Baga lies deserted. A year ago the town, on the banks of Lake Chad, was home to nearly 300,000 people. Today fewer than a thousand remain after attacks last January by Boko Haram. Amnesty International estimated that 2,000 people were killed and most of the town was burnt to the ground.
According to the Global Terrorism Index the world's deadliest terror group is not ISIS. That dubious crown instead belongs to Nigeria' Boko Haram. The data shows that in 2014 Boko Haram was responsible for 453 incidents of terrorism that took 6,654 lives. ISIS was more prolific, engaging in 1,071 incidents of terrorism, but with a lower death toll of 6,073 people. Boko Haram also targets more civilians than ISIS; 77% of deaths at the hands of Boko Haram were civilians, compared with 44% of ISIS's victims. Why is it then that we don't hear anywhere near as much about Boko Haram as we do about ISIS?
Boko Haram and ISIS are similar groups. They are both radical Islamist movements that have managed to seize territory and establish caliphates in their respective regions, though recently Boko Haram's territory has been somewhat undermined. They are both primarily insurgencies-i.e. violent non-state actors who launch coordinated attacks against targets with the intention of toppling the state and establishing their own government. They both adopt terrorism as a tactic to further those aims. They also show an affinity for one another, though it would be overreaching to say they collaborate. ISIS accepted a pledge of allegiance from Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau in March, daubing the area of northern Nigeria under Boko Haram's control the "Islamic State's West Africa Province"
However it is the differences between these two groups that are fundamentally altering the coverage they are receiving. The first is that ISIS has a much more ruthlessly effective propaganda machine. Operating across multiple platforms, including all the most popular forms of western social media, ISIS has been able to guarantee a constant stream of media coverage. The media-savvy nature of ISIS has compelled the world to look and report on it. Boko Haram does not have the technical knowledge, or the capacity -- much of the Boko Haram controlled area in northern Nigeria is without Internet and only garners patchy cell phone reception.
This compounds another of the reasons for the paucity of coverage of Boko Haram; there simply aren't enough eyes on the ground reporting it. Boko Haram has been extremely effective at keeping journalists out and thus they are forced to report from Lagos or other cities at significant remove and almost exclusively through second-hand reports.
There is also unwillingness within Nigeria to cover Boko Haram properly. In January of last year, at almost exactly the same time as the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, Baga was razed. With the death toll at 2,000 it was 2015's deadliest terrorist attack globally, let alone within Nigeria. Yet the President at the time, Goodluck Jonathan, did not even acknowledge an attack took place. He took to Twitter to express his condolences to those who had lost their lives in France, but failed to mention the exponentially larger bloodshed that had occurred in his own country.
This was a political consideration. Many politicians in Nigeria simply do not want to admit how bad the situation is lest it reflect on their chances for re-election. The Baga attack came just a few weeks before the general election, though ignoring it didn't change Goodluck Jonathan's fate. He lost to Muhammadu Buhari -- the first time in Nigerian history that an incumbent President failed to retain power.
Aside from the difficulty of reporting and the systemic reluctance to engage with the scale of the problem within the Nigerian establishment, there is also the fact that there is little outside penetration into Boko Haram. ISIS is exceptionally good at recruiting foreign fighters to its cause-largely a function of its exceptional propaganda machine. These foreign fighters post to social media and give us glimpses of life inside the Islamic State. When they return journalists easily track them down. Many, who were unprepared for the cruel reality of the Islamic State and have fled, actively seek outlets for their stories.
Boko Haram is yet to become a magnet for foreign fighters. It has also been unable to export terrorism farther afield to sweep the media spotlight. While Boko Haram is an international threat, and regularly carries out attacks in neighbouring countries such as Chad, Niger and Cameroon, beyond sub-Saharan Africa it has never managed to execute a terrorist attack.
ISIS on the other hand has switched up its tactics in 2015 by brutally committing terrorist attacks against western and other foreign targets. Aside from the Paris attacks, it was responsible for the downing of a Russian airliner, killing 224 over Egypt. The shooters in San Bernardino reportedly pledged allegiance to ISIS, as did attackers recently in Istanbul and Jakarta. This strategic shift has forced the world to look squarely at ISIS and has allowed us to lose sight of Boko Haram and the quagmire that is northern Nigeria.
Boko Haram's six-year insurgency has caused over 20,000 deaths and displaced nearly 2.3 million people. But maybe one of the main reasons we hear so little about it is that it hasn't started to wash up on our shores yet. The people displaced by ISIS have been arriving daily, a trail of tens of thousands of broken lives. Boko Haram's victims, and their stories, have yet to make the journey.