A LETTER TO THE UN SECRETARY GENERAL: The Chibok Abduction and Nigeria’s Crisis of Protection


A group of the ‘Chibok girls’ kidnapped by Boko Haram a month ago.

Dear Secretary General,

We are writing this open letter as members of the Nigeria Security Network, a new collaborative group dedicated to promoting research and analysis related to Nigerian security, particularly the Boko Haram insurgency. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the organisations and institutions we work for, but they are grounded in our collective expertise and experience.

We commend the leadership you have shown in responding to the recent abduction of 276 schoolgirls by Boko Haram in Borno State, Nigeria, and we share your concern about the frequency of attacks on educational institutions there.

We are writing to ask you to use your continued leadership to help mobilise an effective response not only to the Chibok abduction but also to the broader crisis of protection in north-east Nigeria.

The Chibok abduction is one of the most shocking examples of Boko Haram’s campaign of terror against civilians in north-east Nigeria, and it is part of a wider pattern. As you know, many schools in Borno and Yobe states have been forced to close after Boko Haram attacks in which children have been murdered. Villages have also been razed to the ground and hundreds of civilians killed in attacks over the last few months, including in recent days.

The #BringBackOurGirls campaign has touched people all over the world and focused our attention on the plight of the Chibok schoolgirls. However, we want to caution both Nigeria and the international community. The publicity generated by the #BringBackOurGirls campaign has brought enormous pressure to bear both on the Nigerian government and on its partners, and we fear this may lead to rash actions and policy choices. Instead, the situation demands a carefully considered and strategic response, including a comprehensive programme of reform that will address the wider crisis of protection in north-east Nigeria.

Any response must be rooted in a firm understanding of the conflict and the needs of those affected. There has been a tendency in some quarters towards hyperbole and caricature in framing the Boko Haram insurgency and the Chibok abduction. Boko Haram is an extremely violent group, but the depiction of a band of extremists motivated only by bloodlust and fanatical beliefs overlooks not only their roots as a movement with a considerable following but also the more practical reasons why some may join their ranks, including financial reward in a region of extraordinary poverty.

It is also important to remember that though Boko Haram may not be popular in Borno, neither is the Nigerian state. Some of Boko Haram’s extreme actions have, moreover, been partly provoked by similar actions by the government – including detaining the children and wives of Boko Haram members in the past. The reality of the insurgency is naturally more complex than many media portrayals.

We fear that an overly simplistic understanding of the violence in Nigeria may lead to simplistic solutions. In particular we would like to warn of the possible risks of direct foreign military intervention. Assistance from the US, the UK, and others in the areas of counter-insurgency training and advice are very welcome and necessary, but it is important to remember that Boko Haram’s initial successes in recruitment arose in part as a reaction against Western education and values, which for historical reasons have become associated with the failings of Nigeria’s secular state, particularly social exclusion, corruption, and poor governance.

Direct Western involvement in the counter-insurgency campaign and the effort to find the Chibok girls, including through the use of drones and manned aircraft, may seem like a convenient solution. But one of the few strengths of Nigeria’s counter-insurgency at the present time is that it is conducted by Nigerians. There must be a partnership between Nigeria and the international community to tackle Boko Haram, but the advantages of overt Western military involvement must be carefully weighed against potential political damage.

There are, however, concrete measures the Nigerian government can take that may alleviate the situation in conflict-affected states. And there are steps that international partners can take to support them. Firstly, there are too few military resources being devoted to protecting communities and schools. The protection given to the school at Chibok, for example, was clearly insufficient to stop Boko Haram’s attack. This is partly because the Nigerian security forces have adopted a kinetic force posture, focusing on aggressively attacking and bombing suspected Boko Haram camps and then retreating to bases. Instead, there is a need for a more population-centric posture, in which soldiers spend more time and are deployed in greater numbers around civilian areas. Effective early-warning systems are also vital.

The abduction has also highlighted the need to build more public support for the counter-insurgency effort. It is remarkable that the government still does not know the location of the Chibok girls. Improved relations between the military and the local population would yield better local intelligence and, in some cases, also deny the insurgency a source of recruitment and shelter. This would in turn make it easier to protect the population.

However, instead of protecting the population and building public support for the counter-insurgency, the military has too often itself engaged in violent and alienating behaviour. There are regular reports of civilians being mistreated by soldiers, and there have been reports of extra-judicial executions of suspected Boko Haram members and civilians. The military uses a permissive legal framework under the state of emergency to carry out human rights violations with impunity. This must stop.

