Nigeria hires U.S. firm to battle Boko Haram PR nightmare
A car bomb exploded Tuesday at a popular market in a battered northeastern Nigerian city, reducing stalls, goods, and vehicles to piles of rubble. More than 50 people are feared dead just two days after terrorists gunned down at least 30 worshipers at four churches.
The attacks are the latest to be blamed on Muslim extremists Boko Haram, whose jihadist fighters have killed hundreds since they kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls in April. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan told church families in a statement he “extends heartfelt sympathies” to the victims of the “wanton assaults.”
The embattled Jonathan is up for reelection in February and has failed at his duty to protect his people, the United Nations said Monday. To turn public opinion for his administration, Jonathan has signed a $1.2 million contract with Washington, D.C., public relations firm Levick. The June 13 contract obtained by The Hill cites Levick’s pledge to change “the international and local media narrative” surrounding efforts to recover the kidnapped girls.
Jared Genser, a human rights attorney who has represented Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, told The Hill he agreed to work on the project because Jonathan really wants to rescue the girls, stop Boko Haram, and “do the right thing.” But discerning motives among competing interests is difficult. Levick’s website says it “regularly helps” foreign governments with issues such as “communication strategies during human rights issues” and “advancing political and legislative goals.”
Americans likely have already seen some of the firm’s work in Jonathan’s June 26 op-ed in The Washington Post. The president expressed concern about the kidnapped girls, saying “my silence as we work to accomplish the task at hand is being misused by partisan critics to suggest inaction or even weakness.”
Foreign governments aren’t strangers to American lobbyists. Public relations firm and $55 million Russian partner Ketchum helped place President Vladimir Putin’s op-ed in The New York Times in September. Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich and his party used two Washington lobbying firms to influence Congress and the American public.
Jonathan’s public relations campaign, though, faces Boko Haram’s two-pronged strategy of bombings in urban areas and scorched-earth attacks in northeastern villages where people are gunned down and their homes burned. During the first week of Ramadan, the violence has only increased.
Suspected extremists on Sunday sprayed gunfire on worshippers in four churches in a northeastern village and torched the buildings. Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs told WORLD radical Muslims are relentless. “They have given the Christians of northern Nigeria basically three choices. You can leave, become Muslim, or you can die,” he said.
Jonathan condemned the recent attacks with another official statement Monday. “The president assures all Nigerians once again that the federal government and national security agencies will continue to intensify ongoing efforts to end Boko Haram’s senseless attacks until the terrorists are routed and totally defeated,” the statement said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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