Nigeria’s horror in Paris’s shadow

12.01.2015 - Pressenza Hong Kong

Nigeria’s horror in Paris’s shadow
African child (Image by Jane Hahn)

Why a 10-year-old suicide bomber isn’t front-page news

“I got this on one of the BBC’s international broadcasts, almost as a footnote. In the same week as the Charlie Hebdo massacre, some 3000 people were massacred in Northern Nigeria by Boko Haram. There was an interview with a desperate – sounding Nigerian senator who it seems had witnessed and been personally affected by it. A million marched for Charlie Hebdo.
Nobody marched for the 3000 Nigerians of the wrong religion and the wrong gender who died that same week, even though the assassins were also of the same ideology. It seems that if it is people from  the global ‘south’ who dies, they are disposable and their lives are of no consequence. I am appalled and speechless by the double – standard involved here. If it is Australia, if it is France then that maters. Nigeria?  Who gives a damn?
Truly I am disgusted.
John Hallam
 had written:

Afolabi Sotunde/Reuters
As many as a million people, joined by 40 world leaders, filled the streets of Paris on Sunday in solidarity after two separate terrorist attacks claimed 17 innocent lives last week. The day before, more than 3,000 miles to the south, a girl believed to be around 10 approached the entrance to a crowded market in Maiduguri, a city of some 1 million in Nigeria’s Borno State. As a security guard inspected her, the girl detonated explosives strapped to her body, killing herself and at least 19 others. Dozens more were injured.
Saturday’s suicide bombing elicited little coverage compared to the events in Paris, which have dominated headlines since last Wednesday’s attack on Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper. Why the slaughter of 17 innocents in France receives more attention than the death of roughly the same number of Nigerians is the kind of question that can result in accusations of indifference, racism, and media bias. But the contrast between the attacks in Paris and the suicide bombing in Maiduguri actually reveals something far more sinister: the ravages of state failure.

The main difference between France and Nigeria isn’t that the public and the media care about one and not the other. It is, rather, that one country has an effective government and the other does not.

Boko Haram is waging a ruthless war throughout northeast Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. On Wednesday, Boko Haram militants laid siege to Baga, a city that has resisted them, setting fire to buildings and killing residents indiscriminately. Hundreds of people fled into Lake Chad and attempted to swim to a nearby island. Many drowned along the way. Those who didn’t are now marooned without food and shelter and have no defense against the island’s swarm of malarial mosquitos. The death toll in Baga reportedly exceeds 2,000. Some 20,000 others are now displaced.
The New York Times story on this deadly siege appeared on page A6 of Saturday’s print edition, while the paper’s story of the suicide bombing landed on page A8.
How did the attacks in France so thoroughly bury the atrocities in Nigeria?
One explanation is the difficulty of covering dangerous, remote parts of the world, such as Nigeria’s northeastern Borno State, where Boko Haram holds sway over much of the territory. A similar dynamic exists in Syria, where a civil war has claimed nearly 200,000 lives since erupting in 2011, and where relatively few journalists are there to witness it. In addition, it’s likely that the Paris attack’s focus on a publication touched a nerve with members of the media worldwide.
But it’s not that the media doesn’t cover Nigeria, or that Westerners don’t care about Africans. After all, when Boko Haram fighters kidnapped nearly 200 girls from a school in Chibok in April of last year, a public campaign to bring them back attracted widespread publicity, with even First Lady Michelle Obama contributing a photograph. Two years before that, a video from the now-defunct NGO Invisible Children that highlighted Joseph Kony, the Ugandan warlord who leads the Lord’s Resistance Army, was viewed over 100 million times in its first six days. These campaigns, whatever their shortcomings, did at least show that people in the West aren’t totally indifferent to African suffering.
The main difference between France and Nigeria isn’t that the public and the media care about one and not the other. It is, rather, that one country has an effective government and the other does not. The French may not be too fond of President Francois Hollande—his approval ratings last November had plunged to 12 percent—but he responded to his country’s twin terror attacks with decisiveness. Not so Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan. Since assuming the presidency in 2010, Jonathan has done little to contain Boko Haram. The group emerged in 2002 and has consolidated control over an area larger than West Virginia. And it’s gaining ground. Perversely, the seemingly routine nature of Nigeria’s violence may have diminished the perception of its newsworthiness.
Jonathan’s failure to confront Boko Haram, of course, is nothing new. Nigeria has long been cursed with a corrupt, ineffective government, one perennially unable to translate the country’s vast oil wealth into broad-based prosperity. During his campaign for re-election—Nigerians go to the polls on February 14—Jonathan has vowed to tackle his country’s problem with graft. At a campaign rally on Thursday, the president exhorted his followers to support him.
“You must vote for your liberation, you must vote for your development, you must vote to take Nigeria to the moon,” he said.
“You cannot vote to take Nigeria backward.”
Boko Haram wasn’t mentioned once.
Boko Haram massacre thousands, says Amnesty International
The north-east town of Baga, Nigeria, pictured in 2013, has seen repeated attacks from Boko Haram.