The security forces should also consider the particular protection needs of women and girls. Women and girls are especially vulnerable to conflict, particularly with respect to sexual violence. Moreover, the practice of detaining women and children in order to put pressure on family members suspected of being Boko Haram members must stop. We urge you to ensure UN Security Council Resolution 1325 is being fully implemented in Nigeria.

We believe the military and the government need to invest more in training and equipment to ensure its soldiers are prepared to fight Boko Haram effectively. Amnesty International has claimed that security forces knew about the Chibok abduction four hours before it was due to happen and failed to provide protection because soldiers were too frightened to engage the enemy. There have also been recent reports of troops mutinying because of inadequate equipment. The government has an important responsibility to ensure its soldiers have the equipment they need and the international community should be ready to assist with training.

Chibok has also highlighted the danger of Nigeria’s porous borders with Cameroon, Niger, and Chad. There have been unverified reports of some of the abducted girls being trafficked across these borders. There are also reports of Boko Haram recruiting fighters and carrying out operations in these countries. The UN could work with partners to ensure a coordinated regional response to improve security and protection of the population in these areas.

As an honest broker, we believe you are well positioned to unite Nigeria and the international community behind appropriate measures to protect the population of north-east Nigeria. In summary, we encourage you to:

Press the Nigerian government and military to place protection of the population at the centre of their security strategy and improve relations with local communities.

Press the Nigerian government and military to properly equip and prepare soldiers for combat against Boko Haram.

Focus the international community’s attention on training and advice to the Nigerian security forces and coordinating security along Nigeria’s borders, and ensure careful consideration of the dangers of direct foreign military involvement.

We look forward to your continued leadership on this issue and we stand ready to provide any advice or assistance as required.


Yours sincerely,


Andrew Noakes

Coordinator, Nigeria Security Network


Ryan Cummings

African security risk analyst


Hannah Hoechner

Université Libre de Bruxelles


Elizabeth Pearson

Nigeria Analyst and journalist


Zacharias Pieri

University of South Florida


Andrew Walker

Nigeria Analyst and journalist


Jason Warner

Harvard University


Jacob Zenn

African Affairs Analyst


More information about the Nigeria Security Network can be found at www.nigeriasecuritynetwork.org

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One thought on “A LETTER TO THE UN SECRETARY GENERAL: The Chibok Abduction and Nigeria’s Crisis of Protection

