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Media Call on Nigeria

Presider: Robert McMahon, Managing Editor
Speakers: John Campbell, Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies, and Johnnie Carson, Senior Adviser, U.S. Institute of Peace
May 7, 2014
Council on Foreign Relations



ROBERT MCMAHON: Thank you. And hello, everyone, and welcome to this CFR on-the-record media call on violence in Nigeria. I'm Robert McMahon, editor of, and I will be presiding on the call. And we're very fortunate to have two really top experts on-hand to walk us through what is happening in Nigeria.

First of all, John Campbell is a CFR senior fellow, a former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria and one of the closest trackers of what's happening on the security front through his Nigeria Security Tracker and also through his blog for CFR, Africa in Transition.

Also joining us is Johnnie Carson, and he is a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs and is currently a senior adviser at the U.S. Institute of Peace. I'm going to speak to both of them for about 15 minutes and then open up call to you on the line. I know we have a lot on the line, so we're going to try to pack as much in as possible. Obviously, one of the issues riveting attention at the moment is the admission by the militant group Boko Haram that it has abducted more than 200 schoolgirls in the north of Nigeria. The group's leader has said in a video released this week that the girls would be sold on the market. And it occurs at a time of ramped-up violence, including near Abuja, which also happens to be the host city of the World Economic Forum, starting today.

So we have a lot to talk about. I wanted to kick off with Ambassador Campbell to kind of help us understand, first of all, the latest state of play involving the abduction of the girls and the U.S. offer of aid. So Ambassador John Campbell, could you start and help us understand, first of all, the latest state of play? Will there be some sort of major U.S. aid coming, or do we still not understand what's happening?

JOHN CAMPBELL: Well, I think it's early days yet to draw any conclusions. The administration has offered assistance to the Nigerians. The Nigerian government says it would welcome the offer, but in fact, there are virtually no details at all. In the past, the Nigerians have been reluctant to accept U.S. assistance, particularly in areas having to do with security.

There was a report that I cannot verify that was in the Nigerian media. To the extent that a U.S. team would go to Abuja some time in the next week or so for consultations with the Nigerian side. Presuming that happens, some details may start to emerge. All of that said, I think it is highly unlikely that there would be large numbers of Americans going to Nigeria. Whatever assistance we might provide and might be welcomed by the Nigerian side is likely to be, essentially, technical.

MR. MCMAHON: Thank you, Ambassador. And Ambassador Carson, could you follow up on that a little bit and also talk about – maybe a little bit get into the U.S. role in Nigeria and in the region as well?

JOHNNIE CARSON: OK. Let me – let me start off – Bob, thank you very much. And I think the U.S. offer of assistance is a welcome and positive development, and underscores U.S. interests in trying to help find the girls as well as the importance that the U.S. attaches to Nigeria. I agree with Ambassador Campbell that we don't know at this point what the Nigerians have actually agreed to in terms of allowing us to come in, but our actions are a positive and a welcome development, and are important in demonstrating our support for the families of these girls – the north and for Nigeria in general.

There – this kind of assistance is consistent – or this offer of assistance is consistent with ongoing U.S. policies in Africa, and I note that the U.S. government has been working with Uganda and with several other regional states in the Great Lakes in providing U.S. military personnel and even some aircraft – Ospreys recently to help to track down Joseph Kony, another terrible rebel leader in Central Africa.

So our offer of assistance is consistent with the desire to help bring to justice individuals who are carrying out atrocities in Africa. Things that we can do for Nigeria are to help provide intelligence collection, better information gathering, help them to improve their investigative techniques, help them in their forensics training. But it is unclear – and it's possible even to provide some aerial satellite and imagery that might be useful in terms of being able to help.

We have satellites that pass over this region; they can, in fact, be effective in also helping to track. There are also airplanes that can do some very useful work. But it is important that the Nigerians accept this. In the past, as Ambassador Campbell has pointed out, the Nigerians have shown a reluctance to accept not only our assistance, but also a reluctance to accept some of our analytic advice.

