By: Kylie Bull, Managing Editor 01/15/2015 ( 5:59am)
Last week, terror attacks in France killed 12 people. At the same time, Boko Haram terrorists in Nigeria murdered approximately 2,000. The disparity in the media and public reaction to both events is immense. On the same day as the attacks on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo’s office in Paris, the French reacted with public displays of unity, solidarity and defense of free speech. This diffused to other European countries and around the world. There have been no such displays or widespread condemnation in relation to the attacks in Nigeria, which not only amassed a greater number of casualties, but used female and child suicide bombers – one as young as ten years old.
Why is this? In this day and age surely there is nobody who believes that an African life is worth less than an American, a Dutch or an Australian life. No, it’s not that.
Since September 11 2001, our perception of terrorism has morphed from “how dreadful for those poor people,” to, “can this happen to me?” Terrorism has spread like a virus around the world, seeping into every corner and becoming so commonplace that it is no longer something that happens elsewhere – it can happen to you. The public therefore identifies most with acts of terrorism that are closest to them, either in terms of geography, culture or theme – the attack on Charlie Hebdo’s staff was seen the world over as an attack on free speech, something many of us hold very dear.
A track appearing on a 1993 album by UK reggae band UB40 contains the chorus: it’s a long, long way from here, don’t you worry yourself my dear. Nigeria is a long way from the US and the UK, probably more so in terms of culture than geography. For that reason, we don’t worry about Boko Haram. It’s an African problem, right?
Correct, but it has the potential to be a global problem on a formidable scale. US Africa Command (AFRICOM) has said Boko Haram is trying to emulate Al Qaeda and that fighters have received training at the hands of Al Qaeda operatives. Furthermore, Boko Haram has lately adopted similar ideologies to the Islamic State. For one, Boko Haram also aims to create an Islamist caliphate. Now imagine for a moment those three entities – Al Qaeda, Islamic State and Boko Haram – working together as one. Although its focus is very much on western Africa at present, Boko Haram, with its links to Al Qaeda and IS, could well be the catalyst that creates this three-headed monster.
There is also the diaspora angle to consider – the UK and other European countries such as Germany and Spain have large and increasing Nigerian populations. Nigerians also make up the largest contemporary African immigrant group in the United States. While first generation Nigerians, especially those who have fled violence at the hands of Boko Haram, may not be a threat to the West, second or third generation Nigerians may become so when coupled with the seeming inability of the West to stop the radicalization of disaffected youth.
So, should we continue to turn a blind eye to Boko Haram? The difficulty is that, to some extent, this is exactly what Nigeria is doing. Nigerian people have a suffer in silence approach. The attacks have become commonplace. It happens. God will look after us. We carry on. If Nigerians had come out in defense of their freedom as vociferously as the French did, other nations most likely would have followed suit in support.
Boko Haram’s abduction of schoolgirls attracted international attention because the Nigerians themselves spoke up (although their plight was largely forgotten and many people today couldn’t tell you what the current situation is). But how can the Nigerian public, who are most likely terrified of Boko Haram, be blamed for suffering in silence when their own president instantly condemned the Paris attacks, yet has still not made an official comment on Boko Haram’s recent atrocities in his own country?
Nigerian presidential elections are just weeks away. Perhaps a new leader could revitalize the military and make more of a stand against Boko Haram, or lead the Nigerian people by example in not allowing terrorists to silence and instil fear.
Nigeria will need help from the international community to put an end to Boko Haram’s campaign in Nigeria and its spread to other parts of West Africa. And this help must come soon, not just for our own futures, but for the people of Nigeria.
Last year, US Secretary of State John Kerry said after the schoolgirls abduction: “We are going to do everything possible to counter the menace of Boko Haram.”
He has not elaborated since, largely because there is disparity not only between Nigeria and the US on the best way to counter the threat, but also division among US officials on the matter. This and the increase in lone wolf and offshoot jihad group attacks around the world may mean that the US, and the West in general, takes its eye off the ball as far as Boko Haram is concerned.