- Adotei Akweimanaging director of government relations for Amnesty International USA.
- Rona Peligaldeputy director of the Africa Division or Human Rights Watch. She edited their report, “Those Terrible Weeks in Their Camp: Boko Haram Violence Against Women and Girls in Northeast Nigeria.”
- Horace Campbellprofessor of African American studies and political science at Syracuse University. He has written extensively on African politics. He wrote the article, “The Menace of Boko Haram and Fundamentalism in Nigeria,” and is working on a book about U.S. militarism and African independence.
Satellite images and witness accounts have emerged of what Amnesty International calls the “catastrophic destruction” from a massacre in northern Nigeria. Hundreds are feared dead after Boko Haram militants attacked Baga and surrounding areas earlier this month. Before and after images taken of two adjacent towns show thousands of buildings damaged or destroyed. The Nigerian military has claimed a toll as low as 150, but it could be as high as 2,000. Boko Haram is also suspected in a pair of suicide attacks over the weekend where explosives were strapped to young girls. It was nine months ago that the hashtag #BringOurGirlsHome drew the world’s attention to the group’s abduction of some 270 schoolgirls, most of whom remain unaccounted for. We host a roundtable discussion on the latest developments and the rise of Boko Haram with three guests: Adotei Akwei, managing director of government relations for Amnesty International USA; Rona Peligal, deputy director of the Africa Division for Human Rights Watch; and Horace Campbell, professor of African American studies and political science at Syracuse University. “The Boko Haram struggle is about who will control the billions of dollars, 10,000 barrels of oil per day that is siphoned out of Nigeria,” Campbell argues. He has written extensively on African politics, including the article, “The Menace of Boko Haram and Fundamentalism in Nigeria.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to Nigeria, where satellite images and witness accounts have emerged in what Amnesty International calls the “catastrophic destruction” from a massacre in northern Nigeria. Hundreds are feared dead after Boko Haram militants attacked Baga and surrounding areas earlier this month. Before and after images taken of two adjacent towns show thousands of buildings damaged or destroyed. Amnesty says one town was completely wiped off the map. One witness who managed to flee told Amnesty, quote, “I don’t know how many, but there were bodies everywhere we looked.” The Nigerian military has claimed a toll as low as 150, but it could be as high as 2,000.
AMY GOODMAN: On Thursday, President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron issued a joint statement referencing the Boko Haram slaughter, writing, quote, “Whether we are facing lone fanatics or terrorist organisations such as al-Qaeda, Islamic State or Boko Haram, we will not be cowed by extremists,” they said. And speaking in Bulgaria, Secretary of State John Kerry responded to concerns the world’s attention was focused on Paris.
SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: With respect to Boko Haram, let me make it crystal clear. I don’t know where the silence is. I have spoken out about Boko Haram many number of times, and what they have done, with respect to the slaughter recently, is a crime against humanity, nothing less. It’s an enormously horrendous slaughter of innocent people, and Boko Haram continues to present a serious threat, not just to Nigeria and the region, but to all of our values and to all of our sense of responsibility regarding terrorism. The events of Paris just underscore it. There are different scales, obviously, but Boko Haram is, without question, one of the most evil and threatening terrorist entities on the planet today.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Boko Haram is also suspected in a pair of suicide attacks over the weekend where explosives were strapped to young girls. It was nine months ago that the hashtag #BringOurGirlsHome drew the world’s attention to the group’s abduction of some 270 schoolgirls, most of whom remain unaccounted for. Human Rights Watch spoke to one woman kidnapped by the group, who later escaped.
HAUWA: [translated] I was forced to go with them on operations. I usually carried their bullets. They would make me lie down on the ground during operations, but I just held the bullets. When they wanted me to kill the first man, my body was shaking and I fell down on the ground. They forced me to get up and watch as they killed the second person. At that point, I was thinking I should grab a gun from the insurgents and kill myself, since they had taught us how to shoot.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by three guests. Adotei Akwei is with us, managing director of government relations for Amnesty International USA. He is in Washington, D.C. Rona Peligal is with us, deputy director of Africa Division for Human Rights Watch. She edited their report, “Those Terrible Weeks in Their Camp: Boko Haram Violence Against Women and Girls in Northeast Nigeria.” And joining us via Democracy Now! video stream, Horace Campbell is with us from Syracuse, professor of African American studies and political science at Syracuse University. He has written extensively on African politics, including the article, “The Menace of Boko Haram and Fundamentalism in Nigeria.” He’s working on a book about U.S. militarism and African independence.