MR. MCMAHON: OK. So thanks for both of those opening comments. I'm going to follow up with – first with John Campbell to ask a little bit about, you know, sort of how we got here, and understand, to what extent – especially through the work of his Nigeria Security Tracker, to what extent Nigeria does not control portions of its country. So John, could you talk a little bit about the Boko Haram emergence, which I think is traced – in terms of the violence to 2009. What parts of the country they control or at least operate freely in and how much of a threat they are to the state of Nigeria?

MR. CAMPBELL: The current round of Boko Haram-associated violence did indeed start in 2009. Boko Haram seems to be able to operate with impunity in the northeastern part of the country. There have been acts of violence associated with Boko Haram as far south as Abuja, and there have been isolated instances in the northwest of the country as well as the northeast.

As far as I can tell, Boko Haram is able to operate with a fair degree of impunity in perhaps a quarter or a third of the land area of Nigeria. Much of that is a Sahelian landscape. It's lightly populated. It's not desert, but it's arid. The rhythm of Boko Haram attacks has increased steadily, but particularly dramatically in the past several months. I think it's important to put the kidnapping of these schoolgirls into a larger context. About two months ago, for example, there was a Boko Haram attack on a boarding school in northern Nigeria. Again, the students were roughly 16 to 18 years of age. Boko Haram slaughtered in cold blood between 50 and 60 boys. The female students they let go and told them to go home and find husbands.

The attack on schools is a reflection of a cardinal principle of Boko Haram, which is that Western education is evil. The Boko Haram syllogy (sp) seems to be that Western education promotes secularism. Secularism underpins the Nigerian state, and the Nigerian state exploits the poor. Therefore, Western education and all who participate in it must be destroyed.

MR. MCMAHON: So just – you know, so just hearing you talk John – and also, it's staggering to hear that Africa's largest economy – you know, up to a third of the land area is not under the central government's control, but also that a country that does have such relative wealth – perhaps the severe income inequality, if it's not a distortion to say that, has led to this group rising. Could you talk a little bit about how that's fed into the growth, or the fact that this type of a group could get such support? It's feeding into this sense of – initially of grievance in addition to maybe some other issues?

MR. CAMPBELL: The social and economic statistics in northeastern Nigeria are by far the worst in the country, and further – and perhaps even more important, they're getting worse. They are not – they are not getting better. You know, in the north, there is a pervasive sense of marginalization by a government in Abuja that is perceived to be predominately southern and predominantly Christian.

And an elephant in the living room is just how much popular support Boko Haram actually enjoys. Government spokesmen fairly consistently say that it has no popular support, that, in fact, it operates basically through violence and intimidation, and that of course, I think is true. On the other hand, you have Boko Haram activity since 2009. It's been escalating, and the government seems to be very far away from being able to bring it under control.

This is an area alike many, many others where we really see through a glass darkly. There are virtually no foreign correspondents operating in northeastern Nigeria. There are very few Nigerian press people around. There has been a suspension of most or much of the telephone service. There are now no civilian aircraft flights into Maiduguri, the biggest city in the area, so that the information that we have about what's actually going on in the far northeast tends to go from the security services to Abuja, and then from Abuja to the wider media. So I would be very careful about flat statements about what's actually going on in northeastern Nigeria.

MR. MCMAHON: Thank you – thank you. Really comprehensive. Now, Johnnie Carson, could you please elaborate on that a little bit and talk about how the government has taken a response that seems to focus on security? If you can talk a little bit more about the other elements.

MR. CARSON: Yeah, I think it is – to date, the government's efforts in curbing the violence and predation of Boko Haram has largely failed. Since the outbreak in 2009 we have seen an escalation – an evolution and a growing sophistication of the violence across the north, and we've seen it metastasize and spread. Initially, government actions – initially, Boko Haram was going after government officials – young boys on the back of motorcycles, gunning down police officers, magistrates and central government and local government officials.

