TIME Nigeria

5 Reasons Boko Haram is Un-Islamic

A member of Boko Haram in a suburb of Kano, Nigeria, in 2012.
A member of Boko Haram in a suburb of Kano, Nigeria, in 2012. Samuel James—The New York Times/Redux

The militant Nigerian group's actions repeatedly go against the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad

The official name of Boko Haram, the Nigerian group apparently responsible for the kidnapping of over 200 schoolgirls, is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad. That translates into English as “People Committed to the Propogation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad.” The name is wholly inappropriate. With their sustained campaign of murders and kidnappings, the members of Boko Haram conduct themselves in a manner that could barely be more alien to the Prophet Muhammad teachings. Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh, declared Boko Haram was “set up to smear the image of Islam.” The secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the world’s largest bloc of Muslim countries, told the Associated Press that violent extremists like Boko Haram “not only disavow their Islam, but their humanity.”

It’s always dangerous to generalize about a faith observed by 1.6 billion people – there’s a lot of room for interpretation between that many people – but it’s clear that Boko Haram’s atrocities go against the mainstream teachings of Islam. Here are five reasons why Boko Haram’s actions are fundamentally un-Islamic:


1. Boko Haram targets educational establishments.

In the local Hausa language, “Boko Haram” translates roughly as “Western education is forbidden.” In 2012, the group began targeting government schools with home-made firebombs. Over the last two years, reports Amnesty International, attacks by armed groups have forced over 60 schools in northern Nigeria to close, with Boko Haram claiming responsibility for some of the attacks.

Boko Haram’s hostility to education stems from its suspicion of what it views as the government’s secular education system. But that hostility strongly contravenes the teachings of Islam, a faith whose first revelation to the Prophet Muhammad was the word “Read,” whose scripture repeatedly enjoins Muslims to reflect, and whose traditions enjoin all Muslims – regardless of gender – to pursue education.


2. It claims to be waging jihad.

Boko Haram’s formal name makes it clear that the group is pursuing jihad. There’s debate among Islamic scholars as to what constitutes a “just” jihad, but mainstream scholars agree that jihad can only be led by a legitimate leader of a Muslim community, not self-appointed leaders like Osama bin Laden or Boko Haram’s Abubakar Shekau, who has led the group since 2009. Even if the conditions for jihad are met, the Prophet Muhammad banned targeting non-combatants. Boko Haram has repeatedly flaunted that ban. In February, the group killed over 50 schoolboys, opening fire on a boarding school in northeastern Nigeria before burning it down. Last fall, Boko Haram gunmen shot 40 students at an agricultural training college as they lay asleep in their dorms. According to the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings, women and children, rabbis and priests and other noncombatants are to be spared. Warriors cannot burn down property, destroy trees or fields, or commit atrocities.


3. It has declared war against Christians.

In a rambling video released May 5, Shekau declared war “against Christians generally.” He included in that group President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon “and any unbeliever.” But the Quran tells Muslims to respect their fellow monotheists, specifically the Christians and the Jews, who are “People of the Book.” The Quran says: “Those who believe [Muslims], the Jews, the Christians….whosoever believe in God and the Last day and do good deeds, they shall have their reward from their Lord, shall have nothing to fear, nor shall they come to grief.”


4. It forcibly converts people.

The May 12 video of the kidnapped schoolgirls purports to show some Christian girls speaking their new Muslim names. The girls had been “liberated,” claimed Shekau, by having converted from Christianity to Islam. But he’s flouting a key teaching of Islam. “Let there be no compulsion in religion,” states the Quran. The verse, notes Usama Hasan, senior researcher at the Quilliam Foundation, a U.K.-based counter-extremism think-tank, was revealed to Muhammad after some of the earliest Muslims’ children converted to Judaism and Christianity. Nobody can force anyone to convert to Islam, say scholars. Embracing the faith is a matter between individuals and their God.


