases. The announcement followed another positive development on Friday: reports of a truce between Nigeria’s military and the radical Islamist group Boko Haram. The movement has been waging guerrilla warfare in northern Nigeria for years, and intensified its violent campaign to create an Islamic state in the region in recent months. In April, Boko Haram fighters abducted 276 Nigerian schoolgirls in what became a heavily mediatized case at home and abroad. (A prime example: over 57,000 retweets of Michelle Obama’s message, “It’s time to #BringBackOurGirls.”)
Now, Abuja is indicating that the schoolgirls will be released, though it remains to be seen if the report pans out. (Remember that in the initial days following the mass abduction, Nigerian authorities incorrectly reported that over 100 girls had been rescued.) If the schoolgirls are released however, it will represent a colossal victory for Jonathan. The president’s image has been hurting, on both the domestic and international stage, since the launch of an ill-fated military campaign to roust Boko Haram. Not only has the government’s security offensive failed to keep the insurgency in check, but it looks to have inadvertently strengthened Boko Haram’s resolve with its elephant-gun tactics. (Abuja’s historic marginalization of the populations in the north hasn’t helped either.)
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Jonathan’s optics are suffering in Abuja as well, where the president is battling a fractious parliament, mass defections from his People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and a recent scandal over his ranking as one of Africa’s richest presidents – all of which could derail his expected bid for another presidential term in February 2015. Furthermore, the government’s bumbling campaign in northern Nigeria could compound resentment in the region over rumors that Jonathan is running again, in violation of the unspoken rule that the presidency must shift between a representative of the south and one from the north.
Critics warn that the announcement of a truce is a ploy by Jonathan to boost his ratings. Indeed, Boko Haram has made no indication that it’s ready to release the abductees, and continued its violent offensive over the weekend. With his rivals already circling the waters however — former military ruler, General Muhammadu Buhari, has come out swinging with an aggressive agenda to ‘save Nigeria’ – look for the president to play up reports of a Boko Haram detente for as long as possible. With the presidential election fast approaching, Jonathan needs this win.