It has metastasized over time to the killing and kidnapping of students, the burning and raiding of government buildings all the way to suicide bombers and attacks on government buildings in Abuja. Three weeks ago, suicide bombers set off bombs at a major bus terminus in Abuja, and we've seen attacks on major buildings in the capital. So we've seen an evolution.

The government's response to the problem has be monodimensional – single-dimensional. It's always been a security response to the problems, and that security response, regrettably, has been very, very heavy-handed and very brutal in many respects. Individuals in the north talk about a military that comes in and responds to the Boko Haram threat as being just as predatory and disrespectful of their civil liberties as Boko Haram has been. In fact, much of the Nigerian military cannot legally be assisted by the United States, because it's – would not be able to pass the Leahy vetting – that is, a military that has engaged – or seemingly engaged in a violation of human rights.

So the military response has been very hard, very harsh, very brutal, sometimes very indiscriminate. And these are things that have been reported by the northern governors. But the problem in the north is greater than the security issue, and there is a growing sense of extreme marginalization across the north. People in the north believe that the central government in Abuja does not care about them, does not care about their concerns and their welfare. As pointed out, the level of poverty and immiseration in the north is substantially greater in every (indice ?) than in the south.

The number of girls graduating from grammar school and high school, substantially lower than in the north. The level of literacy among boys and girls – men and women in the north substantially below that of the south. Access to clean water, health care, substantially greater in the south, substantially lower in the north. And youth unemployment – male youth unemployment in northern Nigeria is in excess of 50 percent.

The government's heavy hand in the use of security forces has probably contributed to this, but the government needs to have a modified security policy and a Marshall Plan for northern Nigeria that helps to correct the enormous social shortcomings that exist across the north in terms of access to education, health care, clean water, transportation and employment. These things are sorely lacking, and the economy in the north has turned deeply, deeply south.

And it is rather ironic – it is rather ironic that Nigeria is holding the World Economic Forum at a time when there is so much insecurity and so much immiseration in the north. But let me – so there needs to be a broader policy out there, one that attends to the social and economic issues, provides hope and opportunity for people in the north and gives them a sense of encouragement that the government in Abuja is really looking after their concerns.

Having said that, let me just underscore that we need to look at Nigeria as an important partner. It is, by far, the most important country in sub-Saharan Africa today, largest population by far with 175 million people, the largest economy across the entire continent, the continent's largest oil-producing country, a country which has enormous economic influence and weight in the financial sector, the telecom sector, the media sector and in – and in the movie-making sector across all of west and parts of Central Africa. And it is one of the top U.N. peacekeeping countries in the world. It is a very, very important country, and this is why it's important, I think, for the international community to be focused on this, and it's also important for the U.S. to be focused on it as well.

One last thought on all of this too as we look at the north. We have to remember too that Nigeria isn't just simply Africa's largest country, most important country economically. We have to also remember that Nigeria is the fifth-largest Muslim state in the world. Its Muslim population in Northern Nigeria is just equal to all of Egypt's population. This is not only a significant Western and West African state, it is a significant Muslim state as well, and we have to help to ensure that the grievances in the north are not seen in strictly religious terms.

MR. MCMAHON: OK, well, that's very helpful framing from both of you. And I want to open this call now to those on the line. Again, this is a CFR on-the-record media call with CFR fellow John Campbell and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson.

Please, Operator, any questions you have at this moment.

OPERATOR: At this time we will open the floor for questions. (Gives queuing instructions.) And our first question comes from Josh Rogin with the Daily Beast.

Q: Thank you. Thank you so much for taking the time to do the call. My question is primarily for Ambassador Carson. Could you please take us through what the State Department did, how they used their authorities to combat the threat of Boko Haram while you were in office? There's been some criticism that the State Department failed to list Boko Haram as a foreign terrorist organization until last November. Could you tell us exactly why that took so long? Thank you.

