Nigeria battles to stop spread of al Qaeda chaos in Africa
In her testimony to Congress on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cited jihadist group Boko Haram as part of the broader Islamic militant threat in Africa.
Clinton said that the West-African group, whose name means "Western education is sinful" is a major threat to Nigeria – Africa’s largest oil exporter.
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Wednesday, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan agreed that Boko Haram could pose an existential threat to his country.
“If Boko Haram is not contained, it would be a threat not only to Nigeria, but to West Africa, Central Africa and of course to North Africa,” he said. “Elements of Boko Haram link up with some of al Qaeda in northern Mali and other North African countries.”
For that reason, he said his government is “totally committed” to working with friendly nations to help contain problems in Mali. Like many other world leaders, Jonathan said the problem there has been exacerbated by the free flow of weapons out of Libya since the fall of dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
President Jonathan admitted that initially Boko Haram caught Nigeria off guard; now, he said, the country has been making progress to contain “the Boko Haram saga.”
He said his government is working day and night to make sure that the deadly attacks on an Algerian oil field do not happen in Nigeria.
The Economist reports that the death toll from Boko Haram attacks in 2012 was 1,099 – double was it was the previous year.
“If you look at the last six months, incidents of killing started dropping,” President Jonathan contended, insisting that the government is gaining control.
He denied suggestions from the U.S. State Department that the Nigerian government has conducted a large quantity of arrests and killings that have been indiscriminate, possibly driving more people into the hands of Boko Haram.
“The United States of America is completely wrong,” he told Amanpour. “No security agency arrests anybody just for the love of arrest. We have intelligence that enables us to arrest the people who have been arrested.”
President Jonathan also insists that poverty and unemployment are not fueling the violent rise of Boko Haram – citing religion as the primary motivation of this jihadist group.
As part of a counter terrorism effort, President Jonathan’s national security adviser has sought to engage in dialogue with Boko Haram.
Jonathan told Amanpour that the discourse has helped the situation, and that he will continue to pursue this strategy.
The Power of the Presidency
Christiane Amanpour was the first journalist to interview Goodluck Jonathan when he assumed the presidency in April 2010. One focus of that conversation was about the endemic electric outages that average Nigerians face.
Three years later, despite continued problems and a report by Nigeria's Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission that says 60% of Nigerians are without access to power, Jonathan said that the country has made significant strides.
“That is one area where Nigerians are quite pleased with the government – that our commitment to improve power is working,” he said. “I promise you before the end of this year, power outages will be reasonably stable in Nigeria.”
“You cannot change the mindset of people by waving your hand. You must take means to make sure that you don’t create an environment where everyone will be corrupt and we are doing it very well,” Jonathan said.
He cited the previous elections as signs of success against corruption. International observers, The African Union, and the Independent National Electoral Commission all praised the polling.
But there is still widespread corruption in the oil industry.
Last April, Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said that 400,000 barrels of oil a day were looted from the country in just one month.
The International Energy Agency said that $7 billion dollars a year is lost annually to oil theft.
“Frankly speaking, speaking I want the international community to support Nigeria because this stolen crude is being bought by refineries abroad and they know the crude oil was stolen,” Jonathan told Amanpour. “The world must condemn what is wrong.”