On January 3rd, militants from terrorist group Boko Haram again made headlines by torching the town of Baga, in Northeastern Nigeria, overtaking military forces, and once more effectively plunging Nigeria into a nightmarish reality.
According to the Associated Free Press, approximately 16 settlements have been razed. The UN estimates that over 10,000 Nigerians have fled to Chad in just a matter of days. Amnesty International recently released satellite images revealing that more than 3,700 buildings were damaged or destroyed in the recent attacks. The official death toll has yet to be confirmed. Estimates are that anywhere from 150 to 2,000 people have lost their lives.
The insurgency of Boko Haram, whose name means "Western education is forbidden," is nothing new. They have been inflicting their gruesome brand of terror on Nigeria since 2009, with the express aim of setting up an Islamic state. However, the quality and magnitude of their attacks have steadily increased in brazenness -- even going so far as to use three female suicide bombers -- one of them purported to be just 10 years of age -- to make their message of female subjugation and mass terror known.
As Nigeria readies itself for a critical election period culminating on Valentine's Day, a lack of mass media coverage -- especially in comparison to the global outpouring of support for the France attacks -- has some people wondering "where's the love" for Nigeria from its own government and from the world?
When the Chibok Girls were taken in April of 2014, a similar nonchalant narrative began to emerge. The Nigerian government was slow to make a statement and slow to move, and mass media was slow to cover the story and share it with the rest of the world. Slow that is, until #BringBackOurGirls went viral, sparking outrage and widespread engagement.
#BringBackOurGirls took hold of the public imagination. It galvanized the globe, inspiring people around the world to explore ways of taking action. Participants in the social campaign tweeted, posted powerful and informative content, attended rallies, linked with groups around the world, created organizations and donated to already established ones. #BringBackOurGirls influenced public discourse, demanding that global eyes focus on Africa. The media channels responded in kind. When those actively influencing the conversation through social media movement moved on, it was with the expectation that Nigeria and its allies would remain vigilantly dedicated until this horror of horrors had come to an end.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees reports that Boko Haram has been responsible for close to 6,000 more deaths since April 2014, when the Chibok girls were taken. This is nearly double the number of lives lost in the 9/11 attack. Scilla Elsworthy, seasoned conflict negotiator, founder of Peace Direct, a charity supporting local peace-builders in conflict areas, and co-founder of Rising Women Rising World, an initiative that seeks to empower women and girls globally, believes that a path towards peace is possible, but it will first take truly understand the nuanced dynamics of what Boko Haram "really wants, then identifying someone preferably based on the continent of Africa who could step in to manage this conflict. Perhaps someone like a Desmond Tutu."
Boko Haram's latest actions have plunged Nigeria into a twilight zone of terror. New horrific images and stories are beginnig to surface. Stories about northern farmers who now have to rely on NGO handouts in order to feed themselves, southerners who at one time contributed to Northern Nigeria's economy now fleeing south for safety because they are concerned that if Boko Haram doesn't get them, then a bloody election will, and stories of students from other regions of Nigeria who may have considered educational institutions in the northern part of the country now no longer counting the north as a viable option. When these stories are woven together, what emerges is a tableau of how if left un-checked, Boko Haram will continue to erode the quality of life and customs throughout Nigeria, while continuing to rob as many people as possible of life.
As this latest challenge continues to unfold, the real question is can Nigeria rely once more on the global community to re-ignite political, economic and social engagement that may lead to the development of strategies that create concrete solutions?
While 3.7 million people may not as of yet linked arms and taken to the streets of Nigeria like they did in France, global citizens of the world can (and should) use their powers of social influence to turn the collective gaze once more in Africa's direction and send a clear message to the world that Nigeria matters. The Boko Haram horror story must end. A new story for Nigeria must begin.