MR. CARSON: Yes, Josh. First of all, two parts to the question. The U.S. government, certainly during the period that I was assistant secretary, from '09 to '13, engaged with the Nigerian government on numerous occasions to talk about the security situation in Northern Nigeria. I personally spoke with the president, and certainly former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met on at least three occasions with senior Nigerian leaders, and President Obama met with Goodluck Jonathan – President Goodluck Jonathan as well.

Throughout all of these conversations there was discussions about the security situation in – of the north. We brought our analysis of the problems, our concerns about what was driving the insecurity, and we offered, on numerous occasions, assistance packages to them that were designed to help them deal with the challenges. There was much discussion. Sometimes these things were taken up and sometimes they weren't.

I think, as you heard in the earlier part of the conversation, there always has been a reluctance to accept the analysis of what the drivers are in the – causing the problems in the north, and there has been a – sometimes accept, sometimes reject assistance that is offered to them. This is a proud country with a professional military and intelligence service, and sometimes they accept some things and sometimes they don't.

None of that has anything to do with putting Boko Haram on the foreign terrorist list. There was a major discussion on whether this should be done and why. I won't reprise it all here, but there was a concern that putting Boko Haram on the foreign terrorist list would in fact raise its profile, give it greater publicity, give it greater credibility, help in its recruitment and also probably drive more assistance in its direction.

Putting it on the foreign terrorist list allows us to be able to get at some of their finances a little bit better and be able to stop them from moving around, but none of their finances are here in the United States and none of them are coming here. But whether they're on the foreign terrorist list or not, we have the capacity – the U.S. government has the capacity to help the Nigerians, and that offer – and those offers of assistance go back several years. Thanks for that question.

Q: Who –

MR. MCMAHON: Operator, could we have another question, please? We have a lot of people in the queue and I want to make sure I get as many as possible in.

OPERATOR: Yes, sir. Our next question comes from Anne Gearan with the Washington Post.

Q: Hi. My question is primarily for Ambassador Carson as well. Could you elaborate just a bit on what you said in your opener about the Leahy test? What practical help could the U.S., I guess, military and intelligence services primarily but there may be others, give to the Nigerians given, as I think you were alluding to, that there are human rights abuses charged against them for their activities in the north a year or two back as well?

MR. CARSON: That's right. I think there are a number of things that can be done irrespective of the Leahy amendment. One is sharing information and intelligence. One is helping improve the – improve the sophistication of the information and intelligence collection. Another is the ability to help in training and forensics training there.

There's also the ability to provide information that can be picked up through satellite and air surveillance. And it is possible to work with members of the Nigerian military who have in fact been Leahy vetted and give them additional training. So there are things that can – that can be done. These things could also be done in partnership with our allies in Europe.

MR. MCMAHON: Thank you for that question. And, Operator, do you have another question, please?

OPERATOR: Yes, sir. Our next question comes from Oren Dorell with USA Today.

Q: Hi. Thanks for doing this call. Some people – there's a comment that came from Edmund Keller, who is a UCLA political science professor, saying that the West hasn't been all that responsive to what's happening in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa because of racism. He said there's a certain amount of racism involved in the tendency to look upon African conflicts as being normal and being a part of the way Africans behave as opposed to something whites need to be concerned with. And I'm wondering, you know, what's the response to that? I know that the West and European and the United States have been quite involved in Africa in the past years but I'd like to hear your responses from both of you.

MR. MCMAHON: John Campbell, could you start with that one, please?

MR. CAMPBELL: I think – I think all that is wildly overstated. The issue of Boko Haram in Nigeria has been minimized or even ignored by much of Nigerian society and governance right up to only a few months ago. Part of that is because Boko Haram operated in the far northeast of the country. Part of it was because the area particularly between Lagos and Ibadan was booming economically.

