This past week, Boko Haram carried out the most deadly attack in Nigeria thus far. Upon seizing the military in the town of Baga in northeastern Nigeria, reports indicate that Boko Haram may have killed up to 2,000 people. Apart from a few news outlets, coverage of this massacre has been extremely limited, and leaders on the continent across the globe have been relatively silent on the matter. Although the #bringbackourgirls movement garnered a lot of attention, subsequent tragedies in northeastern Nigeria have been largely overlooked. In the months following the mass kidnapping, several more people have been kidnapped by Boko Haram, and explosions in various towns have killed several others. Young children have been robbed of their innocence and recruited to carry out violence.
In addition to the lack of media coverage, the silence across the globe indicates a sense of indifference, and in some cases, numbness. The most deafening silence is that from leaders on the continent, particularly in Nigeria. As Nigeria prepares for an election on February 14, the two front runners of the election (incumbent President Jonathan Goodluck & challenger Muhammadu Buhari) have not had much to say about the violence in the northeast. Furthermore, little has been done to address the uncertainty and danger that many in the northeast face now, and the danger they will likely face should they choose to go to the polls. Update: many leaders on the continent, including in Nigeria, had much to say about the tragedy in France, but nothing to say about the massacre in Baga.
For a quick moment, let’s look at what took place following the recent terrorist attacks in France. Around the world, people demonstrated their solidarity with the hashtag #jesuischarlie. Around France, more than 700,000 people marched in commemoration of the victims of the terrorist attacks. Seven hundred thousand people. Yes, the nature of the attacks were completely different from what continues to take place in Nigeria. But what is to say that people on the continent and across the globe, can’t demonstrate the same level of solidarity with victims? Such illustrations of solidarity draw the type of global attention that have the potential to shake leaders out of their complacency and into action.
So what should we do? What can we do? We can talk. We can demonstrate solidarity. We can demand action. We cannot allow victims of Boko Haram to become afterthoughts, or worse, completely invisible. The #bringbackourgirls movement had global attention because people chose to create constructive dialogue that demanded action. Nigerian citizens used their voices, and amplified their message through social media to ensure that the world heard them. The strength and origination of the #bringbackourgirls movement demonstrated that Nigerians were not only able to create their own dialogue, but also to direct the conversation. The ability to direct the conversation is especially important when the media does finally pick up the story. We must also remember that the media’s attention is not the ultimate goal. Although it has power to initiate action, the attention is often fleeting. The world hears, the world reacts, and the world soon forgets. For such a movement to maintain long-term traction across the continent & the globe, local leaders must be fully engaged. With regard to Boko Haram, leaders within Nigeria and elsewhere on the continent, must be intentional about promoting unity, justice, and enforcing the protection and visibility of ALL citizens. But our leaders cannot remain fully engaged unless we are. We have to press, insist, and keep the people in northeastern Nigeria (& eastern Congo, Central African Republic, Somalia), at the forefront of our thoughts and of our conversation. As elections take place, we must demand that leaders outline their plans to combat groups like Boko Haram, and follow through with said plans. And lastly, we must do all of this with the same fervor as those who promote violence & divisiveness. We cannot win otherwise.