Boko Haram: Coverage or Covering the Coverage?
Surrounded by some of the world’s most unstable, volatile countries and teeming with internal problems of its own, Nigeria faces a situation a direr situation than the world cares to acknowledge. The country has undergone a whirlwind of intense social, cultural and political issues in this past year with the country’s elections and, most notably, the rapid growth in activity of Islamist terrorist organization Boko Haram. From the kidnapping of Chibok schoolgirls in 2014 to the 2015 Baga Massacre, Boko Haram’s acts are (slowly, but surely) showing the world the threat they pose to Nigeria and all the nations surrounding. A situation of this magnitude ordinarily merits a play-by-play coverage from all reputable news sources regarding the group’s movements, actions and declarations. On the contrary, Boko Haram has been so grossly underreported to the point where there are arguably more pieces about the conflict being underreported than on Boko Haram itself.
The analysis of Boko Haram being underreported is sound and well researched, yet speculative given that few journalists are close enough to the action and sources to acquire definitive information. According to Maeve Shearlaw from The Guardian, reporting in Nigeria is notoriously difficult. Boko Haram specifically targets journalists. The people on the ground are isolated and have limited access to Internet and other communication. Boko Haram also works to disrupt this connection, creating an absence of an online community to share the plight of what is happening on a daily basis.
Other journalists acknowledge this but are not as forgiving when it comes to giving an event the coverage and weight that it is due. Simon Allison of the Daily Maverick said that while he acknowledges that the “nearest journalists are hundreds of kilometers away,” the fact that Boko Haram effectively control the Borno state makes them not only terrorists but the controllers of a de facto state, increasing the significance of their influence dramatically.
Allison then controversially expresses his disgust that despite it being the 21st century, African lives are deemed less newsworthy than western lives, given the numerous violent conflicts in Africa that are most often reduced to a death toll. Allison does not only place blame on the west, but firmly on that of his continent’s own leaders and press. Nigerian former President Goodluck Jonathan mourned those killed in the Paris massacre and spoke out in solidarity and unity of his country and France, but stayed completely silent regarding the Baga Massacre. As a President who is running for re-election, Goodluck Jonathan must naturally be strategic in mentioning Boko Haram. But many journalists (and people) will argue that not acknowledging an attack of massive scale is sign of unforgivable weakness. As it happens, he was not re-elected. It remains to be seen whether new President-elect Muhammadu Buhari will come good on his first promise: to ultimately crush Boko Haram.
The mood of reportage of Boko Haram is increasingly tentative, as the group expands and continues to terrorize Nigeria and its neighboring countries. Until a solidarity platform, both online and interpersonally, emerges where journalists and normal citizens can report what is happening on a daily basis, analyzing the coverage of Boko Haram will likely continue be more talked about than Boko Haram itself.