We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Let’s begin in Washington, D.C., with Adotei Akwei. Talk about these maps that you’ve looked at, these before and after maps, and what you think at this point has happened and how many casualties you believe there are in northern Nigeria as a result of Boko Haram attacks.
ADOTEI AKWEI: Thank you. Amnesty was able to commission satellite imagery that showed Baga and Doron Baga before and after the attacks. Clearly, you can’t completely estimate the number of casualties until you actually have physical access, and that, of course, is too dangerous at this point. But the level of destruction to the structures in Doron Baga, for example, of at least 3,000 indicate that the number of casualties is probably closer to the 2,000 mark, and certainly in the several hundreds, which is a far cry from what the Nigerian government is claiming, which is 150, as you mentioned earlier. So, what it indicates, I think, is a major escalation in both the threat of Boko Haram, the danger that the people in the northern parts of Nigeria are facing, and it also, I think, brings into very, very stark relief the strategy and the response of the Nigerian government, which is not working.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, what about that response of the government? Your sense from Amnesty of what the government and its military is doing to be able to provide some kind of protection to the people in the north?
ADOTEI AKWEI: Well, you know, the government’s statement of 150 casualties follows a pattern of underrepresentation of the threat and of the casualties going back for several years. One can speculate as to the reasons for that, but the bottom line is that people are being killed, people are being displaced. Roughly 500,000, maybe upwards closer to a million, have been internally displaced. Institutions like schools, government buildings, obviously military barracks, and other institutions have been destroyed. And the northern part of the country seems to have been almost let go almost as collateral damage, just based on the lack of response, or certainly what appears to be a lack of urgency amongst the political leadership and the rest of the country.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you link, Rona Peligal of Human Rights Watch, what we’re seeing now, this latest attack and the possibility that girls as young as 10 were strapped with explosives to kill others and detonate it from a remote site, to what we’ve seen in the last years, the girls being abducted?
RONA PELIGAL: I think they’re separate issues, but they’re related insofar as they speak to a cycle of violence that goes between the Nigerian security forces and Boko Haram. With respect to the BringBackOurGirls campaign, for example, as your clip showed, Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 30 girls who had escaped captivity, girls and women who had been abducted and had managed to escape, and we found a range of abuses against them while they were in captivity. Some, as the girl that you showed mentioned, were forced to convert, were forced to marry, were sexually abused and raped, were forced to engage in labor and serve in military activities. So, we know that these girls have been taken in brutal circumstances, they have endured brutal circumstances, and when they get home, there’s very little help for them. The BringBackOurGirls campaign fortunately shined a spotlight—shone a spotlight on the girls, but they remain, we believe, married and dispersed somewhere in the Sambisa Forest, and we have not yet seen them return.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to ask Professor Horace Campbell of Syracuse University about the role of American policy in the region. A few years ago, we saw, to much fanfare, President Obama’s support of the overthrow of Gaddafi and the sending of military support to the Libyan rebels. What’s been the impact across northern Africa of the overthrow of Gaddafi in terms of the rise and the resurgence of fundamentalist groups?
HORACE CAMPBELL: Thank you, Juan. The statement by the secretary of state that we’re dealing with crimes against humanity behooves everyone in the world to be involved in suppressing and fighting against crimes against humanity. And what we’re describing in northern Nigeria and the scale of what has taken place in Baga clearly could not be the work of some groups of militias. So we’re dealing with many different entities here. And in the specific case of Nigeria, we’re dealing with the political struggles for control of the state, so that in the case of Nigeria, we have Boko Haram, or the elements that are called Boko Haram, that are financed from inside the top levels of the state apparatus. And the intensification of the killings and destabilization of Nigeria at the moment is directly related to the upcoming and forthcoming elections on February the 14th.
The well-known and the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Nobel Prize winner for literature, Wole Soyinka, presented to the world the fact that there was elements—there were elements of the Central Bank of Nigeria who were financing Boko Haram, and that he had the name of the elements from the Central Bank of Nigeria who were financing Boko Haram. He asked Jonathan to give the names to the world, because he got the names from a foreign embassy. Now, was that foreign embassy the United States government? What is the role of the United States government in the knowledge that they have about Boko Haram? That’s a first point I want to make.
A second point is, with John Kerry, what do they know about the role of Chad in Baga and the relationship between Chad and those who are providing missiles and resources to Boko Haram and the destabilization of Nigeria?
The last point I want to make is that when there was a vote at the United Nations about Palestine a month ago, John Kerry called the Nigerian government to change its vote about Palestine half an hour before the vote was made. He called Goodluck Jonathan. Clearly, they have information about the compromised leaders in the Nigerian state who are financing Boko Haram. Why do they not bring that information to the African Union, to the United Nations, so that there’s an exposure of all of the forces—in Chad, in France, in the Cameroon and in the Nigerian leadership—who are financing Boko Haram?