5. It espouses forcing girls and women into marriage.

In the May 5 video, Shekau says the kidnapped schoolgirls should be married off. But Islam does not allow anyone – male or female – to be married without his or her own consent. According to one hadith – hadiths are the words or deeds of the Prophet Muhammad that, along with the Quran, constitute the basis of Islamic law – one day a girl married off against her will came crying to Muhammad, saying she hadn’t agreed to the marriage. Muhammad promptly declared the marriage invalid.


The members of Boko Haram certainly consider themselves Muslims but their actions make them traitors to their faith. We should start referring to them as a criminal group rather than an Islamist group. Their sickening deeds and rhetoric repeatedly demonstrate that not only do they lack kinship with the vast majority of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, but they lack respect for the religion they claim to fight for.

Power writes on Muslim social issues. If the Oceans Were Ink, her memoir of studying the Quran with a traditional Muslim scholar, will be published next year.


TIME Foreign Policy

U.S. Deploys Drones in Search for Kidnapped Nigerian Girls

Kidnapped schoolgirls are seen at an unknown location in this still image taken from an undated video released by Nigerian Islamist rebel group Boko Haram.
Kidnapped schoolgirls are seen at an unknown location in this still image taken from an undated video released by Nigerian Islamist rebel group Boko Haram. Reuters

White House officials have confirmed that unmanned and unarmed reconnaissance drones are now patrolling an area of Nigeria the size of West Virginia in search of more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped in April by the militant group Boko Haram

The United States has deployed drones to Nigeria to help search for more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by militant group Boko Haram, officials confirmed Wednesday.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said “unmanned, unarmed” aircraft had joined reconnaissance flights over a swath of Nigeria where Boko Haram is believed to be holding the girls hostage. Carney cautioned during a news conference that the area of greatest suspicion still covering an expanse of land “along the size of West Virginia.”

The announcement comes as some U.S. lawmakers are urging the use of force to rescue the Nigerian girls. Senators in both parties recently floated the idea of using special forces to aid in the search, and Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain went further on Tuesday. “I certainly would send in U.S. troops to rescue them,” McCain told to the Daily Beast.

Carney, however, said U.S. counterterrorism experts dispatched to Nigeria would limit their activity to an “advisory capacity,” focused on finding the girls.

Recent international attention and internal protests have ratcheted up pressure on Nigeria’s government to rescue the girls and crack down on Boko Haram. Over the last five years, the extremist group has waged a campaign of bombings, massacres and kidnappings in northern Nigeria that has claimed an estimated 1,000 lives.

TIME Foreign Policy

U.S. Says No Ransom For Kidnapped Nigerian Girls

Kidnapped schoolgirls are seen at an unknown location in this still image taken from an undated video released by Boko Haram
Kidnapped schoolgirls are seen at an unknown location in this still image taken from an undated video released by Boko Haram. Reuters

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the United States would not support ransom or prisoner exchange as part of a deal to release more than 250 Nigerian schoolgirls who have been held captive by the extremist group Boko Haram since last month.

The United States would oppose any ransom payment or prisoner exchange to free more than 250 Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped last month by the extremist group Boko Haram, the Obama Administration said Tuesday.

“It is the policy of the United States to deny kidnappers the benefits of their criminal acts, and that includes ransoms or concessions,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters when asked whether Obama would support negotiations with Boko Haram, which abducted the girls last month.

The Nigerian government also rejected releasing prisoners this week.

“What I can tell you is that we’re focused on working with the Nigerian government to locate and bring home those girls,” Carney said. “That includes a team of [U.S. officials in the country]. It also includes manned reconnaissance flights that I can confirm we are conducting in cooperation with the Nigerian government.”

The kidnapping has sparked global condemnation of Boko Haram and criticism of Nigeria’s government for how it handled the aftermath. The U.S. recently sent a team of officials from the FBI, the Department of State and the Department of Defense to aid in the search. Carney wouldn’t say whether the team of U.S. hostage negotiators in Nigeria wold encourage the government to negotiate with Boko Haram.

Some senior lawmakers are floating the idea of sending special forces to help find the girls, who appeared for the first time since their kidnapping in a video released by Boko Haram on Monday.

“The Nigerians ought to be handling things in their own backyard, but frankly it’s a big vast country with a bunch of bad guys acting like cowboys and running around,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) told TIME. “They can’t handle it. I think that’s why we’re treading very carefully, but we’ve got to be more forceful than what we’ve been thus far.”

