A day after gunmen killed 12 people at the French satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo, in Paris on Jan. 7, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan issued a statement condemning the “dastardly terrorist attack.”
About the Islamist raids that killed hundreds of people in his country, in the northeastern town of Baga last week, Jonathan, 57, and his office have said very little. One of his spokesmen, Doyin Okupe, posted a Jan. 10 Twitter message questioning the reported death toll, while another, Reuben Abati, didn’t answer calls to his mobile phone today.
It’s not the first time that Jonathan, who’s running for re-election next month, has remained silent about Islamist militant attacks mainly in the north of Africa’s most populous nation. When Boko Haram militants kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls from the northeastern village of Chibok in April, Jonathan made no public comment for almost three weeks.
“By acknowledging the scale of the violence, he’s acknowledging a certain degree of his failure as a president, so he’s not going to talk about security with less than six weeks to go before the election,” Manji Cheto, vice-president of corporate advisory company Teneo Intelligence, said today by phone from London.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “appalled” by reports of the violence around Baga that Amnesty International said may have left as many as 2,000 people dead, citing local reports.
“Look at what happened recently in France when 12 people were killed, they immediately responded, preparing a contingent of thousands of troops to tame the terrorists’ attacks,” Ibrahim Shuaibu, a 47-year-old textiles salesman in Kano, said today. “Here hundreds of people are being killed at Baga and other places, but the President is busy campaigning. It is very sad.”
Jonathan’s ruling People’s Democratic Party yesterday condemned “the senseless killing of innocent citizens” in the recent Islamist raids and called an attack in the central city Jos on vehicles belonging to his re-election campaign a “barbaric act.”
Some Nigerians believe Jonathan’s decision not to personally comment on domestic attacks reflects his concern that it will cost him votes in the election against former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari on Feb. 14.
“He knows he won’t win the election in those areas so he will not want the bad news from there to reduce his chances of winning from other areas,” Kayode Idowu, a 45-year-old security guard, said today in an interview in Lagos, the commercial capital.
The Jonathan administration has repeatedly said it is beating Boko Haram, and in October the authorities said they had agreed a cease-fire with the group. Since then there has been no reduction in the violence.
“Jonathan doesn’t want to create panic during the election, that is why he is not talking about it,” said Samuel Udoh, a 29-year-old IT consultant in Lagos.
Buhari’s All Progressives Congress has targeted Jonathan’s record on security as evidence that his government has failed.
“Nigeria has become a place where people no longer feel safe, where the armed forces have neither the weapons nor the government support required to do an effective job of protecting Nigerian citizens and their property,” Buhari said in a Jan. 10 statement.