I think it's important to focus on the lack of attention up until only a few months ago by Nigerians on what was going on in the northeast. And that lack of focus contributed to the North's sense of marginalization that both Ambassador Carson and I were talking about. I would look at factors like that rather than broad generalizations that Americans and Europeans don't pay as much attention, or don't pay the attention that they should, to Africa primarily because of racial considerations.

MR. MCMAHON: Ambassador Carson, do you want to add anything?

MR. CARSON: Yes. I think the – with all due respect to the – to the professor, I think that he ignores the enormous amount of political and diplomatic energy and financial resources that have been put into Africa over the last several decades and currently in helping to resolve conflicts. I know that it will sound odd to the – to the average listener, but the reality is, is that the level of violence and conflict in Africa has gone down progressively over the last four decades. And a lot of this has been due to international and Western engagement. A lot of it has been due to the march of democracy across Africa. Part of it is due to growing economic prosperity.

But just to say look back – despite the fact that we have challenges in Northern Nigeria and in several other places around the continent, look today at where there once were conflicts and there are no more, and I point to South Africa, Angola, Mozambique, Liberia, Sierra Leone. You can continue to run the gamut, and the amount of violence has actually subsided but still remains far too high. But I don't think it is an issue of race. I think the U.S. is engaged. I think the U.N. is engaged. And I think the international community is engaged. And I think, more importantly, Africans are aware of the need to help resolve these problems as well.

MR. MCMAHON: Thanks for that question. Operator, we'll take another one, please.

OPERATOR: OK, our next question comes from Phil Stewart with Reuters.

Q: Yeah, hi, and thanks for doing the call. What offers – U.S. offers of assistance to Nigeria were rejected? I know there's some limits to what you can talk about, but can you give us some sense of it because I don't – I don't know what offers were rejected. Thank you.

MR. CARSON: Well, I guess that one's directed at me. Let me just say that we made proposals and suggestions. They were all – not all fully taken up and they weren't all fully implemented in terms of recommendations made.

MR. MCMAHON: John Campbell, anything to add to that?

MR. CAMPBELL: No, not really.

MR. MCMAHON: OK. Thank you. Can we have another question, please?

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Lisa Beyer with Bloomberg View.

Q: Thank you. Ambassador Carson, you mentioned that there was some concern that by putting Boko Haram on the terrorist list it would elevate and give additional publicity to the organization. I wonder if there is a sort of parallel concern that by the United States in a way joining the fight with the Nigerian security forces that it will have a sort of a parallel effect and also perhaps make the United States and the West more generally a target of Boko Haram?

MR. CARSON: That was also a concern.

Q: And so you have that concern now?

MR. CARSON: It was – it was a concern and of course it remains a concern. I think equally, as I pointed out before, the approach from 2009 has primarily been a security approach. It addresses the symptoms of the problem. It addresses the terrorist and extremist actions of Boko Haram. And they clearly need to be addressed but they don't address some of the issues associated with social and economic and political marginalization that people feel in the north towards the central government.

Equally, it's important that, as we go about our work, we don't want to be seen to be identified with individuals or organizations that have been engaged in human rights violations, that we want to make sure that the people that we work with are doing the right thing. To the extent that we are seen to be working with people who have carried out bad activities, we are associated with a part of the problem.

MR. CAMPBELL: Bob, may I add something here?

MR. MCMAHON: Yes, John, please.

MR. CAMPBELL: Organization – foreign terrorist organization. Boko Haram seems to me to be not so much an organization as a movement. It's highly diffuse. It's multilayered. It does not seem to have a unified command and control. Abubakar Shekau, the most prominent part of Boko Haram, appears to be much more a warlord than he does the leader of an organization.

