I am a Nigerian female international student who goes to school in a ‘Western’ nation. And while I have always been proud to call myself Nigerian — to be from a place where tradition and cuisine are both colorful and simply marvelous — I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Nigeria’s failings are all too familiar.
When I was much younger growing up in Nigeria in the 1990s, my father lived and worked in the North while the rest of my family stayed in the Southern part of Nigeria. This meant that we (or he) had to travel 10 hours by road every 5-6 weeks or so to see each other. I remember every time anyone travelled, there was a general understanding that there was a very real possibility you wouldn’t get to your destination. Three things in particular were the cause of concern:
- There were the crazy speeding over-takers bouncing off pot-holed roads, who would hit you right into the grave with them.
- There were the armed robbers who could pull you over, rob you, and leave you grateful that your possessions were all that they took.
- Then there were the Islamist militants who would pull you over, sometimes causing traffic jams on these roads, and would murder you/your driver if you didn’t renounce your religion or non-belief and become Muslim. These thugs changed their names many times and it appeared to be more than one group. It was a real reality even then, and nobody did anything about it because only a ‘small number’ of Christians, Ifa worshippers (animists) and other non-Muslims were being killed, and it was done on the interstate roads, far away from any high-density cities. I remember people hardly ever spoke about it, and even at my young age, I understood the inaudible command to look the other way. I remember my neighbour telling me,
“Don’t talk too much Doyin else Abacha’s men will notice you. You’ll be one of the many human sacrifices that spoke too much but made no difference, except to cause a mother grief.”
Fast-forward to some years later and somehow, these extremists got funding (curiously right around election time — first in 2002 and more notably in 2010) to buy fancy bombs and Ak-47s, and they traded in their machetes and cutlasses for more deadly equipment. They attempted to bomb a few Western embassies and attacked the UN Head-quarters in Abuja (3 years ago), and it was only then (!) that my horribly impotent government decided to acknowledge the terror that had been brewing under their noses.
The band of extremist Muslim thugs re-branded themselves as Boko Haram, an adept group of fighters (when compared to Nigeria’s ill equipped military), who seek to destroy Nigeria’s already paper-thin secularism, breed sectarian conflict, and of course, solve legitimate problems of poverty and inequality (more prominent in Northern Nigeria) with nation-wide Sharia rule. From the weak pulses of information that we average Nigerians have been made privy to, it appears that this group has increased in number, employing mercenaries from surrounding countries, and is funded by a sick collusion of government aides and transnational terror groups.
“Boko Haram” can be read as a compound word of sorts. “Boko” is the loosely translated Hausa word for “Book”, and “haram” refers to the Arabic word for “sin” or “forbidden” in Islam. Together, the name Boko Haram defines a mission to rid Nigeria of ‘Western’ education and instill an environment of Islamic enlightenment. Secular education is what Boko Haram refers to as ‘Western’ education and the support for this typecasting cannot be made clearer than in the observed conflation of Almajiris and Boko Haram. By virtue of Boko Haram’s objective, their attacks are usually of two kinds:
- Attacks on animist shrines, churches, Christian settlements and other institutions that express a thriving religious diversity and hence may hinder their objective of nation-wide Islamic enlightenment. In these kinds of attacks, non-Muslims make up a significant portion of the casualties.
- Attacks on schools, colleges, universities, government buildings and other institutions that express a commitment to education that is not explicitly centred on religious (read: Islamic) doctrine. In these kinds of attacks, the killings are indiscriminate, and fear for the lives of their children forces Muslim, Christian, and Animist families to keep their children out of school. It is this second kind of attack, which was carried out almost two weeks ago, that is now running on news cycles both locally and abroad — at least 180 secondary school girls are missing and are believed to have been sold as brides by Boko Haram, or are being held for ransom.
The organization and funding of Boko Haram’s network is one of the many things Nigerians like myself are still largely in the dark about, but there are two definitive knowns.
- We know that some government aides are involved; else, the movement of consignments of ammunition, war tanks, and people, much like the movement of millions of barrels of crude oil between borders, (without detection) would be impossible. The president has also previously admitted that he believes government aides are involved.
- We know that international Islamist groups are involved. For example, just two years ago, Nigerian journalists uncovered a transfer of about 40M Naira (about $250,000) from a Muslim terrorist group in Algeria to Boko Haram. Also, Shekau (the current leader of Boko Haram) has said repeatedly that his men now train with Al Shabbab and other Islamist terrorist groups.
These two knowns have led me to believe that the Nigerian government employs Necropolitics in dealing with its own people. The culture of impunity in Nigeria, that inaudible command to look the other way, does not only facilitate this Necropolitics, but also cultivates it.
But we know about the terror. Nigerians have known about it for a long time, in my case, since the 1990s. We have extensively established just how diabolical this is, thanks to everybody talking about it. Yet I can’t help but wonder what makes this any different from the previous atrocities committed by this genre of murderers? While the atrocities done by Boko Haram were carried on international fringe websites and some Christian publications, where was everybody else (Nigerian and otherwise)? Why is everyone hopping on the bandwagon now when Boko Haram has grown almost unassailable? Why is it now that my country has become the new buzzword on international news stations? What made this the tipping point?
Maybe it’s the more prevalent use of social media, or maybe there’s some invisible body count above which people will tolerate no more. Nevertheless, I am grateful. I am thankful for everyone, whether out of groupthink or out of genuine concern, for lending their voice to this scourge killing my people. It means more than anyone can ever imagine. I am glad that the awareness is finally here, but here is my request for the international community:
Please remember. This is not your war. International notoriety is no doubt what Boko Haram craves and it is our fault for allowing it to go this far but the answer to this problem is a human one, a Nigerian one. A much-needed mental revolution is happening now. Nigerians are starting to see themselves and each other differently. We’re starting to understand the difference between the value we place on our lives and the value placed on our lives by our government. The crime of aiding the terrorists by looking the other way is one that I and countless other Nigerians are guilty of. Nigerians who continue to make excuses for an incompetent government are the ones we’re starting to recognize. I request that while the Nigerian people face three enemies; the enemy of sectarian myopic groupthink, the enemy of a government that rules using necropolitics, and the enemy of an Islamist group that is bent on plunging my country into illiteracy; the international community remain aware of what the Nigerian people stand and fight for and support accordingly. In the face of a soon-to-ensue propaganda war and sensationalism, I request that we remember that Nigerians are a strong beautiful people who fight for what they love and require your support.
When I call on the international community’s support, I request that it only be a sustaining kind. Nigerians are working to overcome a climate of fear and before Western nations come from overseas, our regional powers must cooperate first (ECOWAS is yet to offer a statement on or even acknowledge Boko Haram, and there’s no evidence of constant cooperation or correspondence with the Cameroonian government). These are some of the obstacles we must overcome first before the West (or East — the Pakistani president only just postponed his visit to Nigeria) seek to be a physical presence here.
Nigerians want all our girls back. We want our boys back from Boko Haram’s clutches too. However if we don’t address these cultural and structural problems in Nigeria and regionally (West Africa or ECOWAS), we may save some but more will eventually be taken. I know that for our sake we will save more because something has changed. Now it seems, my people are finally willing to be that human sacrifice that does make a difference. At least, I know I am.