AMY GOODMAN: That’s a very interesting point you raise, the pressure that was put on Nigeria on the U.N. Security Council to vote against Palestine on the issue. Can you talk more about the U.S.-Nigeria relationship—Nigeria, the most populous African country—and how Boko Haram has gained strength there?
HORACE CAMPBELL: Nigeria is by far the most dynamic force in Africa. And what everyone fears at the moment is the mobilization of the Nigerian people, as the people mobilized in Egypt or the people mobilized in Burkina Faso, to remove corrupt elements. So, there is a merger of forces of exploitation in Nigeria. Militias are being used against the people. The humiliation, violation and exploitation of women has reached the most obscene levels. And the accumulation by the Nigerian political class—40 percent of the oil wealth from Nigeria is siphoned off by that political class. The Boko Haram struggle is a struggle about who will control the billions of dollars, 10,000 barrels of oil per day, that is siphoned out of Nigeria.
The United States government have the information about bunkering, about exportive capital, about financing Boko Haram. The United States government used that information selectively in order to get what they want from the Nigerian government. Note, 40 years ago, the president of Nigeria, Murtala Mohammed, was called by Henry Kissinger when the Nigerians supported the Angolans and the Cubans in Southern Africa. And the Nigerians were very important at that point to tell Henry Kissinger, “Go to hell.” “Murtala Mohammed, the president of Nigeria, was killed after that, because Nigeria was not going along with what the United States want. We need a movement here to expose the collusion between the United States, the oil companies and the political class, who use elements such as Nigeria and Boko Haram to destabilize Nigerian society.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of the spread of Boko Haram, is it your sense that they are gaining support in the population in the north, and there’s potential for a possible split of the country between the mostly Muslim north and the Christian south?
HORACE CAMPBELL: No, no. Nigerians are too sophisticated for that. What they fear is an uprising of Nigerian working people, men and women, young people, all over the country, from north, south, east and west. And so, there is an alliance between all of the oppressors in the region, including the United States.
What we must ask ourselves is: How is it that the former governor of Borno State becomes part of the delegation of the government of Chad, when we have this notion that Chad was going to be a mediator? And the government of Nigeria spent millions of dollars to organize bringing back the girls, only to find out that elements from within the Chadian government were supplying weapons and missiles to Boko Haram from Sudan.
So, there is a wide web that we need to penetrate and investigate that we’re not dealing simply with some armed, wild-eyed young people. There is a conspiracy against the Nigerian people so that Nigeria is not stable, peaceful, so that the people can have a good quality of life.
AMY GOODMAN: Adotei Akwei, do you share Professor Campbell’s analysis? And how does this play out in what we are seeing today—the attack on women and girls, the attack on whole communities?
ADOTEI AKWEI: Well, I think Professor Campbell’s analysis goes a little bit beyond Amnesty’s mandate, but I think there are a couple of elements there that I would have to say are very on point. One, I think the threat of regional instability is clear. Cameroon, Chad, Niger—all of those are countries that are now looking at perhaps not a direct challenge to the whole authority of the state, but certainly the erosion of state—further erosion of state control, and those are all fragile states.
I think another point of Dr. Campbell’s analysis about the flow of weapons is extremely accurate. In addition to the supplies that—or the weapons that have come down after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, there are also criminal networks that are facilitating the transfer of weapons. There’s clearly credible reports about collusion and support for Boko Haram within the Nigerian military.
And I think the most important point is that there definitely needs to be a much larger groundswell of pressure on the Nigerian authorities, as well as the international community, to come up with an effective response to Boko Haram and what they’re doing to the Nigerian people in the northern part of the country.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Rona Peligal, we just have about a minute left—the issue of the kidnapped girls? Despite all this international attention, no success in locating them. Does your organization have any sense of what is happening there, and does anyone know where they are?
RONA PELIGAL: We actually don’t know specifically where they are. Even satellite imagery wouldn’t show that. And obviously, a rescue of the girls is very complicated from a number of points of view, but primarily because one such military response, for example, could endanger the girls themselves. We know that they are with insurgents who are heavily armed. And so, it is a very difficult situation, but I think it’s one that does call for more regional and international cooperation.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you all for being with us, Rona Peligal of Human Rights Watch, Adotei Akwei of Amnesty International, and Professor Horace Campbell of Syracuse University. We’ll link to all your reports at democracynow.org.
Tune in to our Martin Luther King special on Monday. You don’t want to miss it.