News & Politics

Nearly 2,000 Civilians Were Killed in a Single Terror Attack in Nigeria—Where Was the Media?

The contrast between the coverage of the Boko Haram Massacre and the Attacks in Paris is glaring.
Faith Karimi and Aminu Abubakar of CNN report that nine days after the ultra-extremist gang Boko Haram slaughtered an estimated 2,000 Nigerian civilians in Baga Jan. 3, the bodies are still scattered around the town and authorities and surviving residents fear going there to bury them.

Baga is located in Borno state, on the shores of Lake Chad in northeastern Nigeria where the boundaries of Chad, Niger and Cameroon intersect. The self-proclaimed Islamicist group has been kidnapping and killing civilians in the area since 2009. Nine months ago, it kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from Chibok. Some have escaped. It is said that many of those still held have been forced into marriages with Boko Haram fighters whose exact numbers are unknown but probably amount to a few thousand:

No emergency crews will enter the villages where militants are still running amok, local authorities said.

"Baga is not accessible because it is still occupied by Boko Haram," said Sen. Maina Ma'aji Lawan of northern Borno state. […]

Amnesty International called the massacre Boko Haram's "deadliest act."

"If reports that the town was largely razed to the ground and that hundreds or even as many as 2,000 civilians were killed are true, this marks a disturbing and bloody escalation of Boko Haram's ongoing onslaught," said Daniel Eyre, Nigeria researcher for Amnesty International.

Some 30,000 residents of Baga and the surrounding villages have fled, authorities say. An estimated 1,000 went to an island in Lake Chad and are now cut off.

In addition to the Baga murders, on Saturday a young girl—variously described as being 10 or 17 to 18—detonated a bomb she was wearing in a marketplace in Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state. The bomb killed 20 and injured as many as 30 more. It is not certain that this was an act engineered by Boko Haram, but the terrorist gang has been trying to take over the capital, where it was born, for several years.

The government claims it has responded to the latest attacks by sending soldiers in pursuit. But one eyewitness told CNN, a resident of Baga who was away during the attacks, says those claims are lies and not a single soldier has shown up near Baga.

Meanwhile, critics have complained that Western media have ignored or barely touched the Baga slaughter and the Kano bombing amid a 24/7 outpouring of coverage of the murders at the offices of Charlie Hebdo. The Guardian ran a story Monday on the criticisms under the headline: "Why did the world ignore Boko Haram's Baga attacks?"

Reporting in northern Nigeria is notoriously difficult, journalists have been targeted by Boko Haram, and, unlike in Paris, people on the ground are isolated and struggle with access to the internet and other communications. Attacks by Boko Haram have disrupted connections further, meaning that there is an absence of an online community able to share news, photos and video reports of news as it unfolds.

But reports of the massacre were coming through and as the world’s media focused its attention on Paris, some questioned why they were almost ignored. […]

“I am Charlie, but I am Baga too,” wrote Simon Allison for the Daily Maverick, a partner on the Guardian Africa network. “There are massacres and there are massacres” he said, arguing that “it may be the 21st century, but African lives are still deemed less newsworthy—and, by implication, less valuable—than western lives”.

That attitude, sadly, is not new. And it has infected the African media and leadership, too. Allison noted that African media did a poor job covering the massacre. “Our outrage and solidarity over the Paris massacre is also a symbol of how we as Africans neglect Africa’s own tragedies, and prioritise western lives over our own.” That prioritization goes all the way to the top. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who is running for election in February, expressed his condolences for the victims in Paris over the weekend but made no mention of those at Baga.

What's lacking in western media coverage of Africa isn't just news about massacres, however. For instance, how often have stories appeared in American newspapers, on CNN, the BBC and major European media about the presence of U.S. military operations in 12 sub-Saharan nations, including Nigeria?

 

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