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Rabbi Yaacov Behrman Headshot

The Nigerian Government Should Be Held Accountable for Its Failure to Act

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Today I stand with my friends in Nigeria. Three weeks have passed since nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram.

The world watches in horror as information on the search (or, more accurately, the lack of a search) filters in. There are reports that the Nigerian government had advance knowledge of the hell that was about to come but failed to take any action to prevent the kidnappings.

I first visited Nigeria in 2005. I was studying rabbinic law in Morristown, and Rabbi Bentolila, Chabad's chief representative to central Africa, offered me the opportunity to lead Passover services in Lagos.

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Passover shopping in Lagos in 2005

I've returned to Nigeria five times since my first Passover experience and spent a considerable amount of time in the streets of Lagos, Abuja and Ibadan. I can tell you that the majority of the Nigerian nation are decent, hardworking people. Nigerians taught to me to appreciate the simplicity of life. I saw how a nation can live with little yet remain happy and joyous. Locals earn as little as $2 a day, but if we were to judge them by their positive attitude, you would think they're millionaires.

Many have taken to social media to call for a boycott of businesses with relationships with Nigeria. I recognize that Nigeria is a corrupt country, although probably not any more corrupt than its neighbors. Still, I believe Western companies must remain active in Nigeria.

These companies are building roads and infrastructure, and their presence alone adds security and stability to the region. Additionally, these companies employ tens of thousands of Nigerian citizens. The starting salary is usually three times the nation's average salary. It is the Nigerian people who stand to suffer if these companies bolt. The government officials, sadly, will remain rich regardless.

We have to punish the government, not the people.

In 2007 I visited Ghana with a rabbinic colleague. We hired a taxi to drive us the 13 hours to Lagos, Nigeria, where we were scheduled to host a menorah lighting. On the way to the lighting, we witnessed a massacre. Thank god, I was spared from observing the actual killings. But I heard the screams and saw the dead bodies in the streets.

As you can imagine, I was in complete shock. An article appeared the next day in a local newspaper, but the assailants were never caught, and the story pretty much disappeared from the news shortly thereafter. I learned that the Nigerian government does not value human life.

It is therefore important that we keep raising awareness about the plight of the kidnapped girls. We must keep this story in the news headlines until we can secure the girls' safe return. The Nigerian government may not value human life, but they do care deeply about public image.

The international community needs to send a strong message to Nigerian officials: Your government and military will be held responsible for any harm that may befall these girls as a result of your failure to act in a timely manner.

Former President George W. Bush said it right: "Over time, it's going to be important for nations to know they will be held accountable for inactivity. You're either with us or against us in the fight against terror."

This blog post originally appeared on BkReader.com.