Je suis Nigeria?
I will never forget the sinking feeling I felt when I turned on my television on Thursday morning, June 18 and heard the CNN reporter announce “Breaking News” from Charleston, South Carolina…it would be a gut wrenching day as nine innocent souls lost their lives in a horrific attack at a historic church. Since that time, we have gotten to know each of the victims in a personal way. Clementa Pinckney was a pastor and a State Senator who left a grieving widow and two young daughters. Susie Jackson was 87 years old and a longtime member of the church. She sang in the choir and served on the usher board. Her nephew, Tywanza Sanders tried to save his aunt’s life but in the end, he too lost his life. The other victims included Cythnia Hurd, Ethel Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Colman Singleton and Myron Thompson. The internet is littered with heart-wrenching stories from loved ones about their departed family members. For a week, the U.S. stood still to say good-bye to these nine souls. And in the aftermath of that tragedy, people have protested to remove the confederate flag, a symbol used by the alleged killer to show his hatred of black people. Just last week, the South Carolina House of Representatives and Senate voted to remove the flag from the State Capitol grounds. The response to these senseless killings has been overwhelming.
But since that time (June 18), over 250 Nigerians have lost their lives to the senseless violence of Boko Haram. If you are an American or European, you probably missed the 30 second news clip that informed you that Boko Haram targeted a mosque as Muslims were preparing to break their fast during Ramadan or that last Sunday, the militant group attacked parishioners as they were filing into church in northeast Nigeria. Boko Haram has been terrorizing Nigeria since 2008 but in February and March, the Nigerian military made gains against the terrorist group. However, in the past few weeks, the group has been coordinating attacks outside of the northeast and the recent attack in Zaria was only three hours from the capital city of Abuja. The recent spike in the wave of violence has put Nigerians and expats on edge.
I have wondered why the world is often so quiet when tragic events happen in Nigeria. In a selfish way, its good for me as my parents may not be aware of what is happening in Nigeria and are not so worried about me. But thousands of people have been killed in Nigeria by Boko Haram since 2008 and the massacres continue. When Boko Haram started attacking villages in Nigeria, it was making the international news, but now, since the attacks are routine, media houses are quiet. When I think back to living in the U.S., I too was removed from the atrocities that were taking place outside my country. Until I started traveling around the world, I was mostly focused on the circle around me – family, friends, and work. But now my circle has increased and I am conscious of what is not only happening around me but also around the world. When Al Shabaab attacked a shopping center in Nairobi in 2013, many people were more surprised that Nairobi had a shopping mall.
The attacks by Boko Haram are competing for space among many tragic situations; deadly police violence in the U.S., the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean Sea, the fall of Syria, Yemen, etc., ISIL, Greece debt situation and the list goes on and on. President Muhammadu Buhari, the newly elected president of Nigeria said during his campaign that he would eradicate Boko Haram from northeast Nigeria. However, he has found himself buried among a list of problems from the previous administration, including a lack of morale in the military.
In January, Paris was rocked by attacks on the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. At the same time that people were tweeting the hashtag, #jesuisCharlie, 2,000 Nigerians were reported dead at the hands of Boko Haram. Very few people tweeted about the massacre in northeastern Nigeria and government leaders did not organize a march to show support and unity in response to the killings. Getting to the bottom of this problem is difficult for many reason. Often times, it takes days before news to be reported out of northeast Nigeria. In addition, Nigerian leaders are often quiet responding to the attacks of Boko Haram. Former President Goodluck Jonathan was chided for speaking out against the Paris attacks but it took a few days before he commented on the actions of Boko Haram in his own country. And that was not his first time slowly responding to attacks by Boko Haram.
The international response to the attacks in Nigeria has made me think whether a Nigeria life is equal to that of an American or a Brit. Two weeks ago, 30 British citizens were killed in a terrorists attack in Tunisia. For two weeks, the news cycle focused on the repatriation of the bodies from Tunisia. The world mourned as nearly 40 innocent souls were loss at the hands of terrorist. But there has been no outcry about the lives loss in Nigeria. There has been no moment of silence for the innocent victims in Zaria or Potiskum or Maiduguri. I don’t know the solution to the perception that currently exist but we do need news outlets that are not only inwardly focused but also outwardly focused.