The very diffuseness of Boko Haram accounts for the variety of different targets that it has made use of. I find it very interesting that there was a gap of almost three weeks between the kidnapping of the schoolgirls and Shekau claiming responsibility for it. This raises the question of what part or what element or what strand of Boko Haram actually carried out the kidnapping and the extent to which Shekau in fact had any particular role in it. This very diffuseness and vagueness makes the legislation that established designation of foreign terrorist organizations something which is difficult to apply.

MR. MCMAHON: And, John, to add to that in terms of the –


MR. MCMAHON: Sure. Go ahead, Ambassador Carson.

MR. CARSON: Yeah, may I just –


MR. CARSON: – add to that to underscore this as well, and that is, is that Boko Haram is not a monolithic organization. Boko Haram is, as Ambassador Campbell pointed out, a number of very different groups, and we have to recognize that there is probably not a central command and control structure at the top going all the way down through this organization.

There are clearly individuals in Boko Haram, some of whom have broken off to form Ansaru, who are radical Islamists who seek to be a part of a larger jihadist movement, but at the very bottom of the spectrum we have individuals who probably are called Boko Haram but are nothing more than bank robbers and thieves who continue to carry out lawless activities and who were branded as Boko Haram and use that name.

So this is one of the – one of the real central elements of this – understanding this complex situation. It is not a monolithic organization. It does not have a central command and control structure. Everybody who is a part of this may be brutal and vile and very dangerous, but they're not all working under the tenets of extremism. Some of them are gangsters.

MR. MCMAHON: Thank you.

And just to remind everyone on the call, we're three-quarters of the way through with CFR on-the-record media call on violence in Nigeria with CFR senior fellow John Campbell and with the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson.

Operator, do you have another question, please?

OPERATOR: Yes, sir, our next question comes from Trudy Rubin with the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Q: Thanks so much for doing this. Just to follow up on what both of you just said, when you're looking at the terrorist problem that we've seen in North Africa, where do you put Boko Haram in this spectrum if there are only links between certain elements – break-off elements with international terrorism?

And do you believe that if the social and economic issues aren't addressed and also the issue of the leadership and the Army leadership now being seen as Christian against Muslim, if these factors are not addressed, do you think that Boko Haram could morph into more of an international terrorist threat?

MR. MCMAHON: Good question. I'd like to start off with John Campbell first and then Ambassador Carson.

MR. CAMPBELL: Well, arguably, over the past several months Abubakar Shekau has been using rhetoric that we associate with, say, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. He has ratcheted up, for example, his anti-American rhetoric and has associated President Goodluck Jonathan with President Obama.

There are, I think, communications among the various jihadist groups operating in West Africa. At this point I do not see those communications as particularly transformative. It seems to me that what call Boko Haram remains primarily the result of specifically Nigerian factors, but that may well be changing.

Part of the issue is that the borders between Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad are in many cases little more than simply lines on a piece of paper drawn by the British and the French in the late 19th century. It's basically the same people on both sides, subject to many of the same religious influences. And indeed, insofar as Boko Haram is a response to a sense of marginalization and a protest against corruption and bad governance, those sentiments are felt elsewhere in West Africa as well. Again, I think we have to be very careful not to impose strict categories or boundaries on what is an extremely diffuse movement.

MR. MCMAHON: Thank you. Ambassador Carson, something to add?

MR. CARSON: No, I just would say that right now Boko Haram remains an organization focused primarily on embarrassing, discrediting and undermining the Nigerian central authorities and is increasingly evolving its tactics to do so. It is not yet a part of a larger international jihadist movement and it is not al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb or the old al-Qaida East Africa cell. This is largely a Nigeria-focused insurgency, but it could grow larger and it could spread wider across Nigeria. It's important that the government evolve its strategy and its tactics to deal with the issue in order to maintain a cap on where it is right now.

MR. MCMAHON: Thank you for that question, Trudy.

Operator, do we have another question, please?