TIME Foreign Policy

Lawmakers Mull Special Forces to Find Kidnapped Nigerian Schoolgirls

Kidnapped schoolgirls are seen at an unknown location in this still image taken from an undated video released by Nigerian Islamist rebel group Boko Haram.
Kidnapped schoolgirls are seen at an unknown location in this still image taken from an undated video released by Nigerian Islamist rebel group Boko Haram. Reuters

Top U.S. officials including Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Dianne Feinstein of the Intelligence Committee are undecided over the most effective way to help Nigeria find more than 200 girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram militants in April as U.S. intelligence support begins but boots on the ground remain off the table

The social media campaign, #BringBackOurGirls, has built worldwide pressure to find and rescue the more than 200 school girls abducted nearly a month ago by the Nigerian terrorist group, Boko Haram. But just how far should the U.S. go in the hunt for them?

President Barack Obama has sent in an intelligence, logistics and communications team that includes 16 military personnel. On Monday, National Security Council and Pentagon officials told TIME that that the U.S. has begun sharing commercial satellite imagery with the Nigerians and is flying manned aircraft over Nigeria with the government’s permission for intelligence purposes.

The top ranking Senators on the Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) told TIME that they would support sending in special forces under certain conditions: Feinstein would send in the additional assistance only if Nigeria requests it, and Chambliss would do so with our allies.

Retired General Chuck Wald, former deputy commander of the U.S. European Command, said that America would need to send “several hundred” Special Operations troops “to get it done right.”

“You’d have to do some work on intelligence, you’d have to prep the battlefield [and] you’d have to have the ability from the Nigerians to move with some freedom,” said Wald. “It’s not going to be easy, but given the mission I’m sure they could do something.”

One problem that Wald laid out is that the terrorist group has reportedly split off the schoolgirls into smaller groups. “This is going to take awhile,” he said.

On Sunday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told ABC’s This Week that there’s “no intention” of putting boots on the ground, but “we’re going to bring to bear every asset we can possibly use” to help the Nigerian government.

“The Nigerians are the ones who understand the terrain, they understand the people, they understand all the subtleties,” said Col. Steven Warren, a top Pentagon spokesman, about why the Department of Defense has not yet considered a special forces-type rescue mission. “It’s their backyard. They are the ones best positioned to conduct an operation to try and locate these people…[It] is the technical piece that we’re best available to provide here.”

Another Pentagon official told TIME that the Nigerians had yet to ask for boots on the ground to help the search, which is a particular problem for Feinstein, the Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Chambliss, the ranking Republican.

“I don’t know what we do if the government doesn’t want help, and they have been reluctant to ask for help,” said Feinstein. “The people of Nigeria should have a say in that and if they want their government to ask for help, they have to make that known.”

Last week, Amnesty International reported that the Nigerian military may not be as strong as the U.S. government has portrayed them publicly, finding that it declined to provide assistance to the schoolgirls despite at least four hours of advanced warning “due to poor resources and a reported fear of engaging.”

“This business of ‘fear of engaging,’ what do you have a military for if not to engage when your country is being attacked,” demanded Feinstein. “I would say that Boko Haram is attacking the people of the country. The army is there to defend the people, not to allow kidnapping of young girls, not to allow schools to burned down.”

“The Nigerians ought to be handling things in their own backyard, but frankly it’s a big vast country with a bunch of bad guys acting like cowboys and running around,” said Chambliss. “They can’t handle it. I think that’s why we’re treading very carefully, but we’ve got to be more forceful than what we’ve been thus far.”

Of course, even U.S. special forces may not bring the girls back. In 2011, the Pentagon sent 100 special forces troops to help thousands of African troops search for Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, but have yet to capture or kill the warlord. Top LRA commanders have been taken out, however, and LRA attacks have drastically decreased. This year the Pentagon announced it would send in 150 more troops as well as CV-22 Osprey aircraft, and the United Nations has signaled that they are finally zeroing in on his whereabouts.

