MAIDUGURI, Nigeria — A first visit by Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, to the village from which nearly 300 girls were abducted by Boko Haram was abruptly canceled Friday because of security fears, according to an official in the president’s entourage.
The official said security could not be guaranteed at the village of Chibok, which is 80 miles from this state capital. The road passes through territory largely controlled by Boko Haram; villages along it bear the traces — burned schools, empty houses — of earlier Boko Haram attacks.
Jonathan’s visit was expected to have symbolic import after weeks in which he has been accused of neglecting the abductions, even though his reaction to it has been consistent with earlier government responses through nearly five years of attacks by Boko Haram. The federal government in Abuja has generally treated the Boko Haram insurgency as a regional problem confined to the country’s northeast. A worldwide outcry over the girls’ kidnapping on April 14 has forced an abrupt change in that approach.
There are mounting concerns outside of Nigeria that government forces are in poor shape to confront the militants.
“We’re now looking at a military force that’s, quite frankly, becoming afraid to even engage,” Alice Friend, the Pentagon’s principal director for African affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington on Thursday. “The Nigerian military has the same challenges with corruption that every other institution in Nigeria does,’’ she said. “Much of the funding that goes to the Nigerian military is skimmed off the top, if you will.”
Security worries cited
The Nigerian president is due to attend a meeting Saturday of regional leaders, hosted by France, that is expected to discuss a joint approach to Boko Haram. Until now there has been little cooperation among Nigeria, Benin, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad; members of the Islamist group move with relative freedom across the region’s porous borders.
The United States, the European Union and Britain will also be represented, according to a statement from the Nigerian presidency.
The talks “will give special attention to the coordination and intensification of efforts to curtail the destabilizing activities of Boko Haram in Nigeria and neighboring countries in the wake of the recent abduction of schoolgirls from Chibok, Borno state,” the statement said.
The summit meeting in Paris “was Mr. Goodluck’s wish, and he expressed it in a recent phone conversation with Mr. Hollande,” an official from the Élysée Palace said, referring to President François Hollande of France.
“We aren’t in a military phase, but the goal of this summit is to prevent the expansion of Boko Haram in neighboring countries,” said the official, who declined to be quoted by name under French government sourcing rules. “The idea is to establish a stronger cooperation between countries in the region because they are not used to working together, and it is the first time that they’re all at the same table on security questions.”
The militaries of the bordering nations have widely differing capabilities, with that of Chad usually deemed by far the most efficient. A striking demonstration of this was the role the Chadian army played in pushing back jihadists in Mali, aided by the French, in 2013.
But so far they have not taken up the fight against Boko Haram, which has been left in the uncertain hands of the Nigerian military.