The abduction in northeast Nigeria of more than 200 12- to 15-year-old girls of whom nothing has been heard for nearly four weeks has transfixed the world, amid fears they have been trafficked across the border with Chad and Cameroon into sex slavery and forced marriage. Kidnappers Boko Haram, a militant group seeking to impose Islamist law on Nigeria's multi-cultural society, are responsible for many atrocities, including the slaughter of about 100 people in a border town last week. But none has aroused the same international outrage. Indeed, it has waged war against civilians in the impoverished northeast for years, without much response at home or abroad.
President Jonathan Goodluck remained silent for three weeks after the kidnap, until he finally appealed for international help just days before he was to host the World Economic Forum on Africa. Now the United States, Britain and France have sent specialist teams to help locate the girls, and China has agreed to supply "any useful information acquired by its satellites and intelligence services", according to Jonathan after talks with visiting Premier Li Keqiang .
Jonathan leads a corrupt government whose impotence over the abduction has done nothing for its credibility. His belated response followed two bomb attacks in Abuja in the last three weeks that raised questions about security for the forum. Hopefully, the UN Security Council's expression of outrage will prompt his government to show a greater sense of urgency.
A show of force by more than 5,000 troops may have kept forum delegates safe, but if the government had done more to contain a terrorist insurgency the girls might be safe in their homes and the conference in no need of such protection. It needs to deploy more troops to protect villages and schools and pursue Boko Haram. Without the restoration of security the authorities cannot hope to win over poor people radicalised by poverty and launch a development plan that exploits the full potential of Nigeria's new status as Africa's largest economy.