Chambliss believes our current intelligence assistance to Nigeria is “not good enough” and “not even a token.” But despite “great confidence” in the American military, even Chambliss is suspect that U.S. special forces could find a safe return for the abducted girls.

“Right now we just don’t the answer to that question,” said Chambliss. “We know it’s going to be difficult. The question is how do we do it…but I think we certainly have the capability of doing it.”

With reporting by Zeke J. Miller


Nigeria’s Nollywood Is Thriving Despite Terrible Conditions

Nollywood film set- Brookeville, MD
The Washington Post—The Washington Post/Getty Images

Nollywood Is Hollywood with more bribes, gunplay, and crime

Nigeria—with its booming growth, and its nearly 300 missing girls—has been all over the news lately. I’ve been here for the last 7 days, first reporting on the Africa meeting of the World Economic Forum in Abuja, and now in Lagos, to report a piece on the country’s burgeoning film industry, Nollywood. In some ways, the story of this industry is the story of the entire Nigerian and even African economy. It’s about sheer entrepreneurial will overcoming any number of obstacles, from inept governance, to corruption and crime, to the lack of basics like power, roads, and infrastructure.

The chirpy David Brook’s piece in the New York Times the other day certainly put forward the optimistic story—7% growth, a GDP that recently jumped by 89% thanks to a recalculation by the World Bank, huge consumer spending potential, a growing middle class, etc., etc. But what I have taken away from my reporting here is that this growth is happening in spite of incredible governmental roadblocks, and that much of the money is still flowing out of the country, or up to a small group of elites. If things got even a little bit better, Nigeria, already the largest economy in Africa, could truly boom in a more inclusive way.

Consider electrical power, or the lack of power, which everyone from Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, to the small producers of Nollywood says is the biggest obstacle to doing business here. The power setup in Nigeria is similar to the water setup in India. The government controls a grid, which runs haphazardly—sometimes because of poor infrastructure, other times because power gets pulled to choice areas. Either way, it means people have to buy generators and diesel to keep the lights on. (BTW, the lights just literally went off in my hotel, supposedly one of the nicest in Lagos, as I wrote this post.)

I spoke today with a filmmaker who was in the middle of making movie when his generator blew out. He bought a new one the next day, but it was stolen by one of the neighbors. (He hired the local vigilante police to find it; the real ones never come because they don’t get paid off.) Lack of power is one big reason production values in Nollywood, which churns out more movies than Hollywood and is second only to Bollywood in terms of number of films produced, have remained low for so long. But this kind of crime is just the tip of the iceberg.

The same producer released 50,000 copies of a movie to local distributors in Alaba Market, which is the birthplace and heart of Nollywood, and the largest consumer electronics market in West Africa. The next day, he got a call from Greece, from someone who’d seen his movie via a black market tape. It turned out that 100,000 copies had already been pirated (he believes by his own distributors in Alaba). The $5,000 in profit he’d hoped to make on his $5,000 investment was gone.

In fact, Alaba embodies all that is good and bad about the Nigerian economy. It is vast, chaotic, rough, entrepreneurial, and lawless. To get there from Lagos’ main business district, you drive hours in standstill traffic, on roads that are half pavement and half dirt. Once at the perimeter, I had to hitch a ride with a boy who had a motorbike, speeding along through the narrow market streets to get to where the Nollywood section was because the market itself is so big. (I felt like an extra in the Bourne Identity.)

Inside, you feel its possible to get lost and never emerge. It was a sea of bodies all selling everything you can image: extension cords, plantain chips, porn, cassava, washing machines, black market DVDs. Everyone everywhere is looking for money-making angles. One woman was selling empty plastic bags, and another was buying them and filling them with grain, to sell again. There was an open sewer with a 6 foot long board over it and a couple of guys had commandeered it and were making people pay a 25 naira toll to walk across.

Once inside, you see the different layers of the Nollywood economy—I followed a young man who’d come 80 minutes to buy DVDs for 50-85 naira that he would sell in a stall at home for 100 naira (about 75 cents). Interestingly, the foreign pirated movies, like 12 Year A Slave, sell for 35 naira—less than the local stuff, which is more popular. Distributors take the movies given to them by filmmakers and make copies of them (sometimes making extras for themselves), which they keep in warehouses and sell in the market to people from all over—Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, the Caribbean.

