The Council Special Report titled U.S. Policy to Counter Nigeria's Boko Haram is based on seven premises.
First, Nigeria is too big and too important for the United States to be indifferent to its present crisis.
Second, the Islamist insurgency called Boko Haram poses no security threat to the U.S. homeland, but its attack on Nigeria and a heavy-handed Abuja response characterized by human rights violations challenges U.S. interests in Africa.
Third, even after five years of insurrection, we know remarkably little about Boko Haram.
Unanswered questions range from its leadership structure to the sources of its funding to its links outside Nigeria.
Its stated goal – the creation of God's kingdom on earth through justice for the poor by the imposition of sharia – sounds more like a creedal formula than a political manifesto.
We don't even know whether Abubakar Shekau is a real person or a composit, rather like MEND's Jomo Gbomo or Cynthia White.
Fourth, the Boko Haram insurgency is feed by poor governance, the political marginalization of northeast Nigeria, and the region's accelerating impoverishment. While its interntional links may be growing, Boko Haram remains primarily (if not exclusively) a Nigerian domestic phenomenon.
That could change.
Fifth, security service abuse of the civilian population in the North is a driver of Boko Haram recruitment, though by how much we do not know.
Sixth, the February 2015 national elections, presuming they take place, will shape the country's immediate trajectory. The electoral process is likely to be violent, especially at the local and state levels.
Seventh and finally, the United States and the international community have relatively little leverage over the Jonathan government.
The intended audience for this Report is American policy makers. The Report includes short-term and long-term recommendations to the Obama administration. They reflect my view of what is politically possible in the current Washington political climate.
The short-term recommendations may be summarized as:
First, pursue a human rights agenda with Abuja, pressing the Jonathan administration to investigate credible claims of security service human rights abuses and to prosecute the perpetrators.
The human rights agenda should be complemented by a democracy and governance agenda – including support for credible elections in 2015.
Second, the United States should facilitate and support humanitarian assistance in the North. There has been little or no planting or plowing in the North, and there are hundreds of thousands – if not millions—of internally displaced persons and refugees. Famine would seem to be inevitable.
The United States should pressure Abuja to allow the unfettered operation of international famine relief agencies such as the World Food Program and other relevant UN agencies and international as well as domestic NGO's and should provide those agencies with logistical assistance as required.
Finally, the Obama administration should proceed with establishing a consulate in Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria, notwithstanding the costs and the U.S. domestic fall-out from Benghazi.
Not only would a Kano consulate provide a needed diplomatic platform in the north where there is virtually no diplomatic presence by anybody, it would also be seen as a gesture of friendship by the Islamic population.
Over the long term, the reports recommends that Washington administrations should:
identify and support individual Nigerians working for human rights and democracy;
The State Department should revoke the U.S. visas held by Nigerians who commit financial crimes or promote political, ethnic or religious violence.
Finally, Washington should encourage Nigerian initiatives to revamp the culture of its military and police.
Some additional thoughts about these recommendations:
Many of these recommendations, both short-term and long-term, involve civil society. Just what is Nigerian civil society? There are professional organizations, such as the Nigeria Bar Association or the Nigerian Medical Association. There are various peace and reconciliation groups, often associated with Christian and Muslim religious movements. And there is a wide variety of others.
There are also organizations that work for good governance and credible elections, though they are often dependent on outside donors.
The point is that such organizations are weaker in northern Nigeria than they are in the South, and throughout the country, civil organizations are weaker than in, say, South Africa. Hence Nigerian civil organizations may require U.S. assistance in building their own capacity.
What about the Nigerian military, and what should the U.S. relationship with it be, if any.
The Nigerian military appears to be failing, and what victories there have been against Boko Haram seem due primarily to the Civilian JTF, essentially militias not under government control. Yet the Nigerian defense budget approaches 6 billion U.S. dollars.
Under the Leahy amendment, the U.S. is precluded by law from providing assistance to units credibly accused of human rights violations unless the host country investigates them and brings to trial alleged perpetrators. The Nigerian ngovernment stonewalls such credible accusations and has taken few if any public steps to investigate them. Because of the frequent rotation of Nigerian military units through the North, few now meet the requirments of Leahy.
In addition, the Nigerian government has shown little enthusiasm for closer cooperation with the U.S. military.
Hence the Report's suggestion that U.S. agencies work with Nigerian institutions that are working to change military and police culture, rather than working directly with the military and the police.
From today's vantage point, the next few months are full of uncertainty, even menace. Yet, if ever a state was too big to fail, it is Nigeria. Many Nigerians themselves seem bewilderingly confident that they will muddle through. Let's hope they are right.