How two thousand deaths in Nigeria were outshone by the 17 at Charlie Hebdo
The first two weeks of 2015 witnessed two tragic events: the shootings at the magazine Charlie Hebdo in France and a series of attacks in Nigeria by the terrorist group, Boko Haram. In Paris, 17 people were killed. The episode mobilised the international community and gathered the sympathy of millions of people worldwide. In Nigeria, over 2,000 people lost their lives. Contrary to what happened in France, there was very little commotion and not a single hashtag on different social media like the viral #jesuischarlie. The fact that two thousand people had to die so Nigeria could receive some attention puts in check the value of a human life.
As analysed by Caio Quero’s post on Monday, the attackers of Charlie Hebdo understood the western media enough to know that it was not necessary to kill hundreds or thousands. They knew that an attack on a well-known magazine in the heart of Europe would be enough to cause a major worldwide commotion. Boko Haram also understood its audience. The group knew that killings in Africa only make the international news when the numbers are high. Nevertheless, with the chaos in Europe, while millions were mourning the 17 casualties in Paris, only few people were paying attention to the 2,000 people (mostly women and children) who died in Nigeria.
Some suggest that Paris received most of the attention because it is easier for most people to relate to it. Since it is closer to home people can see themselves being the victims and therefore sympathise more. Although this definitely plays a part in people’s mind, it goes beyond than the ‘it could have been me’ argument. Most people didn’t pay much attention to the killings in Nigeria for the same reason thousands of deaths go unnoticed in many other countries in the world: people think that violence is common or even natural in countries from the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and South America.
The media is not to be blamed; the media is a reflection of the way people think. It is almost as if people thought: ‘their deaths are not as tragic as ours because there these things happen all the time. Therefore, people must be used to it by now.’ Nevertheless, as nobody will ever get used to terrorist attacks such as the one at Charlie Hebdo, people in Nigeria will never get used to Boko Haram’s killings.
There are many similarities between the events in Nigeria and France, however, while the future of the European country is being widely debated, Nigeria remains at the margins of the international security’s agenda.
In France, many minority groups face prejudice and are marginalised from the society, which allows for the insurgence of extremism and violence. In Nigeria, Boko Haram was born due to poverty, social exclusion and political marginalisation of Muslims in the Northern region of Nigeria. In addition, as in France, most Muslims do not agree with the actions of Boko Haram – not even with the group’s wish to impose the Sharia Law.
For different reasons, both governments’ responses to contain the violence are not working.
In France, the first days after the attack witnessed a wave of violence towards both Muslims and Jews. The next few months are very likely to see a tightening in migration laws, and a rise in popularity of more right-wing extremist parties, such as the National Front. Segregation is a key word to explain hatred. Instead of making society more harmonious, the adoption of restrictive policies will probably lead to more social exclusion and intolerance towards migrants, especially Muslims.
In Nigeria, Boko Haram intensified its attack on the days following the Baga massacre, even using children as suicide bombers . Worried with the influx of refugees, neighbouring countries, such as Chad, Niger and Cameroon, urged tougher measures from the Nigerian government and are even mobilising themselves to contain Boko Haram in the cities close to the borders.
Nigeria indeed needs external help to put an end to the terrorist group. The government faces a severe shortage of financial resources to train personnel, purchase weapons, and develop an effective action plan. As in France, the government’s failed attempts to fight Boko Haram are giving the group excuses and opportunities to carry out more deadly attacks.
Despite the similarities between the two events, France is still receiving more attention. Nigeria is being relegated, with only few efforts to understand the problem. As many other countries in the continent, the security threats in Nigeria are seen just as ‘another African conflict’ and human lives of civilians are not being valued as they should.
Many argue that it is important to help the Nigerian government as the outbreak of a bigger conflict would lead to refugees fleeing to Europe and other developed countries. This is a widely used argument, which perpetuates the logic that the lives being lost in Nigeria are not that important. Help should be given to Nigeria not because of the possible increase of refugees, but because thousands of innocent civilians, mainly women and children, are dying. Not only people are dying, but women are being raped, children are being used as non-voluntary suicide bombers, and Boko Haram is committing a series of other atrocities that need to be urgently addressed.
Attempting to elaborate an in-depth and critical analysis of the problem, Politike will launch a series of three articles about Boko Haram. We will look closely at the Nigerian situation, examining its historical context, political dynamics and possible outcomes for the crisis. Stay tuned!