On Sunday 25 January a large crowd, mainly made up of Nigerian diaspora, gathered outside the Nigeria High Commission in central London to protest against the truly horrific acts of terror that are currently being carried out in Nigeria by terrorist group Boko Haram.
The shooting dead of 17 people in Paris drew the attention of the world and generated an almost immediate international response under the slogan ‘Je Suis Charlie’.
At the very same time an estimated 2,000 Nigerians – many of them children – were massacred by Boko Haram militants in Baga, north-eastern Nigeria. A resounding silence from the international community. This is by no means an attempt to diminish the significance or great loss of those who died in Paris but simply to say where was – indeed where is, even now – the response of the media, international leaders, celebrities and members of the public here in the UK and elsewhere? Where were the cries of ‘I Am Nigeria’ and expressions of solidarity, the prime minister’s condemnation of the atrocities taking place in Nigeria? And , more importantly, what does the lack of a response signify? That Nigerian lives, African lives or black lives generally are not held to be as important as white, European lives by those of the Western world? It would certainly appear to be the case.
Boko Haram, founded by Mohammed Yusuf in 2002, is Nigeria’s largest Islamist group. Whilst Boko Haram was initially a non-violent group which had some public support, seen as an alternative to what some in the north of Nigeria perceived to be a failing government – the group became increasingly more violent following the death of their leader, Yusuf, in police custody in 2009. Since then Abubakar Shekau has taken over as the leader and stepped up the violence conducted by Boko Haram.
Boko Haram first came to the attention of the international media in January 2014 when they kidnapped 276 school girls from Chibok, which generated the #BringBackOurGirlsCampaign, supported by Michelle Obama, Alicia Keys and many others.
Across five days in the first week of the new year (January 3 – January 7) it was Baga, north-eastern Nigeria, that became the primary target of Boko Haram. Militants stormed the region leaving an estimated 2,000 dead in their wake and over 3,700 structures damaged or completely destroyed, according to Amnesty International.
Daniel Eyre, Nigeria researcher for Amnesty International, said: “Of all Boko Haram assaults analysed by Amnesty International, this is the largest and most destructive yet. It represents a deliberate attack on civilians whose homes, clinics and schools are now burnt out ruins.”
The protestors in London, a diverse crowd, were chanting “Up, up Naija, down, down terror” and “Nigerian lives matter, we are with you Baga” as they held placards outside the Nigeria High Commission.
Thousands of people have now fled the terror attacks carried out by Boko Haram by either relocating to other parts of Nigeria or escaping across the border to neighbouring Chad. Some fled to the mountains and there is now concern from Amnesty International and others as to how long they will be able to survive on their extremely limited resources. Even neighbouring countries however can no longer be considered safe zones given that Boko Haram have been carrying out killings right beside the Cameroon border.
With Boko Haram now believed to be recruiting and training children to carry out violent attacks the cry from the London protestors to halt the terrorist group really could not be more urgent.