OPERATOR: Yes. Our next question comes from Reed Kramer with

Q: Thank you. My question has to do with what options you think the U.S. government has besides – beyond any kind of military or assistance that might be provided in the context of trying to resolve and activate the political elites in Nigeria to find a solution.

John Campbell referred to the fact that much of the governing class and economic class in Nigeria has tended to ignore Boko Haram, and that's certainly true, but in the circles around the president, from the contacts I had last month there and since, I'm convinced that they believe even further that Boko Haram, or at least some of its activities, are the work of the opposition specifically, and northern governors in particular, and to the point where they seem to have believed that the kidnapping of the girls was possibly even a hoax. And this may have contributed to the lack of action until international pressure became so great that it couldn't happen anymore.

So there is an – there perhaps is an opening now, if the president has accepted U.S. assistance, for a greater U.S. activity, interaction with the government along the lines of what Johnnie Carson described happened before, but with some reservations on their part.

MR. MCMAHON: But the question is, what are the U.S. options at this point, barring that?

Q: Yes.

MR. MCMAHON: OK. John Campbell first, please?

MR. CAMPBELL: Well, what are U.S. options? U.S. options first of all are to continue to strengthen and expand the dialogue with the Jonathan administration, including certain honed truths about the role that the abuses by the security services have committed in the north, the role that has played in driving support for Boko Haram.

Secondly, I would hope that the U.S. government, but more broadly than that, including – including American NGOs and other organizations, would seek to strengthen their ties with their opposite numbers, particularly those that are in the north, to underscore the importance that we ascribe to a relationship with the north.

An extremely positive development a couple of months ago with which Ambassador Carson was directly involved was the bringing of northern governors to Washington with the U.S. Institute for Peace for conversations about a way forward. This is the sort of thing that, though it is not dramatic and it does not lead to immediate results, can build the foundations for a move forward.

MR. MCMAHON: Thank you. Anything to add, Ambassador Carson?

MR. CARSON: No. I'll leave it – leave it there. And I appreciate the plug for – for USIP.

MR. MCMAHON: Thank you.

Operator, is there another question, please?

OPERATOR: Yes, sir. Our next question comes from Dana Hughes with ABC News.

Q: Hi. Thank you for taking my question and doing this. Just a follow up on the AQIM and larger terrorist question. In 2012, General Ham said that he was concerned that there's evidence that AQIM is helping to fund and train some of the Boko Haram members. Can you speak to this? Is this something that you see in this communications? And how big of a problem has it been?

MR. MCMAHON: Ambassador Carson, do you want to kick off this time?

MR. CARSON: Yeah, let me – let me just say that I believe that Boko Haram gets most of, if not all of its money and resources from carrying out bank robberies and other kinds of criminal activities. The bulk of the banditry – large-scale banditry in the north is Boko Haram-related. There are bank robberies going on all the time – post offices are robbed, government buildings are robbed, money is taken. Boko Haram gets it there.

They probably are also getting some money from ransoms and kidnapping. There have been some foreigners, both missionaries, tourists and businessmen kidnapped; that is also a source of money. It doesn't take a lot of money to keep an operation like this going in a place that is so deeply impoverished.

I think most of the weapons are also coming internally. Boko Haram has carried out a number of successful military attacks against Nigerian security installations. It's raided air bases and an air base and an armory – or several armories, and it's raided a number of police stations, and in those raids, it has collected lots of weapons and ammunition. The kinds of things that they have right now are largely things that can be obtained and probably are being obtained domestically.

MR. MCMAHON: John Campbell, anything to add on the AQIM link?

MR. CAMPBELL: Just that terrorism in northern Nigeria is something that you can do on the cheap. You steal cars, you load them up with dynamite. This does not require very much money. When we talk about links between people who allegedly are Boko Haram and people who are allegedly Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, the question I think we have to ask is, are they transformative? Do they actually make any difference? And thus far, I haven't seen any evidence that they do.

MR. MCMAHON: Thank you. It looks like we can fit in maybe two more questions if we can do them really quickly. Operator, do we have another question in the queue, please?

