I attended a two day colloquium on Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nigeria at Brown University that among other things celebrated Chinua Achebe’s 80th birthday. This was the second of what I hope will become an annual event.
Present was Nigerian ambassador to the United States Adebowale Adefuye, who strongly objects to previous pieces I have written, even labeling me the “prophet of doom.” At the close of a panel on which I was a participant, the ambassador (not then a panel participant) seized a microphone at the opening of the Q&A and told the audience, "I will deal with him." Strong language in a Nigerian context. However, some of his fellow countrymen privately objected at the time, and more have subsequently.
With good reason, Nigerian conference participants seemed more on edge this year than at last year’s Achebe Colloquium. Over the past week or so, the Nigerian press is reporting more kidnappings in the Delta, this time around Warri, and President Goodluck Jonathan ordered the Joint Task Force (the national military force stationed in the Delta) to stop killing civilians when conducting operations. Meanwhile, there have been reports of political violence in Kebbi in the North, and in the Middle Belt, the body of the Muslim wife of the military commander of Jos was found in a well, although her husband claims her death was accidental. (It has been characteristic of the “ethnic cleansing” in that area for perpetrators to stuff the bodies of their victims in wells.) In addition, I am receiving anecdotal evidence of more religious and ethnic murder in Plateau state that is not reported in the press. Finally, fighting between security forces and members of Boko Haram, a radical Islamic sect, left five people dead in Maiduguri, in the far North.
Like Nigeria’s other American friends, I want Nigeria to succeed--in democracy, the rule of law, and human security. And I am critical of much of the political class’s inability or unwillingness to address Nigeria’s current challenges. I do not think covering up or ignoring these issues or approaching them from an emotional or sentimental perspective contributes to their solution. Nigeria needs plain speaking from its friends.