David Cameron’s recent memoir, For the Records, which has largely been shunned by leading arts reviewers such as the New York Review of Books and the New York Times Book Review, has been raising some dust in Nigeria. In the book, the former UK Prime Minister faulted Jonathan’s handling of the operations to rescue the Chibok girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014. He accused Jonathan of “sleeping on the wheel” while the terrorists struck in Borno, and claimed that the Jonathan administration also rejected a British offer to help in the rescue of the Chibok girls. He equally accused the Jonathan administration of corruption.
In his reply, former President Jonathan, who was recently appointed as the United Nations’ Special Envoy on Crisis Management, disputed David Cameron’s claims.
“As President of Nigeria, I not only wrote letters to then Prime Minister David Cameron, I also wrote to the then US President, Barrack Obama, and the then French President, François Hollande, as well as the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, appealing to them for help in rescuing the Chibok Girls,” Jonathan wrote. He said he could not have appealed for help and at the same time turned around to reject the same from the British government.
“Moreover, on March 8, 2017, the British Government of former Prime Minister, Theresa May, in a widely circulated press statement, debunked this allegation and said there was no truth in it after Mr. Cameron had made similar statements to the Observer of the UK,” he stated. Jonathan argued that David Cameron – just like Barrack Obama- came after him because of his ‘principled’ opposition to the same sex marriage.
Jonathan argued that David Cameron – just like Barrack Obama- came after him because of his ‘principled’ opposition to the same sex marriage.
“As President of Nigeria at that time, I came under almost unbearable pressure from the Cameron administration to pass legislation supporting LGBTQ Same Sex marriage in Nigeria. My conscience could not stomach that, because as President of Nigeria, I swore on the Bible to advance Nigeria’s interests, and not the interest of the United Kingdom or any foreign power.
“As such, on Monday, January 13, 2014, I signed the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill into law after the Bill had been passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of Nigeria’s parliament, in line with the wishes of the Nigerian people.
“This happened shortly after a study of 39 nations around the world by the U.S. Pew Research Centre came up with a finding which indicated that 98 per cent of Nigerians were opposed to the idea of Gay Marriage.”
A number of issues are raised in the claims by Cameron and the rebuttal by Jonathan:
One, why will Cameron claim that Jonathan rejected British offer to help rescue the Chibok girls if such an offer was never made as Jonathan claimed? Some have argued that former colonial masters have a way of making their former colonies believe in their indispensability, and will want to take advantage of any situation to drive home that belief to their former colonies. A case often used as an example by some Africanists was the war in Mali which started in January 2012 between some separatist groups in the Northern part of the country and the Malian government. Some Africanists have claimed that the UN deliberately undermined the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA) because it did not want the continent to claim the glory as ECOMOG did during the civil wars in Liberia (1990-1996) and Sierra Leone (1991-2002). France was later to intervene in the conflict in the battle of Konna (located some 600 kilometres from the capital Bamako), in January 2013, where it quickly routed the rebels. Some claim that the decisive routing of the separatists within days by France was a coded way of telling its former colonies that they still needed France and should therefore not be too much in a hurry to assert themselves. Was this what David Cameron was trying to suggest by innuendo in his book?
Two, Jonathan claimed that he had sought help from President Barrack Obama, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, French Prime Minister and the Israeli Prime Minister to fight Boko Haram. He also claimed that former UK Prime Minister Theresa May had publicly debunked Cameron’s claims that he rejected British offer to help release the Chibok girls. The people named by Jonathan are fortunately still alive so hopefully, sooner than later, some of those named will either corroborate or debunk Jonathan’s version of events.
Three, some have also wondered why the UK, if it had the intelligence and military strategy to rescue the Chibok girls as Cameron claimed, has failed to deploy such to rescue the remaining 112 Chibok girls, Leah Sharibu, (the only remaining of the 110 Dapchi schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in February 2018) and others routinely kidnapped by the terrorists.
Four, did Cameron and Obama really move against Jonathan because of his opposition to same sex marriage in the country or is there more to it?
Though gay couples were permitted to wed for the first time in the UK only in 2014, and though the first legal same-sex marriage ceremony in the US took place only on February 12, 2004, (when the mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom ordered city hall to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples), it was only with the June 2013 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in United States Vs. Windsor, (which struck down the law barring federal recognition of same-sex marriage), that a significant impetus was given to lawsuits that challenged state bans on same-sex marriage in USA federal court. Despite the fact that the legalization of same sex marriage is only a recent development in these countries, both Cameron and Obama were pushing for, or defending it as if such had been part of their countries’ cultural ethos from time immemorial.
Despite the above, the trigger for the anti Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill in the Nigerian National Assembly did not seem to be Cameron and Obama pressurizing Jonathan to legalize same sex marriage in the country. The immediate cause appeared to be that two gay men went to a registry somewhere in Edo State to get married and were refused. The gay partners and their organisation were said to have threatened to sue the registrar for discrimination. The registrar reportedly alerted the authorities that there were no laws in the land specifically banning same sex marriage. In essence, it did not seem as if the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill was initiated (as implied by President Jonathan) to defend his religious, patriotic or moralistic principles. The condemnation of that Bill by Cameron, Obama and the Canadian Prime Minister only helped to galvanize outrage against their positions and patriotic sentiments from the citizens against what was seen as cultural imperialism. The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill, which was signed into law by Jonathan, would punish individuals who engage in same sex marriage with 14 years imprisonment and a ten- year jail term for individuals or groups involved in the formalisation of such relationships in the country.
Five, how poorly did Jonathan handle the kidnap of the Chibok girls? A major factor often neglected in discussions of Jonathan’s handling or mishandling of the kidnap of the Chibok girls is the impact of the prevailing conspiracy theories around Boko Haram at that time. In the North for instance, it was widely believed that Boko Haram was either surreptitiously being propped up by the Jonathan government to depopulate the North ahead of the crucial 2015 presidential election or that the government was not really serious in fighting the terrorists, because being a Southerner, the Jonathan government saw Boko Haram as a Northern problem. Similarly, among Jonathan’s supporters in the Southern parts of the country, there was a strong belief that Boko Haram was being sponsored by some Northern political elites to undermine the government. Remarkably, proponents of these conspiracy theories, like in many self-fulfilling prophecies, had ‘sufficient evidence’ to support their case. There is no doubt that the wide prevalence of these theories generally affected both the way the Jonathan government responded to the kidnap of the Chibok girls and the manner his efforts in fighting Boko Haram generally was deconstructed in the North.