Nigerian President in Crisis as Rescue for Girls Awaited

Photographer: Sunday Alamba/AP Photo
Brig. Gen. Chris Olukolade, Nigeria's top military spokesman, left, speaks to people at a demonstration calling on the government to rescue the kidnapped school girls of a government secondary school Chibok, outside the defense headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria, on May 6, 2014.

President Goodluck Jonathan faces a credibility crisis among Nigerians as long as more than 200 girls kidnapped by Islamist extremists remain missing, even as investors affirm confidence in his country.

International political and business leaders attending the World Economic Forum ending today in the capital, Abuja, including Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Bharti Airtel Ltd. (BHARTI) Chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal, condemned the Boko Haram Islamists that seized the women and pledged continued investment in Africa’s biggest economy. Jonathan welcomed the support, describing it as “a major blow” to terrorism, yet pressure is mounting from the populace to secure the captives’ freedom.

“Barring a rescue of the abducted women, Jonathan’s standing will deteriorate,” Philippe de Pontet, an Africa analyst at Eurasia Group, said in an e-mailed note to clients yesterday. “The political implications are damaging for the Jonathan administration, which has been seen as ineffective in its response.”

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Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram, which means “western education is a sin” in the Hausa language, has claimed responsibility for the April 14 abduction of 276 girls from their dormitories in Borno state in the northeast. He has threatened to sell the girls in “markets” and marry them off, helping galvanize a global campaign to free them joined by U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama and Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai.

Photographer: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria's president. Close

Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria's president.

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Photographer: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria's president.

Protest Marches

The U.S. security team which will assist in the search and rescue operation has arrived in Nigeria, U.S. Embassy Public Affairs officer Rhonda Augustus-Ferguson said by phone from Abuja today. She gave no details about the size or composition of the team. A team from the U.K. has also arrived, the British High Commission in Abuja said in a statement.

France and China also plan to send security personnel and other unspecified support to the West African nation to help locate the students, some of them as young as 15. As many as 53 of the students may have escaped on their own, according to community and school leaders.

In Nigeria there have been protest marches in major cities, including Abuja, the commercial capital Lagos, and the southern oil hub of Port Harcourt, urging the government and the security forces to do more to rescue the girls. Critics have accused the government of being tentative and uncoordinated in its response after the military first said it had rescued most of the girls and then retracted the statement after the school principal disputed it.

With Jonathan struggling to deal with the abductions and elections due in February, the militants “are likely to become more active over the next year, with the hope of disrupting and/or affecting the outcome,” Marc Chandler, an analyst at London-based Brown Brothers Harriman & Co., said yesterday in an e-mailed note.

‘Political Bump’

In the first three months of the year, Boko Haram’s insurgency in northeastern Nigeria has left 1,500 people dead, more than half of them civilians, according to Amnesty International. Boko Haram in the past few years has increasingly targeted teachers and students, and more than 50 schools were attacked, partially destroyed or burnt down between July last year and January in Borno state, Unicef says. More than 300 people were killed in a May 5 attack by suspected insurgents on the town of Gamboru, near the border with Cameroon, according to local officials.

“President Jonathan has failed to show the kind of leadership that would unite the country and give him a political bump from the widespread outrage directed at Boko Haram,” said de Pontet. “Instead, much of that outrage has shifted to the administration itself, giving the opposition an opportunity to hit the president on his already-suspect national security credentials.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Magnowski in Abuja at dmagnowski@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net; Nasreen Seria at nseria@bloomberg.net Dulue Mbachu

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