The north-east town of Baga, Nigeria, pictured in 2013, has seen repeated attacks from Boko Haram. Photo: AFP
Hundreds of bodies remain strewn in the bush in Nigeria from an Islamic extremist attack that Amnesty International says may have claimed 2000 lives in the “deadliest massacre” in the history of Boko Haram.
Mike Omeri, the government spokesman on the insurgency, said fighting continues for Baga, a town on the border with Chad where insurgents seized a key military base on January 3 and attacked again on Wednesday.
“Security forces have responded rapidly, and have deployed significant military assets and conducted air strikes against militant targets,” Omeri said in a statement.
Screengrab from an video released by Boko Haram shows the leader Abubakar Shekau.

Screengrab from an video released by Boko Haram shows the leader Abubakar Shekau. Photo: AFP
District head Baba Abba Hassan said most victims are children, women and elderly people who could not run fast enough when insurgents drove into Baga, firing rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on town residents.
“The human carnage perpetrated by Boko Haram terrorists in Baga was enormous,” Muhammad Abba Gava, a spokesman for poorly armed civilians in a defence group that fights Boko Haram, said.
An Amnesty International statement said there were reports the town was razed and as many as 2000 people killed.
If true, “this marks a disturbing and bloody escalation of Boko Haram’s ongoing onslaught,” said Daniel Eyre, Nigeria researcher for Amnesty International.
But Hassan played down reports  that 2000 people had been killed.
“To say 2000 people were killed is on the high side. The death toll could run into several hundreds,” Hassan said, adding that no head count had been made.
“To add to our misery, Boko Haram fighters who remained in the area went on a burning spree, setting fire to our homes after looting them,” Hassan said.
Nigerian military authorities say they plan to launch a counterattack to regain control of Baga, a fishing community on the shores of Lake Chad adjacent to a military base. The base is part of a multinational effort to fight the Islamist militants with troops from Nigeria, Niger and Chad. But forces from Chad had not yet been deployed and Niger’s forces had withdrawn from the base before the Boko Haram attack took place.
Gruesome images have been posted on Twitter, including some showing hundreds of badly burned corpses laid out on a village square. One shocking image showed a woman and her baby both burned to death.
But, according to an African fact-checking agency, the picture of the corpses was taken after a fuel tanker explosion several years ago in the Republic of Congo. And the burned baby photo has been circulating since 2011, according to security analyst Yan St-Pierre.
Access to Nigeria’s troubled northeast region is difficult for security reasons, and those displaced by fighting tend to flee in different directions, making it impossible to confirm how many died in the recent attacks. Senator Maina Ma’aji Lawan said in a phone interview that the death toll of the attacks was “impossible to quantify at the moment”.
Babagana Kyari, a resident of Baga who fled to Chad, said hundreds of Boko Haram fighters attacked the town and nearby villages at dawn, driving residents away and attacking the military base.
“They overwhelmed the troops and forced them to abandon the base which the Boko Haram gunmen took over. The insurgents split into groups and attacked Baga, Doron-Baga and Bundaram villages, forcing everybody to flee. Gunmen on motorcycles pursued residents into the bush, shooting them dead.
“I managed to make it to the Lake (Chad) where I boarded a fishing boat along with dozen others and made across into Chad,” he said in a phone interview.
The Baga defeat was a serious blow for regional efforts to contain Boko Haram. Nigerian troops resisted the attack for several hours before running out of ammunition and fleeing, according to reports.
Abdullahi Bawa Wase, security analyst, said the loss of Baga was a devastating blow to Nigeria’s fight against Boko Haram.

