And so concluded the glorious sixth State of the Union address by incumbent and unencumbered President Barack Obama. Taking his words at face value, one would assume that Americans are living in a fantasy world, where jobs are abundant, the economy is growing at a relentless pace and the Middle East decades-long war has been won. But the reality tells a completely different picture in what can only be labeled as a disturbing case of White House myopia. Indeed, pundits have been quick to point out the jarring omissions and half-truths that the presidential speech had hid behind its happy-go-lucky tone. It is unsurprising he didn’t talk about Nigeria, as our half-Kenyan president never seemed to care too much about his native land.
Just earlier this week, Nigeria and the Boko Haram attack on the previously unknown town of Baga were on everybody’s lips and twitter feeds in what quickly became an Internet trope – we are all Charlie, but nobody is Baga. Do African lives matter less than Western ones? went an oft-repeated liberal rallying call. Even after Amnesty International released satellite images earlier this week, showing the extent of destruction brought about by the group in an attack that claimed up to 2000 lives, Western response has been muted.
Back in April, the West went through a similar case of mass hysteria, in the wake of the kidnappings of 300 schoolgirls, a heinous attack purported by the same Boko Haram group. #BringBackOurGirls topped the trending lists everywhere and even drew the support of First Lady Michelle, who embarrassed herself with a publicity stunt which had her hold the hashtag printed out on a piece of paper while donning a puppy-faced expression. Washington deployed a handful of drones and 30 intelligence experts to track down the girls. With nothing to show for, they were recalled in January 2015
Yet in spite of the massive media coverage of both events, POTUS didn’t spare a thought for Nigeria or Boko Haram in his SOTU, but wrapped up global terrorism (non-ISIL) in one sentence “[…] we stand united with people around the world who’ve been targeted by terrorists – from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris.”
The timing couldn’t have been worse.
For once, the media hype around Nigeria was spot on, as Africa’s largest country, oil exporter and biggest economy is indeed close to a tipping point. Boko Haram’s ruthlessness and savagery can only be compared to ISIL’s – in fact the Nigerian homegrown Jihadi movement has pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State’s leader in a recent statement. Under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau, the group has grown significantly, occupying an area roughly the size of Lithuania and has claimed 31,000 lives in the last 3 years, more than any other terrorist movement in the world.
Boko Haram’s stated goal is to impose a strict interpretation of Sharia law and create a land bridge between the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic. This year, the group has been intensifying its attacks on neighboring Chad and Cameroon, prompting the countries to ask the U.S. for help. But their requests fell on deaf years.
Shockingly still, the U.S. doesn’t know a lot about this group. Washington’s political response so far has been “hobbled by a lack of understanding about [Boko Haram’s] methods and goals”. Unlike ISIL or the nefarious Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Washington has stayed on the sidelines and watched imperviously how one of the worst terrorist attacks of the 21st century unfolded in Nigeria.
For 2015, the Department of State has put aside only $700,000 for training missions in Nigeria, after last year it refused to sell an announced tranche of Puma helicopters. The DoS excused itself by claiming that the Leahy law prevents it from selling arms to countries with poor human rights records, a poor argument coming from an administration that never shied away from selling weapons by the billion to the likes of Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or Egypt. Essentially, Washington’s holier-than-thou, two-faced attitude will come at the expense of the thousands of innocent civilians that will be slaughtered by Boko Haram this year – lives which could be saved if Nigeria’s military would receive the firepower it needs to fend off the Islamists.
In this tense atmosphere, Nigerians will head to the polls in February to elect a new president. The race is bound to be a tight one, pitting incumbent Goodluck Jonathan against ex-military dictator Muhammadu Buhari. The terror attacks unleashed by Boko Haram have been blamed on the Jonathan administration and have turned many Nigerians to Buhari, a Sharia-loving Muslim who famously said that he would be willing to die for Islam and that he will not rest until Sharia is imposed in Nigeria.
By refusing to support Nigeria’s fight against terrorism in the name of an obscure moral imperative, the Obama administration could wind up with yet another ally falling in the deadly embrace of fundamental Islam. Obama’s SOTU could have fixed all that, instead the President chose to turn a blind eye, while he droned on about our recovering economy.