Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan will join French President Francois Hollande at a meeting in Paris today with leaders from neighboring African nations on efforts to battle the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.
The meeting will discuss sharing intelligence on Boko Haram and work to have the group listed at the United Nations as a terrorist organization, said a French official who asked not to be named because preparations for the event are private.
The U.S. and U.K. have sent teams to Nigeria to help the government find more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by the militants more than a month ago from the northeastern town of Chibok. The U.S. is conducting manned surveillance flights and using a drone to help the search, which is taking place as a camp of a Sinohydro Group unit was attacked a day earlier by unidentified assailants that left 10 missing in the attack, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
France, which has military personnel, drones and Rafale fighter jets stationed in Niger, and troops in Mali and the Central African Republic, doesn’t plan “direct intervention” in Nigeria, according to the official.
Boko Haram, which means “western education is a sin” in the Hausa language, has conducted a violent campaign since 2009 to impose Islamic law in Africa’s top oil producer. The conflict has killed more than 4,000 people and forced almost half a million to flee their homes, according to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.
At the Paris meeting, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and representatives from the U.S. and European Union will join heads of state from countries that share borders with Nigeria, including Benin, Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
Jonathan, 56, has faced criticism at home and abroad for failing to react quickly to Boko Haram’s April 14 abduction, the same day the sect mounted the worst ever bomb attack in the capital, Abuja, when a car bomb killed at least 75 people. There have been almost daily protests in Nigerian cities demanding that Jonathan’s government act to rescue the students.
“President Jonathan missed a leadership opportunity in the early days of the crisis and has been scrambling ever since to limit the political fallout,” Philippe de Pontet, Africa director at Eurasia Group, said by e-mail May 14.
A month after the kidnapping, it’s almost impossible to mount a rescue operation, said a U.S. official who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue.
In the U.S., lawmakers and administration officials yesterday criticized Nigeria’s response to the crisis. Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he’s written to Jonathan asking him “to demonstrate the leadership his nation is demanding.”
“Despite offers of assistance from the United States and other international partners, the Nigerian government’s response to this crisis has been tragically and unacceptably slow,” Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, said at a hearing of his panel.
Jonathan has asked parliament to extend a year-old state of emergency in three northeastern states where Boko Haram, has focused its attacks. The House of Representatives yesterday approved a six-month extension, and the Senate is expected to vote on it next week.