  1. I suggest in a manner strong to all engaged development professionals that the social political public civic civil electoral leitmotiv for the calibration of any National/Regional/Local Election be grounded in considering with strict strident urgent attention the following statement uttered by Woodrow Wilson when he was campaigning to become President of the United States in 1912.
    “Are you going to vote for a government which will regulate your master, or are you going to be your own masters and regulate the government and through the government these men who have tried to regulate you?”
    The ‘Congregation of the People of Tradition for Proselytism and Jihad’—better known by its Hausa name ‘Boko Haram’ meaning ‘Western education is sinful’—is an Islamic jihadist and takfiri militant and terrorist organization governed by the gangsterism ethos without any credence to the serene intellectualism of the Islam Religion advanced by the Prophet Muhammad. Founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2002, the Boko Haram organisation seeks to establish a “pure” Islamic state ruled by sharia law, putting a stop to what it deems ‘westernization sustained by crass colonialism’.
    This Boko Haram cult of gangsterism evidenced in the violent abduction of young women from their schools must/ought be considered and regarded by all who value social order; as this abduction of innocent women reflects/refracts in the strongest lack of governance dialectic. These school girl abductions reinforce the gross lack of civil civic social order in Nigeria. President Goodluck Jonathan and his administration of governance must be held to strict account. These innocent young women were seeking only to improve their intellectual social standing grounded in learning in acquiring both academic and practical knowledge so as to enhance their personal lives along with enhancing and strengthening their society and culture in terms of prescriptive social civic civil cohesion.
    The government of Nigeria has a fundamental obligation to eradicate this element of gangsterism shrouded within the veil of Islam using every and all national resources. Anything less must be considered as tacit compliance in accepting this pernicious cult of gangsterism who regard themselves as ‘law’.
    When an election “is seriously compromised” using both qualitative and quantitative metrics does pose normative queries which are not necessarily easy to reconcile. The salient issue might well be: What can the International Community of Civic Civil Electoral Expert Advisors do in addressing this combustive technical [quantitative] and public policy [qualitative] concern in persuading a National Electoral Commission to step up and take full civic electoral responsibility in investigating [profound] allegations of electoral fraud?
    The failure of young democracies [Ukraine, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Thailand, South Africa, DRC, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt] has enormous inter-continent civic electoral consequences notwithstanding that the ‘democracy idea’ grounded within a civic electoral matrix eventually and ultimately will be the end state of every nation on earth. This civic electoral ‘democracy idea’ remains a most powerful seductive concept [Fukuyama]. In the long run, democracy is on balance the best political system—-not because it allows citizens essential fundamental freedoms but because democracy as a normative concept enhances transparency and rule of law which in the long run will foster and encourage prescriptive ordinal citizen prosperity—the fundamental ontological essence of ‘civitas’—- essential in pluralistic dynamic flowering and flourishing of values connoting and promoting respect, peace, and good order. Civic Institution Elements grossly lacking in many fragile social democratic societies today.
    Qualitative Electoral Good citizens who are alert, engaged and educated in the advancement of pluralistic common values should participate in a national conversation and reflect collectively upon the content and character of their shared national identity. In a prescriptive pluralistic society open to engaged polite debate, the motives of good citizens should arise freely; virtue cannot be the product of state civil coercion or servile civic indoctrination.
    A liberal nationalist conception of civic virtue seems to imply some project of institutional design. The state’s institutions and practices need to be structured so as to cultivate and elevate civic virtue among its citizens. The most obvious realm is that of education. We cannot assume that citizens will fulfill their [civic electoral] responsibilities. Good national citizens are more likely to be the products of just institutions and of active pro-engaged public polity participation.
    Civic Education involves reconciling an interest in the social reproduction of citizens with three important values.
    1. the question of whether civic education might obstruct individual autonomy, by privileging civic conformity over critical self-direction
    2. civic education must account for how parents’ interests in raising their children according to their beliefs and way of life can be accommodated, [if at all]
    3. any transmission of civic virtue should be consistent with the toleration of difference and cultural respect: civic education, most particular the content of school civic curriculum, must not involve the oppressive assimilation of cultural minorities.
    When organized along liberal pluralistic rubric, civic electoral education should/ought be guided by two ideas/concepts corresponding to ends and means. Respecting the ends, the liberal pluralistic nationalist should/ought to promote among future citizens a patriotic desire to contribute to a national tradition. This rules out one method of civic education favoured by many western type societies—a civic minimalism limited to basic political knowledge. Deliberative pluralistic democracy requires a more exacting standard of civic civil citizenship. Civic education should/ought involve an element/form of ‘national’ civic civil education, which equips future citizens with cultural civic civil literacy and which prepares them to participate in critical self-interpretation of the national civic civil culture.
    The essential challenge for this civic civil educative program process is to ensure that any civic civil education is most sensitive to a normative value of cultural respect, which I believe has not historically been the case in many western civic civil education programs. Moral civic civil dialogue should/ought to be fostered and encouraged among all national participants. The young citizens over the course of their schooling and education should/ought have the opportunity to have multiple encounters with peers from divergent social backgrounds, and in the process forge/create/develop effective and affective ties of common fellowship with their future fellow citizens. Following this education rubric the potential exists in: will these future citizens be best equipped to participate in the kind of national-cultural dialogue conversation that defines a pluralistic national civil identity?
    In theory, governance – once a constitution is in place – starts with elections. Let the people decide. But in Africa that great line from Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, The Poisonwood Bible, sums it up: “To the Congolese it seems odd that if one man gets fifty votes and the second forty-nine, the first one wins altogether and the second one plumb loses. That means almost half the people will be unhappy… and in a village that’s left halfway unhappy you haven’t heard the end of it. There is sure to be trouble somewhere down the line.”
    This is especially the case in countries that are divided by ethnicity. Ethnic identity is deeper and stronger than national identity in many countries. In most, ethnic support in elections means the winner must reward that support by spending money in the region. Elections become a simple numbers game, a competition between ethnic-based parties. The winner takes all, leaving great swathes of an electoral region unrepresented and often ignored by governments as the current situation in Ukraine suggests in a manner real and quantitatively calibrated which is grounded upon the lack of a strong ordinal civic civil social culture which is most profound qualitative in form and function.
    The Civic Electoral Process defies a simple quantitative measurement series of rubric measurement criteria. The Civic Civil Electoral Process is an amalgam exercising qualitative metrics within a quantitative norm of civic civil social cohesion essential if the civic civil electoral process is to be valued, validated in the normative element and most critical respected by the electorate even those who elected not to participate in the civic civil electoral process.

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