Once, I was told, four of the biggest filmmakers in Lagos got upset about the distributors pirating stuff and skimming too much off the top, and decided to go into the market with armed military police. They all came out a little while later, running, and being shot at by the distributors. Some of the larger filmmakers have since started their own stalls in Alaba and many now do their own distribution.

Despite all this, the industry thrives. The recent World Bank rebasing of GDP numbers has found that Nollywood contributes 1.4 % of the country’s yearly GDP (entertainment is 3 % in the US, so 1.4 % is really very good for a county like Nigeria). There is an entire ecosystem of stars, minders, and hangers-on here on Victoria Island. I went to a Nollywood party last night and saw them all getting dressed for the red carpet at an event sponsored by MTV and Absolut Vodka. They are already huge in Nigeria, obviously, but are also big in Africa and are increasingly grabbing the diaspora market in the UK, Caribbean, Germany, etc, in part because the industry is finally starting to digitize; expats are coming home and building out digital video on demand platforms, which is bolstering demand and helping production budgets and quality to grow.

I met a young woman who is the star of “Lekki Wives,” a take off on the real housewives theme. Lekki is like New Jersey—a part of Lagos where strivers live. Her character, Lovette, is a lens into the various socioeconomic issues that Nigerians now face—inequality, corruption, wealth than can be taken away in minutes, etc, etc. While there are plenty of sensational Nollywood films—thrillers, horror pics, religious ones—an increasing number show the way the country is changing and the challenges its facing.

I have another day of reporting to do, but so far, I’ve come away feeling that Nollywood, like the Nigerian economy itself, could be much bigger, but only if the government actually gets its act together and supplies basic business infrastructure needs (or the industry gets big enough to build it all out themselves, as rich business men like Dangote have done). Of course, the former would require a sea change in the political economy. It can’t come soon enough.

TIME Nigeria

Nigeria Refuses to Swap Militant Prisoners for Kidnapped Girls

Nigeria Kidnapped Girls
This photo taken from a video by Nigeria's Boko Haram terrorist network on May 12, 2014, purportedly shows some of the kidnapped girls Associated Press

Interior Minister Abba Moro says his government will not trade imprisoned Boko Haram extremists for the release of more than 200 schoolgirls, kidnapped by the militant group from a school last month, as demanded by the group's leader in a new video

The Nigerian government will not trade imprisoned Boko Haram extremists for schoolgirls kidnapped by the Islamist group, the country’s Interior Minister said Monday.

“As far as this government is concerned, the option of [the] swap of innocent citizens with people who have taken [up] arms against the country … is not on the table,” Abba Moro told the BBC.

In a video released Monday, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said the group will free the girls if the Abuja government releases imprisoned Islamic militants.

“We will never release them until after you release our brethren in your prison,” he said.

The video purports to show some of the 200-odd girls who were kidnapped from their school one month ago while doing their final exams. Boko Haram wants to rid Nigeria of Western education and form an Islamist state.

Several nations, including the U.S., France, Britain and Israel, have sent experts or offered help to the Nigerian authorities.


TIME Nigeria

New Boko Haram Video Appears to Show Kidnapped Nigerian Schoolgirls

Footage released by Boko Haram purportedly shows some of the Nigerian schoolgirls abducted in April as its leader says he'll free them in a prisoner exchange

Updated 4:47 p.m. ET

A new video released by the extremist group Boko Haram claims to show for the first time more than 100 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted last month, amid growing outrage at the kidnapping and the government’s response.

The authenticity of the video, first published by AFP on Monday, could not immediately be confirmed. It depicts the girls wearing hijab and praying. In the video, a leader of the group boasts that the girls, who came from both Christian and Muslim families, have converted to Islam. “We have indeed liberated them,” the militant leader Abubakar Shekau says in the video. “These girls have become Muslims, they are Muslims.”