Boko Haram Attacks Again: Thousands Feared Dead After Nigerian Towns Torched

    • Boko Haram attack in Nigeria

      A 2013 photo of a Boko Haram on a village in Nigeria near Lake Chad. The area was the site of another attack Jan. 3 and Jan. 7, 2015. STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images
    • Nigerian refugees

      A group of refugees stays in Diffa, Niger, after fleeing Boko Haram violence in Nigeria. OCHA/Franck Kuwonu
    • Boko Haram attack in Nigeria

      A 2013 photo of a Boko Haram on a village in Nigeria near Lake Chad. The area was the site of another attack Jan. 3 and Jan. 7, 2015. STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images
    Some 7,300 Nigerians have fled to Chad after terrorist group Boko Haram scorched more than a dozen towns and villages in northern Nigeria last week, according to a report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or Unhcr. The body count from the attacks may be more than 2,000, officials have told BBC News.
    Those who survived the attacks in Borno state were forced into western Chad by the thousands. The Jan. 3 attack in Baga town alone prompted 3,400 Nigerians to move into Chad, which has requested international aid. Most of the refugees are staying in villages about 280 miles northwest of Chad’s capital city of N’Djamena, according to the Unhcr report published Friday.
    “The Chadian Government has sent a mission and a medical team to the areas and is providing food assistance and other basic supplies,” a Unhcr representative said. “We’re already providing plastic sheets, jerry cans, mats, blankets and kitchen tools. Other humanitarian organizations are distributing aid too.”
    The Unhcr is currently assessing the area’s security and coordinating aid delivery. Other humanitarian agencies are also in the area assessing needs, including the U.N.’s Coordination of Humanitarian AffairsChildren’s Fund and World Food Program bodies, as well as its World Health Organization.
    Thousands of Nigerians have also found refuge in neighboring Niger, but remain close to the border, hoping to return home when the violence lessens. A report last month by Unhcr revealed at least 90,000 people, including Niger nationals previously living in Nigeria, have fled to Niger’s Diffa region since May 2013. Some of the estimated 200,000 Nigerian refugees living in neighbouring countries are also in Cameroon, according to the latest figures of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
    Original story:
    The Nigerians who escaped the latest Boko Haram rampage spoke of corpses littered in the streets and the stench of rotting flesh. “I saw bodies in the street. Children and women, some were crying for help,” Mohamed Bukar told Reuters Wednesday, after fleeing the northeast Nigerian town of Baga along the shores of Lake Chad in Borno state. Borno is one of the worst-affected Nigerian states by the Boko Haram insurgency, BBC News reported.
    The Islamist militant group razed Baga town Wednesday, after an attack on a nearby military base Jan. 3. Residents who fled Baga told Musa Alhaji Bukar, a senior government official in the area, that the town — which previously had a population of about 10,000 people — is now “virtually nonexistent” and bodies clutter the streets, BBC News reported. “It has been burnt down,” Bukar told the BBC Hausa service.
    After setting the town ablaze, Boka Haram militants began raiding nearby areas and now control Baga and 16 towns in Nigeria’s Borno state, Bukar told BBC News, indicating he feared some 2,000 were killed in the attacks. Nigerian lawmaker Maina Maaji Lawan told the news agency the radical Islamist sect controls 70 percent of Borno state.
    Borno state Sen. Ahmed Zanna told NBC News more than 2,000 people are unaccounted for after the raids. “These towns are just gone, burned down,” Zanna told the news outlet in a telephone interview Thursday. “The whole area is covered in bodies.” Zanna, who was elected in 2011, said the attack was “one of the worst” he’s ever seen.
    Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan, who is seeking re-election next month, has pledged to defeat Boko Haram. But government soldiers abandoned the military base in Baga Jan. 3 and Nigerian forces have long failed to curb the violence, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.
    Boko Haram, swearing loyalty to the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, has waged its Nigerian insurgency since 2009 and wants to establish a state in the northeast based on strict Islamic law. The carnage has reached levels unmatched in Nigerian post-civil war history. More than 11,000 people died at the hands of Boko Haram militants from 2009 to 2014, which accounts for more than one-half of fatalities from social violence in Nigeria, according to the Nigeria Social Violence Project.
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