Mel Plant, BA Arabic and Turkish
Though the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, which followed the abduction of about 300 schoolgirls from Chibok in Nigeria’s northeast, may have spread rapidly across social media and permeated television networks, sooner or later news of Boko Haram dropped off the radar. 219 of Chibok’s girls remain missing, and since then, the group has kidnapped many more. Their name, in Hausa, roughly translates as “western education is forbidden”, but their true aims and methods remain shrouded in secrecy. Little news reaches Western media from the remote, besieged towns and villages of Nigeria’s north-eastern provinces. The group is allegedly led by Abubakar Shakau, who appeared earlier this month in a video stating that Cameroon, for attempting to counter Boko Haram forces, will “taste what has befallen Nigeria”.
As Boko Haram and its reported 5,000 fighters re-appear on the news, it is important to realise just what has befallen Nigeria and how bitter it could taste for its neighbouring states. The insurgents have already kidnapped 80 villagers from within Cameroon this month, an unprecedented move. Although they had maintained a presence in Cameroon for years, kidnapping foreigners for ransom, Boko Haram had yet to kidnap Cameroonian citizens. The start of the year saw the group’s most deadly massacre to date, in Baga, Nigeria, with 2,000 people reported dead by Amnesty International.
The town, meant to be the centre of a multinational military force against Boko Haram comprising of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad, was unable to fight off the carnage, as, for unknown reasons, only Nigerian troops were present at the time of the attack. Eyewitness reports say the town was almost razed to the ground, with 300 women and children kidnapped and many more raped and abused by the insurgents. Brutal raids like this, though on a smaller scale, but not any less devastating, have been happening in the northeast of Nigeria for months, and have continued to happen since. Over 10,000 people were reported dead due to Boko Haram violence last year alone.
As Western media outlets struggle to obtain clear information on the Boko Haram threat, many have asserted that the Nigerian government is attempting to obfuscate the reality of its weakening grasp on huge swathes of the country. Sambo Dasuki, a top security advisor to President Goodluck Jonathan, has denied any need for international intervention, be it from the UN or the African Union. Dasuki urged his neighbouring states Niger, Cameroon and Chad to collaborate on efforts to defeat Boko Haram, admitting that Nigerian military force alone was not sufficient, claiming there are “a lot of cowards” in the armed forces.
Unfortunately, Boko Haram will not be defeated by just a hashtag.