Shekau says he will only release the schoolgirls if the Nigerian government frees Boko Haram prisoners. “It is now four years or five years that you have arrested our brethren, they are still in your prison and you are doing many things to them, and now you are talking about these girls?” he said. “We will never release them until you release our brethren.”

A top Nigerian official quickly dismissed the notion that the government would release Boko Haram prisoners in exchange for the safe return of the schoolgirls, AFP reports. “The issue in question is not about Boko Haram… giving conditions,” Interior Minister Abba Moro said.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters Monday that the United States has no reason to doubt the authenticity of the video, and that U.S. intelligence agencies are scouring the video for clues.

“Our intelligence experts are combing over every detail of it for clues that might help in the ongoing efforts to secure the release of the girls,” Carney said.

A team of almost 30 American officials is already in the country assisting in the investigation; it includes four Department of State advisers, 17 Department of Defense advisers and four people from the FBI.

In an earlier video, Shekau had threatened to force the girls into marriage, saying he would “sell them in the market, by Allah.”

Boko Haram kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from their school in Chibok almost a month ago, and an international social media campaign is demanding their release. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has been widely criticized for his failure to prevent the attack and for his response. The United States announced last week that it was sending a team to aid in search and rescue of the girls.

-with reporting from Zeke J Miller in Washington

TIME Globalization

Nigeria’s Missing Girls: The End of Terror Is Nowhere in Sight

A member of Boko Haram in a suburb of Kano, Nigeria, in 2012.
A member of Boko Haram in a suburb of Kano, Nigeria, in 2012. Samuel James—The New York Times/Redux

Terrorism is the most pressing of many issues facing Nigeria, TIME's Rana Foroohar writes after a visit to Abuja, amid the government's sluggish response to the April kidnapping of almost 300 girls by the militant Islamic group Boko Haram

Outside the airport in Abuja, Nigeria, where the World Economic Forum’s Africa conference recently wrapped up, I noticed a local workman’s truck, which had a sign painted on the back that read, “Every problem has an expiry date.”

There are plenty of problems in Nigeria–inefficiency, inequality, corruption, unemployment–but the most pressing one right now is terrorism. It is unclear what the expiry date might be. Nearly three hundred girls taken from their boarding school in the northeast of the country by a militant Islamic group called Boko Haram are still missing. A new report by Amnesty International claims that the national government headed by President Goodluck Jonathan knew about the impending attack–and did nothing.

At panels I attended at the World Economic Forum (WEF), just as the report was coming out, President Jonathan said that the kidnappings would be “a turning point in our fight against Boko Haram, and the beginning of the end of terror in Nigeria.” At the WEF evening welcome soiree last Thursday night, a Nigerian pop star serenaded the President, his coterie of plumbed generals, and the rest of us, in tones that managed to be both mournful and saccharine, with a song about the missing girls. It seemed tone-deaf at a forum sponsored by the government, which began with a moment of silence for the missing girls, but offered no real sense of urgency around finding them, or combatting the growing terrorism in the country.

The big question at the WEF was whether terrorism, and in particular the kidnappings, would have any impact on the Nigerian investment story, which up until now has been one of the biggest recent success stories in emerging markets. Just a few weeks ago, Nigeria “rebased” its GDP numbers to account for the fact that old calculations weren’t taking into account new industries like telecoms and Nollywood. The result was that Nigerian GDP grew by 89 % overnight, making the country the largest economy in Africa, trumping South Africa. Growth is high–around 7 %–the middle class is growing strongly, and oil and gas represents about 14 % of the economy, about half of what was previously thought. Overall, that means more growth is coming from sustainable sources. Six out of ten of the world’s fastest growing economies are in Africa, and Nigeria is first among them.

Yet unemployment is still high and inequality even higher. Half of Nigerians live in poverty, despite vast oil and gas wealth. In fact, that’s one reason that many prominent citizens say that Boko Haram has gained a foothold in the country. Some Nigerians are getting wealthy, but there aren’t jobs for enough of them, particularly given that over 50% of the population is under 18 years old. That’s exactly the kind of demographic and economic combination that bred the Arab Spring uprisings.

