Je suis Nig

Boko Haram and crisis experience in Central Africa

"The rest of the world only became involved last April when the Chibok Girls were kidnapped. Millions of people pleaded their release on Twitter #BringBackOurGirls.”

Door Marleen van Wesel

The elections in Nigeria have been postponed due to the threat posed by Boko Haram. Inge Ligtvoet has just returned from a country plagued by militants.

“Everyone was Charlie, even in Nigeria”, recalls PhD student Inge Ligtvoet (29). “An incident in northern Nigeria a few days earlier only attracted the Nigerians’ interest after CNN and other international sources mentioned it.” In early January, the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram torched the town of Baga, resulting in an estimated two thousand dead. “The government responded to the events in Paris but neglected to mention the situation in their own country.”
Ligtvoet has recently returned from just under a year of fieldwork in Enugu in southern Nigeria. Since 2012, a research group has been studying how young people in Central Africa cope with stress. Initially, Ligtvoet discussed political instability, unemployment and the poor infrastructure with her informants. “Of course, Boko Haram was already active but the rest of the world only became involved last April when the Chibok Girls were kidnapped.” Millions of people pleaded their release on Twitter #BringBackOurGirls, following the kidnapping of 276 school girls. “There’d been previous kidnappings, but this one foretold Boko Haram’s new course: more aggression, using young girls in suicide attacks. Boko Haram started to feature more prominently in my research on crisis experience.”
Back home, her mother was worried. “I said “Mum, Boko Haram’s a thousand kilometres away.’ You would think people would be more concerned there than they would be here if all hell broke loose a thousand kilometres away, because it was in the same country. But although Europe was on red alert after Charlie Hebdo, nothing of the sort happened there.”
She noticed something interesting about the news consumption of the Nigerians after the Chibok Girls kidnappings and the reports on Baga in early January. “In both instances, I noticed a flow of activity on the social media, just like ours really. The Nigerians only pick up on such incidents once they have been broadcast worldwide via CNN, BBC or Al Jazeera. It might seem strange to hear about events a thousand kilometres away through international channels but there are very few sources in northern Nigeria. Nigerian journalists are afraid to travel up there. Although it’s not safe for CNN either, they have the budget to pay for a convoy. There are also rumours of corruption among Nigerian journalists so people think that news from elsewhere is more reliable.”
She was not pleased when, in early January, everyone wanted to be Charlie but no one showed any interest in the horrors at Baga. Without thinking, she vented her frustration on Facebook. When she woke up the next morning, she was amazed to see that her blog had been shared dozens of times. By mid-January, other media were expressing similar feelings and concerns about Boko Haram finally started to grow. “The imminent elections have alerted the international press. It hasn’t been this exciting for a long time. Former dictator Muhammadu Buhari, a Northerner and Muslim, has ample support in the north and north-west regions while the current president, Goodluck Jonathan, is more popular in the south, partly because of his Christian roots.”
According to Ligtvoet, the election campaign would be a good opportunity to tackle the violence. “But instead of suggesting solutions, they’ve started mudslinging – Boko Haram is mainly used to malign the opposition. On the one hand, Buhari allegedly has a finger in Boko Haram’s pie, but on the other, the militants have drastically upped their game under Jonathan’s administration and the president is supported by Boko Haram sympathizers.”
Meanwhile, the elections, originally scheduled for last Saturday, have been postponed for six weeks due to the security situation in the north. Jonathan recently announced he would do something about it. “There’s a rumour on the social media that he’s trying to stall for more campaign time. With his opponent breathing down his neck, he’s gambling on righting the thing people have criticized most – the fact he’s ignored the issue. Besides, he can join the alliance other countries in the region have just set up. It might not be his own idea.” Ligtvoet has little hope that the situation will improve any time soon. “It would naive to suppose that he can solve something in a week or two that he hasn’t been able to fix in four or five years.” ’
Nigerians are not worried about voicing their dissatisfaction on social media. Looking into what people could recall about the Chibok Girls kidnappings, she discovered that they mostly remembered Patience Jonathan’s, Nigeria’s first lady’s, response. “She gave a dramatic speech, memorable not only because she burst into tears but because of her terrible English, too. She was hysterical and kept screaming ‘There’s God, oo!’ Now people use it to end a discussion or conversation: There’s God oo!

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Je suis Nig

The elections in Nigeria have been postponed due to the threat posed by Boko Haram. Inge …