• Wednesday, June 19, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

We are not angry enough

85 terrorists feared killed as Boko Haram, ISWAP clashes in Borno

Early one morning this week I read the following post on social media: “It is with sad heart that I woke up this morning to the news that Boko Haram has overrun my hometown Yimirshika…. We need your prayers. Maybe of our people are now scattered in the hills. We are able to communicate with few of the survivors by GSM phone for now before they run out of battery charge. Several phone lines cannot be reached. Please pray for the people for safe delivery from this carnage” (sic).

The next day several Nigerian newspapers had small pieces on it on the inside. “The Nigerian Military on Wednesday in Abuja said it had repelled terrorists’ attack on Biu, Borno State. This is contained in a statement posted on the defence headquarters’ website.”

After another day or so, the military were able to claim they had repulsed the attack after killing 78 terrorists. No mention has been made of any casualties amongst residents; “collateral damage”, the Americans call it.

This is a strange phenomenon that an event that carries so much fear and emotion is so “matter of fact” for those who should be doing something about it or reporting on it. In fact, it is not just the military and, apparently, our government and the opposition who are so “matter of fact” (unless, of course, they are the using security issue to dish the dirt on each other). This apathy appears to be increasingly widespread. The social media reports I quoted got about 3 or 4 comments, whereas posts with a dancing cat or some trite religious picture get many dozens. Social media is awash with debate about Buhari’s certificates or Patience’s outfits as if any of this was ‘new news’.

Read also: UNICEF raises alarm over 83 children used as human bombs in 8 months 

What was possibly the worst Boko Haram atrocity of all, Baga, tells an even more alarming story of lethargy. My first response was to wonder why there was initially so little coverage, here or abroad, on reports of a massacre of reputedly 2,000 souls. I questioned some UK bloggers and commentators and one of the most common replies was “if your media or government don’t care or say anything, why would anyone else?” A recent blog explained the difficulties of foreign (and local) press attempting to learn more. The first port of call should be Nigeria’s Defence spokesman, Major General Chris Olukolade, but by all accounts that number is almost never answered. A quick search of http://www.defencehq.mil.ng shows that most of their available news is domestic and several months old. Typically, correspondents often then reach out to the BBC’s respected Hausa Service who are closer to the ground and have contacts around the area. However, terrorists have targeted mobile phone masts and coverage in the North East is spotty at best. Covering that area is also extremely dangerous and it is usually days after an event that even the pluckiest of journalists can get to a site.

After a few days more news did come out as the world’s media started cottoning on to the scale of the Baga atrocity and the incredibly small amount of attention that was being given to it within Nigeria itself. The comparisons between our president’s response and that of the French became embarrassing. In one article Simon Allison, the journalist who coined the phrase “I am Charlie, but I am Baga too”, said, “There are massacres and there are massacres. . . . it may be the 21st century, but African lives are still deemed less newsworthy – and, by implication, less valuable – than western lives.” That is bad enough for the European media but why should it be true for ours? When our senior minister for the economy tweets “we are at one with France at mourning” but apparently remains strangely quiet on our own tragedies, what are we to think? How can we then blame the foreign press if they under-report Africa? Clearly, our ministers are parents and patriots and must be hurting, but why does this not reflect in their public statements?

Worryingly, the current media attention seems to be not about the tragedy itself. Ignoring the plight of the victims and their families, the big debate is whether 2,000 or “only” 150 died.Presumably for political reasons, the military seem keener to engage that battle of words than they are the real events on the ground. Recent aerial photographs of Baga on various news sites are dismissed by this administration as ‘politicking’ and as evidence of various conspiracies. As this surreal debate echoes to and fro, the true meaning of the tragedy drifts away until we have forgotten that brief flash of horror that surely we all felt at first. As a Nigerian (Tolu Ogunlesi) says in the UK’s Guardian, “With citizens overwhelmed by everyday tragedy, and a wholly paranoid government – especially in the run-up to the elections in February – the stage is set for a display of the strange, quiet way that Nigeria deals with its many traumas.” I would describe it slightly differently. In our desperation to manage and our anxiety about just coping with the vicissitudes of life here, we are losing the ability to really feel. Simply, we are not angry enough.