“Terrorism hasn’t stopped business from coming here to Nigeria yet, but the situation is out of hand,” says Aliko Dangote, the head of Dangote Holdings and Africa’s richest man. “I think the government is trying to get themselves together [around this issue]. I think they have been taken by surprise–there are people in places like Spain who are saying, ‘where are these Nigerian girls?’ That hasn’t happened before. It’s good that the government has asked the US and the UK to help. And it’s important that the private sector do its part, too. Unless we create more jobs, we won’t eliminate Boko Haram. Even if we do, another such group will come. We have to empower our people.”

In some of the WEF meetings, President Jonathan tried to play down the link between terror and poverty, presumably to turn the spotlight away from the fact that the government has much more to do in terms of building infrastructure, improving education, bolstering efficiency in agriculture, and cutting corruption, all of which would improve job growth in Nigeria. “Terrorism is a recent problem for us,” he said. “It’s not about poverty, but extremism.”

But a number of Western businesspeople I spoke to at the WEF said they were concerned about terrorism spreading, particularly further south to areas like Lagos, where the State Department recently issued a warning about potential attacks on Sheraton Hotels. While big oil and financial deals will likely continue without interruption, consumer goods companies–food suppliers, retailers, and others that depend on a secure and growing middle class–were more concerned. That’s in part because of what the Amnesty Report implies about the attention that the Nigerian government pays to safety and security, particularly for women and girls in the country.

A glut of research from institutions such as the World Bank and the UN shows that if girls don’t stay in school, and women aren’t economically empowered, economies don’t grow in a sustainable way. “For things to work here [in Nigeria] you need two things: foreign direct investment, and local capacity, meaning human capacity. That requires education. If you have a situation in which women and girls can’t be educated, that’s a big deal,” says John Rice, the vice chair of G.E., and a co-sponsor of the WEF Africa conference.

“There’s a good news story and a bad news story here,” says Rajiv Shah, the administrator of USAID, here attending the WEF meeting in Abuja. “The good news is that Nigeria is thriving economically. But the bad news is that this [incident with the girls] cuts to the heart of the continuing problems with safety and security here. Boko Haram has displaced 500,000 people in northern Nigeria. The president has instructed Secretary Kerry that we will do everything we can to help.”

Yet at the end of the day, the impetus for managing the crisis has to come from Nigerian leaders themselves–and so far, most seem much more interested in discussing foreign direct investment and GDP growth and privatization of the country’s various industries rather than talking about how to ensure security for its people, and particularly how to find the missing girls and insure that something like this never happens again. “People have no idea how fragile things are here,” says Anton du Plessis, managing director for the South Africa based Institute for Security Studies. “You can have growth without development.” That’s exactly the situation in Nigeria right now.

TIME Nigeria

Nigerians Critical of Government’s Slow Kidnappings Response

London Protest Against The  Kidnapping Of More Than 200 Nigerian Girls
A man holds a sign that reads "Bring Back Our Girls" during a protest outside Nigeria House in London on May 9, 2014 Dan Kitwood—Getty Images

The government's inaction and sluggish response to the kidnapping of around 279 girls by Boko Haram has left many Nigerians frustrated and critical of it

With the U.S., Britain and France now involved in the search for hundreds of girls abducted by the Islamic militant group Boko Haram, Nigerians have begun to wonder whether a slow response by their own government could ignite an explosion inside the country. Their dissatisfaction is rooted in a sense that Nigeria’s missteps are a sign of greater disregard for the public good.

“It took the self-immolation of a Tunisian street trader to spark off the Arab Spring,” blogger Chris Ngwodo wrote in the Lagos newspaper ThisDay on Sunday, referring to the death in 2011 by Mohamed Bouazizi, which set off the Tunisian revolution, followed by revolutions in Egypt and Libya. In a similar way, he wrote, “the debacle [of the kidnapped schoolgirls] might yet unleash seismic repercussions.”

Ngwodo’s is just one voice in a rising chorus of Nigerians frustrated over their government’s seeming inaction and slow response. The girls vanished almost one month ago, on April 15, when Boko Haram invaded a boarding school in the remote northeastern town of Chibok. They forced an estimated 279 girls into trucks, and drove them into the forest; eight more were kidnapped days later.

