Embassy Row: New York and Nigeria

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The U.S. ambassador to Nigeria compared the terrorist violence in the northern part of the West African nation to the crime wave that gripped New York in the 1980s, as he urged the Nigerian government to abandon “heavy-handed” military tactics and adopt a softer approach in dealing with the Islamic militant threat.

Ambassador Terrence McCulley blamed sectarian violence on the government’s failure to provide an “adequate quality of life.”

“Whenever and wherever a population feels its government is not providing an adequate quality of life, it becomes complacent to criminals, whether they are vandals or terrorists,” Mr. McCulley, a career diplomat, told an audience at the University of Lagos earlier this month.

“I see some similarities between New York in the 1980s and Northern Nigeria today,” he added, comparing the high-crime spawned by a crack-cocaine epidemic in New York about 30 years ago to Nigeria’s bloodthirsty Boko Haram terrorists who target Christians and advocate brutal Islamic law.

“New Yorkers in the 1980s and Nigerians in the north today felt betrayed by their governments, who had failed to provide the things citizens needed, like good schools and adequate infrastructure. Criminals and terrorists exploited these sentiments and took advantage of a dearth of government presence to grow their nefarious organizations,” he said.

Crime in New York soared under two Democratic mayors in the 1980s and fell after Republican Rudolph W. Giuliani imposed tough law enforcement policies in the 1990s.

Likewise, the Nigerian army is preparing a major campaign against terrorist hideouts in an operation called “Sweep-and-Search.”

The move is a response to an attack last week on a Christian village that left 200 dead. Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the massacre.

However, Mr. McCulley said the Obama administration endorses a softer approach to the terrorists.

He explained that Washington “supports the improvement of schools, health programs and infrastructure in northern Nigeria as part of comprehensive approach to the challenges posed by the Boko Haram sect.”

Boko Haram opposes any education not based on its own interpretation of the Koran.

“It is also a reason that the U.S. objects to the use of heavy-handed tactics by security forces taking on those challenges,” Mr. McCulley added.

“Nigeria’s government needs friends in the North, and a targeted approach to tackling Boko Haram combined with better services for Northern citizens can help it attract those friends.”

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About the Author
James Morrison

James Morrison

James Morrison joined the The Washington Times in 1983 as a local reporter covering Alexandria, Va. A year later, he was assigned to open a Times bureau in Canada. From 1987 to 1989, Mr. Morrison was The Washington Times reporter in London, covering Britain, Western Europe and NATO issues. After returning to Washington, he served as an assistant foreign editor ...

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