Boko Haram Ignored By The World? Blame African Leaders
Though both nations have been hit by Islamist terror, Nigeria's Goodluck Jonathan hasn't gotten the same global support as France's Francois Hollande. There are many reasons, but it starts with Jonathan's own attitude toward his citize
ISTANBUL — With few exceptions, the horrific terrorist tragedies in Africa haven't lit a fire under the conscience of humanity. The show of unity in Paris against terror may be a good start for the rest of the world, but I'm not hopeful for the people who have been abandoned to their fate. Because in Nigeria, world leaders can't get the kind of credit they receive in Paris. God forbid they soil their feet with the dirt of Africa.
But no, I don't intend to use this space to whitewash the responsibility of local actors while addressing the hypocrisy from areas of the world that have it easy. The larger blame for the crimes indeed belongs to tyrannical, corrupt and thieving governments in Africa. That's why the continent overall and Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan specifically should be the first to ask themselves why they can't find people to share their pain — as French President François Hollande has with leaders from the West, the Middle East and Asia.
Many reasons may be offered, but the crucial one is that leaders who don't value the lives and rights of their own citizens are left alone with the greatest of terrors.
We are shocked only by events such as 276 girls being kidnapped in Chibok or a 10-year-old girl being used as a suicide bomber last week in Maiduguri. Only when someone such as First Lady Michelle Obama joins the protest campaigns, as she did for the kidnapped girls, is the shock truly felt.
Ignatius Ayau Kaigama, the Catholic Archbishop of Jos in central Nigeria, was right when he said the international community should be as concerned about his country as it was about France. He criticized the West for ignoring the threat of the African Islamist terror group Boko Haram. Kaigama says the military is inefficient, and that Boko Haram is conquering lands as if nothing could stop it.
Eastern journalists, who would blame Westerners if they tripped on a stone in a rock quarry, learn about Nigeria from their Western colleagues. We Easterners shouldn't throw stones in glass houses. Take me, for example. I'm retelling the awful events in Africa and encouraging readers not to be indifferent to Nigeria by sourcing the Associated Press, Agence France Presse, The New York Times, The Independent and the BBC.
The latest devastation
On Jan. 3, Boko Haram captured several headquarters of international coalition forces (consisting of Nigeria, Niger and Chad) and began slaughtering people in 16 villages and towns. Many houses were torched, and destruction was widespread, as satellite imagery has proven. As many as 2,000 people were killed, including children, women and the elderly. Many people jumped into Chad Lake to escape. Some reached the lake's islands, but many others drowned. Those who are stuck on the islands face death from hunger, cold and malaria. Some 13,000 people have been killed since 2009, and a million have been forced to leave their homes.
After capturing the strategically important city of Baga, Boko Haram advanced through Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state. "The strategy of Boko Haram is to make the city the capital of the caliphate," Governor Kashim Shettima says. After a similar announcement from Mideast terror group ISIS, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau declared in August that the group had founded an "Islamic caliphate" in Borno state. The organization managed to take control of the Niger, Chad and Cameroon borders of Borno state in just six months.
A guilty government
Boko Haram owes its victories to the Nigerian military's mercilessness as well as its own. According to Amnesty International, Boko Haram raided the Giwa Prison, where its members were held, on March 14, 2014. The military pushed back Boko Haram forces and caught the prison's 622 escapees. But the soldiers executed these unarmed prisoners and buried them in three mass graves. It was the government's oppression, torture and execution without legal trials that gave rise to Boko Haram in the first place.
The organization multiplied the lesson they had learned from the government by a thousand and started practicing it on innocents. The organization's motto — as demonstrated in a video released after a massacre in December — is "killing, slaughter, destruction and bombing."
Boko Haram's official name is "People Committed to the Prophet's Teachings for Propagation and Jihad," and the group began as an armed rebellion in 2009. The following are some of the factors that made their rise easier:
• Northern parts of Nigeria where Muslims generally live were left comparatively poor. Nigeria's oil income wasn't reflected there.
• Farming lands became deserts as Chad Lake diminished by 90% over the course of 40 years. People became even poorer, and 80% of people live below the poverty line.
• Sharia law was practiced in some states for 12 years before being abandoned in 2001. Boko Haram used this for propaganda purposes.
• What really triggered the violence was Boko Haram founder Mohammed Yusuf being murdered at a police station while being tortured in 2009.
• Security forces kidnapping wives and daughters of the organization's leaders led Boko Haram to become even more violent.
• Salafi jihadism's rise below the Sahara influenced Boko Haram ideologically.
• The military lacks discipline and equipment while the organization has no problem finding weapons. There are times when the military choses to ignore Boko Haram because they don't dare to fight. The Nigerian government blames the Western weapons embargo for its inability to modernize the military. Not to mention the revelation in March last year that Turkish Airlines was transporting weapons to the Nigerian Defense Ministry.
• The country's approximately $6 billion annual defense budget is being wasted.
• The people don't trust the military, which is both cruel and incompetent.
• Politicians and local leaders turn a blind eye to Boko Haram.
A new caliphate is being born in this atmosphere after 111 years. The first was the Sokoto Caliphate that lasted 100 years. Sokoto founder Osman Bin Fudi was taking his power from faith, while Boko Haram's leader takes it from blood. The former has Sufi roots and supported girls' education, while the latter has taken the name Boko Haram (which translates as "Western education is forbidden") because of its hostility toward girls' education. How the religious perspective of the country has changed in a century ...
There are other truths. Who is innocent in this bloody process? No one. Is there a bad legacy of the colonialism era? Yes. Are there elites who turn their backs on the people and are fed by the oil cartels? Yes. Is there bad governance, corruption, poverty and tyranny? Of course. Do the bad politicians have Western allies? Absolutely. Is faith being exploited? Without a doubt.
There is powder. There is blood. What's missing is humanity.