The world was briefly transfixed by the brutal abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls by a terrorist group in northern Nigeria in April – and then almost as quickly turned its gaze elsewhere.
But the United Nations’ special representative for West Africa says that wrenching events will continue unless Nigeria and other countries in the region take steps to address the root causes of turmoil – from poor governance and uneven development to deepening divisions among national political factions.
“The abduction of the Chibok girls is part of a bigger problem of governance and development in northeast Nigeria,” says Said Djinnit, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s special representative for West Africa, using the name of the village where more than 270 schoolgirls were abducted by the terrorist insurgency Boko Haram.
Addressing the UN Security Council Tuesday, Mr. Djinnit said that “Nigeria is at a crossroads” – with the key country’s course to be determined by how it responds to the growing challenges.
Speaking later to reporters, he suggested that political divisions within Nigeria are as much at fault as anything else for the inability to resolve the kidnapping crisis. “This is a challenge to progress as a whole, and all parties should be coming together to address this scourge,” he said, using the word “scourge” repeatedly to describe the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency.
Djinnit addressed the Security Council on events in West Africa during the past six months – a period marked by rising international concern about trends, including growing instability, across Africa’s midsection.
The sub-Saharan swath of Africa referred to as the Sahel is experiencing increased ethnic and religious divisions and mushrooming conflicts – in particular in regions with little or no governmental presence.
Djinnit told the council that within just the past two weeks, at least 18 attacks on civilians have been attributed to Boko Haram – attacks that he said resulted in deaths of “innocent civilians” and the displacement of many hundreds more.
Djinnit added that an approaching wave of big electoral contests across the region in 2015, including national elections in Nigeria, could plunge West Africa deeper into instability. He called on national leaders and the international community to lay the groundwork for fair and credible elections.
The UN will be working in support of “peaceful and democratic elections” in the region, Djinnit says. It will be up to national leaders to prevent the elections “from devolving into conflict and crisis.”
He expressed these concerns on the same day the UN advised warring candidates in Afghanistan’s disputed presidential elections to “exercise restraint” and to “take all steps necessary” to prevent their supporters from “taking steps that could lead to civil disorder and instability.”
Afghanistan experts have warned that a failure of the two candidates in the recent presidential runoff vote to resolve differences over the outcome could plunge the country back into civil war.
Djinn said Nigeria’s “political class” must start now the work of delivering elections that unite the country rather than dividing it further.
He suggested that the international community has a special interest in helping Nigeria avoid political instability. Nigeria in recent decades has played a “prominent role” in regional and global peace efforts through its participation in African Union and UN peacekeeping missions.