Nigeria’s government has not had much to brag about in its longstanding struggle against Islamist insurgents in the north but, following a week of dismaying failures on the part of Nigerian security forces, the situation appears to becoming more bleak at a time when the country’s international profile is only rising.
On Friday, Nigeria’s military had to retract claims that it had rescued nearly all of the 129 school girls kidnapped by reported Boko Haram militants in the Chibok area earlier in the week. The mass kidnapping, which sparked global outrage, was precisely the type of shocking incident the government of President Goodluck Jonathan has leveraged in its fight against Boko Haram — and in defense of its controversial security offensive in the north. Instead, the government was left embarrassed not only from the security lapses that enabled the kidnapping in the first place but from falsely taking credit for a nonexistent rescue in what some are now referring to as “blatant propaganda.”
Though the military claims that the misinformation was “not intended to deceive the public,” it nonetheless boosts skepticism around a security situation that has markedly deteriorated in recent months. A morning rush hour blast on the outskirts of Abuja killed 71 people on Monday. The attack, which marks the deadliest one ever on Nigeria’s federal capital following a two year respite from violence, came only a day before the mass kidnapping in Chibok. The intensification of Boko Haram’s activity, especially its incursion into Abuja, puts a large question mark next to the already dubious successes of Jonathan’s northern offensive.
It also undermines the Jonathan government at the exact time that Nigeria is being recognized around the world as the economic powerhouse that it truly is. Earlier this month, Nigeria overtook South Africa as Africa’s largest economy after it overhauled its gross domestic product data calculation methods for the first time in two decades. With GDP now around $510 billion, Nigeria’s international profile has the potential to rise to unprecedented levels as foreign investors look towards a market with over 170 million people. However, the massive security failures of the past week offer visible reminders of the challenges (including poor infrastructure, high unemployment, and growing poverty) that remain for Nigeria’s economy despite its rapid growth in recent years.
With Nigeria set to host the World Economic Forum early next month in Abuja, Jonathan will need to be able to back up his assurances that his government has security under control. Solving the conundrum of its Islamist insurgency has so far proven elusive but, between the international conference and next year’s divisive elections looming on the horizon, the stakes will only continue rising for Jonathan.