The media is awash with reports of the rescue of an American citizen by US Special Forces in Nigeria. According to Reuters, forces including Navy SEALs rescued 27-year-old Philip Walton, who had been abducted from his home in neighbouring southern Niger.
Walton, who kept camels, sheep and poultry and grew mangoes near the border with Nigeria, was kidnapped by six men armed with AK-47 assault rifles who arrived on motorcycles at his home in southern Niger’s Massalata village early on Tuesday.
His wife, young daughter and brother were left behind.
Reuters reported that the perpetrators appeared to be from the Fulani ethnic group, and that they spoke Hausa and some English. They demanded money and searched the family’s home before leaving with Walton.
As usual, the story is being posted and reposted, with a video clip of President Donald Trump boasting at a campaign rally about the killing of the kidnappers by US Special Forces during the rescue of Walton being forwarded up and down, especially on social media.
Watch Trump below:
Beyond the hype, however, are questions that are begging for answers.
It would be recalled that in the lead up to the 2015 general election in Nigeria, the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan took some desperate measures to collar the menace of Boko Haram, which at the time had begun annexing some Nigerian territories.
The Jonathan government openly acknowledged that forces from Chad, Niger, and Cameroon were in Nigeria fighting Boko Haram as the government tried to score some battlefield victories ahead of the presidential election, and Jonathan’s main opponent, retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari, was stridently criticising the government’s failure to rout Boko Haram.
In March 2015, the Voice of America (VOA) claimed that soldiers from South Africa and other countries outside the Ecowas region were in Nigeria fighting Boko Haram. The report said some of the foreigners were engaged in ground combat while others were flying air missions.
Nigerian government officials subsequently confirmed the presence of such foreign military personnel but said they were only advisers accompanying military equipment purchased from South Africa, Russia and Ukraine. In an exclusive interview with VOA, President Goodluck Jonathan said that foreigners, whom he described as “technicians,” had been brought in for maintenance and instruction.
Jonathan faced a peculiar dilemma. He was criticised for relying on foreign military forces to defeat ‘mere insurgents’, as Boko Haram was regarded at the time. At the same time, he was accused of refusing the assistance of some foreign powers to neutralise the insurgents. This raises the question of whether there are no standard protocols for international collaboration to fight terrorism.
It is reported that Walton was kidnapped in Niger Republic and taken to Nigeria where he was rescued. There are currently speculations and insinuations that some public office holders in Nigeria are Nigerien (from Niger Republic). Are Walton’s abductors Nigerian or Nigerien?
The Nigerian intelligence machinery is also under constant censure. Critics say it is only at optimum performance when it comes to hounding political opponents of an incumbent administration. It would be interesting to know the role played by the Nigerian intelligentsia and security apparatus before and during the rescue operation by US Special Forces. It is common knowledge that the US would do everything possible to rescue any of its citizens held hostage in any part of the world. Commenting on Walton’s rescue, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Fox News that the Trump administration had over the years rescued 55 hostages in 24 countries. Are there special forces trained to rescue Nigerian citizens in similar circumstances in foreign countries? If not, why not? If so, is there a record of any such successful operation?
According to the 2019 Global Terrorism Index Report, other than Afghanistan, only three other countries recorded a substantial increase in deaths from terrorism in 2018: Nigeria, Mali, and Mozambique. Each of these countries recorded more than 100 additional deaths. The annual Global Terrorism Index, now in its seventh year, is developed by the Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP) and provides the most comprehensive resource on global terrorist trends. How is the Walton debacle likely to impact the perception and ranking of Nigeria on the global terrorism scale?
Related to the above is the likely impact of that perception on foreign direct investment, tourism, the image of Nigerian international travellers and citizens abroad, and the chances of Nigerian applicants for US visas, bursaries and US International agencies’ support. Are there strategic plans to ameliorate likely negative fallouts?
In his February 2015 Chatham House speech in the UK, President Buhari, then presidential candidate of the opposition APC said:
“When speaking about Nigeria overseas, I normally prefer to be my country’s public relations and marketing officer, extolling her virtues and hoping to attract investments and tourists”.
Is this latest development likely to attract more investment and tourists to Nigeria?
Speaking on the state of insecurity in Nigeria at that Chatham House event, Retired Major General Buhari said:
“On insecurity, there is a genuine cause for worry, both within and outside Nigeria. Apart from the civil war era, at no other time in our history has Nigeria been this insecure. Boko Haram has sadly put Nigeria on the terrorism map, killing more than 13,000 of our nationals, displacing millions internally and externally, and at a time holding on to portions of our territory the size of Belgium.”
Buhari attributed this pathetic state of affairs to lack of leadership:
“What has been consistently lacking is the required leadership in our battle against insurgency. I, as a retired general and a former head of state, have always known about our soldiers: they are capable, well trained, patriotic, brave and always ready to do their duty in the service of our country. You all can bear witness to the gallant role of our military in Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Darfur and in many other peacekeeping operations in several parts of the world. But in the matter of this insurgency, our soldiers have neither received the necessary support nor the required incentives to tackle this problem. The government has also failed in any effort towards a multi-dimensional response to this problem leading to a situation in which we have now become dependent on our neighbours to come to our rescue”.
The APC standard bearer inspired hope when he told the world:
“Let me assure you that if I am elected president, the world will have no cause to worry about Nigeria as it has had to recently; that Nigeria will return to its stabilising role in West Africa; and that no inch of Nigerian territory will ever be lost to the enemy because we will pay special attention to the welfare of our soldiers in and out of service, we will give them adequate and modern arms and ammunitions to work with, we will improve intelligence gathering and border controls to choke Boko Haram’s financial and equipment channels, we will be tough on terrorism and tough on its root causes by initiating a comprehensive economic development plan promoting infrastructural development, job creation, agriculture and industry in the affected areas. We will always act on time and not allow problems to irresponsibly fester”.
Buhari ended that memorable speech with a master stroke one-liner:
“I, Muhammadu Buhari, will always lead from the front and return Nigeria to its leadership role in regional and international efforts to combat terrorism.”
More than five years after, some Chibok school girls and Leah Sharibu, one of the abducted Dapchi girls who refused to convert to Islam as ordered by Boko Haram, are still in captivity. It is left for observers to decide from what position Buhari as president and commander-in-chief has been leading the battle against Boko Haram – the front, the middle or the rear?
From Random Thoughts: A Collection of Essays and Poems by Tony Ekata
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