OPERATOR: Yes, sir. Our next question comes from Ashlee Vance with CNN.

Q: Yes, hi. Thank you so much for taking my call and doing this call. I'm actually working on a story about Patience, the first lady. Can you give me a sense of her involvement in her husband's administrations? And obviously, she has taken a – sort of, you know, international center stage with her encounter with a protestor and how her persona is perceived by Nigerians and it's portrayed in the media there?

MR. MCMAHON: John Campbell, did you want to start off with that, please?

MR. CAMPBELL: She herself, independent of her husband, has been a political figure in Bayelsa state. She has been a senior civil servant. She is, I think, clearly influential. How influential I think is very difficult for we outsiders to judge. She gets a great deal of media attention inside Nigeria. She is a controversial figure in Nigeria, as first ladies very often are. But I have no information that's any more specific than that.

MR. MCMAHON: Ambassador Carson, anything to add?

MR. CARSON: Nothing to add. She is influential. She's articulate, and she is in the public eye.

MR. MCMAHON: Thank you. Operator, do we have another question, please?

OPERATOR: Yes. Our next question comes from James Blue with ARISE Television.

Q: Hi, and thank you for doing the call. My question is really trying to sort of see through the difference between what the U.S. is offering and what the Nigerians are expecting. The White House put out under the name of Reuben Abati a press release which basically said that the U.S. has agreed to of sort of assist in the search for the missing girls, however, both at the White House briefing yesterday and in Secretary of State Kerry's briefing, that level of cooperation didn't seem to be on the table. I was just hoping you could help us understand why there may be such a vast difference between what Nigerians are expecting, and specifically, what the Americans are offering.

MR. MCMAHON: So, Ambassador Carson, you did go over this ground before, but maybe a little bit more about the dynamic between the two countries.

MR. CARSON: Let me just say that we don't know quite what the Nigerians are expecting, because we don't know what they've asked for in this latest round of discussions. We do know – and I think it's very positive and welcoming that we have asked to extend – that we've offered to extend assistance to them, and I think that's important. But we don't have any measure of what the Nigerians are asking.

The Nigerians, in the past, have been reluctant to embrace all of the advice and recommendations that have been made towards them. This is because they believe that they have had a handle on the problem and have been making progress in dealing with it. They also believe, as a large nation, that they are capable of managing these issues themselves. I think that time has shown that the problem has not gotten – has not gotten better, but in fact has gotten – has gotten worse.

I think equally, you have to remember them – the government's willingness to accept publicly large amounts of assistance – makes it look as though its policies in the past have failed, that it is ineffective and weak in dealing with the domestic issue, and that its sovereignty, if you want to get that way, is being infringed because they can't, in fact, do it themselves. All of these things are at play.

There's also domestic politics at play in this issue as well. Ambassador Campbell noted that there are some who believe that politicians in the north, including some senior politicians, have been colluding with Boko Haram, but equally, there are northern politicians who believe that the central government and some in the central government have turned a blind eye to some of the events in the north as a way of undermining northern politicians.

This is a very complex situation. We all know what has happened with the girls, what's happened with the number of terrorist attacks that have occurred, but this is being played out against a backdrop of domestic politics and lots of social and economic immiseration in the north.

MR. MCMAHON: John Campbell, last word on the subject?

MR. CAMPBELL: Just that Nigeria is scheduled to have elections early in 2015. It's widely expected that President Goodluck Jonathan will announce his candidacy for re-election, however, he has not yet made a formal announcement.

MR. MCMAHON: Well, I want to thank, first of all, both of our experts for lending their expertise to this obviously very difficult situation. Again, John Campbell, CFR senior fellow, and Johnnie Carson, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs and now a senior adviser at USIP. And thanks for all of you on the call for great questions. This concludes this CFR on-the-record media call on violence in Nigeria.

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