On Friday, Amnesty International said its researchers had proof that local officials had been alerted about four hours before the April 15 attack, after people in neighboring villages said they witnessed Boko Haram gunmen moving toward Chibok, where the girls were writing their final high school exams. Though the alarm was raised, Amnesty reported, officials failed both to send military reinforcements and to attempt to move the girls to safety.

Amnesty said it had “multiple interviews with credible sources,” and called the government’s inaction “a gross dereliction of Nigeria’s duty to protect civilians.”

Seemingly unaware of the incident’s potential to set off an emotional chain reaction, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan waited two weeks before speaking publicly about the attack. He also rebuffed immediate offers of help from the U.S. and U.K., according to the Associated Press on Sunday. Jonathan — who is also Commander in Chief of Nigeria’s armed forces — finally broke his silence on May 1, calling the incident “horrific” and asking for foreign help.

But by then, it seemed too late. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a chilling video on May 4 saying he intended to sell the girls, some as young as 9 years old, perhaps by trading them in Chad and Cameroon.

That fueled a global campaign, with #BringBackOurGirls trending on Twitter across the world. On Wednesday, U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama posted a photo of herself holding a sign with the slogan, and on Saturday she made her first-ever address from the White House, saying she and President Barack Obama were “outraged and heartbroken” by the girls’ situation. Pope Francis too tweeted about the campaign:

With four weeks having passed since their abduction, finding the girls will now be immensely difficult, especially given Shekau’s warning about selling them off.

Jonathan has recently suggested that Boko Haram’s days are numbered, as it now faces international military action. A Nigerian presidential adviser Reuben Abati told TIME on Friday afternoon that U.S. military advisers had already last week and that British advisers would arrive on Monday.

Yet it is unclear what Western military help might accomplish at this point. U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told ABC’s This Week on Sunday that the U.S. is sending only military advisers, not soldiers. He warned that finding the girls “will be very difficult. It is a vast country.”

“This is not going to be an easy task,” Hagel said.

Still, in Lagos’ upscale neighborhoods — hundreds of miles and a world away from Boko Haram’s stronghold — several wealthy young people displayed red wristbands this weekend, part of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Other residents hammered posters to the railing of a traffic circle, each with the silhouette of a face and the name of one of the missing girls.

Boko Haram’s bloody campaign, which started in 2009, has accelerated sharply in recent months. Of the 4,000 or so people killed in the past four years, about 1,500 of them have died this year alone. The insurgency has barely let up since the girls disappeared last month, and it could well increase with the arrival of foreign advisers. The AP reported this weekend that insurgents had blown up a bridge in the area near the kidnappings, killing several people, and that they kidnapped the wife and two children of a retired police officer.

Boko Haram’s violence isn’t isolated to the far-flung areas of the country either. The group has claimed responsibility for a car bomb that killed about 75 people on April 19 in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. A second bomb exploded close to the first site on May 2, and the Nigerian government blames Boko Haram for it too. That attack killed at least 12 more people, just days before the beginning of the World Economic Forum on Africa, hosted this year in Abuja.

President Jonathan and his government had planned for months to use the forum to show off Nigeria’s booming economy, Africa’s biggest since last month. Instead, the kidnappings dogged most conversations at the forum, and hundreds of heavily armed military and police surrounded the conference hotel and escorted visitors on transport buses. And rather than trumpeting his country’s success, Jonathan spent much of the three-day event defending his actions. On Friday afternoon, he told a small group of reporters — including TIME — that aircraft had been dispatched “immediately” after the kidnapping.

“If people give you the impression that the government is slow, that is not true,” he said. “That is not correct.”

Many Nigerians are unconvinced, however, and are now questioning whether the government has simply lost touch with its people. Blogger Ngwodo also stated in his article on Sunday that, beyond bringing back the girls, the government would need to work to “instill a culture of accountability.”

Easier said than done, perhaps. “Nigerians have never taken the regime very seriously. The government has never been proactive on any issues,” Sylvester Odion Akhaine, a political-science professor at Lagos State University, told TIME on Sunday. “That is the general perception.”

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