“In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
– Martin Luther King Jr.
It has been pointed out that, as the attacks in Paris killed 17 people, an attack on Baga in Borno state in the same week is said to have killed anything from 150 to 2000 people (reliable data is typically the exception, not the rule, in Nigeria). In fact, there have been objections to the fact that the Baga massacre received significantly less global attention than the Paris tragedies, not least by an Archbishop of Nigeria. Some have even hinted at an element of racism, in that African lives are deemed less significant than European lives. I don’t subscribe to this point of view.
It is probable that your social media news feed has been, like mine, filled with solidarity messages for the Paris attacks. “Je suis Charlie” has taken the world with a fever that is impressive in its scope. Millions around the world have taken to social media to condemn the attacks and show their support for the French people who, at this trying time, have united together to march on the streets in defiance of terror. World leaders joined the march, celebrities had their pictures taken with pens, badges and other symbols depicting their unity with the French people. It is all very impressive stuff, and truly warms the heart.
But then there is the outcry that the massacre in Baga did not receive even half that attention. I do understand where people are coming from when they speak about the imbalance and seeming injustice in the response to attacks. However, I believe it is wrong to criticize the news organisations or the world in general for this.
For one thing, the world can only support and contribute, not initiate and create. This means that we cannot accuse the world of not caring about the hundreds (thousands?) killed in Baga when we clearly do not care very much either. The social media campaign to recognize the extraordinary amount of people lost in the short span of this new year has been weak and not carried with much vigour by Nigerians. There have been no protests of outrage nor marches of solidarity, nor even the demand of an appropriate response from the government. Indeed, this country’s president has sent a message of solidarity and support to the French while declining to say a single word for or to the victims of Baga. This is in spite of Amnesty International calling the Baga attack the “deadliest massacre” in the history of Boko Haram. It has been suggested that President Jonathan chooses to say nothing in the hopes that the situation will quickly be forgotten and he can continue on with his re-election campaign. Indeed, it seems to be a recurrent theme because, as you will remember, it took him 18 days to acknowledge the abduction of the Chibok girls, and a further 80 days to meet with their parents. And yet we do not seem to have any problem with that, maybe in part because we share the same attitude. President Jonathan seems to prefer to remain silent on national tragedies as if ignoring them will make them go away, but even when he does speak, it comes off looking like already-prepared soundbites: “I condemn [insert latest massacre]”, “We will bring justice to [insert any one of the usual suspects]”, “…no sacred cow”, “…we are making progress”, “…immediate and speedy investigation”, and so on and so forth. We choose to take him at his word every single time because that is most convenient and helps us to pass the moral responsibility onward to….who exactly?
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
– Martin Niemöller.
Speaking of the Chibok girls, I think the world has already proven to us that it can care very much, when one considers the show of support for the #BringBackOurGirls campaign. The international media was awash with it, millions all over the world showed support, and even some of the biggest names in politics and entertainment publicly identified with the campaign. Sound familiar? It should, because the same thing is happening right now, only this time, it is happening in Paris. And where are the Chibok girls? Essentially, what I understand is that the world is saying, “If you stand up, we will stand with you”.
The fact is, we asked for international support and we got it in measures we could not possibly have imagined. And then we let the world down, in much the same way we have let those poor girls down. I imagine that by now they would have given up all hope of being rescued, because they must have realized that we just don’t give enough of a damn to bring them back. And so asking that another tragedy in Nigeria be recognized by the world is a right we do not have anymore, not since we squandered the priviledge like it was oil surplus last time out. Though the core members of the BBOG campaign stoutly carry on the protest daily, they continue to stand alone against forces bigger than they, because the rest of us have gotten bored and moved on.
Which brings me nicely to the point about global media not covering the Baga massacre as much as the Paris murders. The thing is, organisations like CNN, BBC, Al-Jazeera and in the like are in the business of reporting news. By definition, news is newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent or important events. Dozens of Nigerians are killed daily (no exaggeration here, strictly emphasis) and yet we do not even bat an eyelid. We carry on, business as usual, while our fellow citizens are murdered in cold blood, simply because it isn’t happening to us or those we love, there is zero outcry. Therefore, because of the recurrent nature of it all, it does not qualify as newly received or noteworthy, just as it is not pertinent to report every morning that the sun came up.
We seem to have a level of insensitivity to the incessant loss of life that says a lot about us as a people. This is a massive topic that deserves its own analysis separately, but suffice to say that thousands were killed last year by Boko Haram alone, not to mention all the other murders around the country, but we carry on as if nothing happened. The numbers don’t even give us pause. It may have something to do with the psychological phenomenon of our brains not being able to process large numbers in the same way as it does smaller numbers, but it still shows a complete lack of empathy for our fellow citizens.
Frankly, I do not think we have the right to say a single word in protest at the world response to our tragedy; we discarded of that right when we declined to protest or stand up for those who were so gruesomely murdered
on our territory (Baga is technically not part of Nigeria anymore, I’m told). France suffered a tragedy and its people rose in the millions. Nigeria suffers tragedies and massacres almost every day and its people smile and thank God it didn’t happen to them, as if God did not charge us with protecting our fellow man. Paris has today laid its dead (martyrs for freedom?) to rest, while the bodies of Nigerians still lay on the streets of Baga with nobody there to give them the simple dignity of a few words and a burial. Shame on you, shame on me, shame on all of us.
Now shake your head and go back to your dinner.