Je Suis Baga
When news of a possible genocide in the town of Baga filtered through on Thursday, 8th of January, I was still stuck in my room and reeling from news of the Charlie Hebdo attacks that had rocked Paris this week.
The news from Baga did not just add a further dent to my day, the horror associated with the number of deaths was both unreal and unimaginable. 2000 people dead, murdered coldly in continuous raids by the terrorist group – Boko Haram, gave me a jolt like none other. It was like 9/11 all over again.
I have never been to Baga, the closest I had been to the area during my journey through the Northeastern part of Nigeria, was the town of Kukawa. However, I have lived in Borno long enough to see, hear and feel the painful scars inflicted by Boko Haram in the area. Sometime in April, 2013, Baga was thrown in turmoil as over a hundred residents were murdered and thousands of homes were burnt down. The magnitude of the annihilation that took place on the 7th and 8th of January, 2015 is beyond incomparable and if the numbers are to be believed, it is certainly the highest casualty figure since the advent of Boko Haram’s operations.
The question, which rises to the lips of every Nigerian at this time – what is the government’s response? The pseudo-lackadaisical approach by the government at this time is one reflective of its reaction during the abduction of over 200 girls from the Chibok community (again in Borno state). A reaction so nonexistent and obstinate in its nonexistence that it takes pressure from the media and pressure groups to pull out a mere statement acknowledging the fact that the event even occurred.
The attack which was said to have commenced with the takeover of a military outpost in Baga, commenced undisturbed for close to 48 hours as residents were massacred and displaced. In a statement released by the Chad government, the influx of displaced persons from Nigeria is at an unprecedented high and assistance is now required to manage the refugee situation. Questions surrounding the ability of the Nigerian Army to actually contain the threat of Boko Haram has been heightening and juxtaposed with the nearly $7 billion defence budget, the ridiculousness of the situation is only expanded.
As at 12:00 hours on the 10th of January, 2015, no statement had been released by the Presidency, Military Spokesperson, Minister of Information, and the attention paid by most local media agencies has been so abysmal, one would think the situation almost did not happen.
The Government’s History of “Unlooking”
Eternally waiting for ‘robust’ responses is something the citizens of Nigeria have gradually grown accustomed to. However, as Nigeria’s most hotly contested presidential elections approach, “unlooking” these events is not only inhumane but also detrimental to President Goodluck Jonathan’s already flailing campaign. In an episode closely followed by world media (necessitating my first ever trip to the Borno region), the government needed to be coerced by incessant campaigning by former Minister of Education, Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili and a visit from Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai before it agreed to engage in conversations with the families of the missing Chibok school children, months after the children had been declared missing. Both the populace and the international community have met remarks accusing the nation’s opposition party of having a hand in the activities of Boko Haram with great distaste. It is even more grating when periods of inaction are expended as this gives the terrorists an upper hand in their reign of terror.
A recent ruling by the Supreme Military Council sentencing a number of young soldiers to death for mutiny and dismissing several more added to the grave concern growing amongst the people. Are the military well equipped? Is the current Defence budget properly utilized? What is being done about allegations of infiltration within the military? What is the general plan to contain Boko Haram before it becomes a full-scale territorial entity like the Taliban?
Rather than responding to these questions, ignoring the main issues and going for the jugular of the opposition is reflective of the government’s current attitude, unfortunately a 21st century genocide is one that demands full attention and action.
Action is a state that has been quite lacking in the government’s current armory with reference to Boko Haram. Complex and conflicting statements, condolence words rife with stereotypical threats of reprisal by the government and in this case, no statements whatsoever, has been the current order to the day. More statements of support have been issued by the citizenry than the presidency.
The presidency portrays itself as the wounded party rather than the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. As the situation sinks to more laughable and regrettable depths, I am reminded that while I am Charlie, I am also that man who may never see his family again. I am that girl forcefully converted to Islam and made to marry a man who I have never met before my 12th birthday. I am that boy who watches behind those bushes as his family is slaughtered and all forms of his known existence is crushed right before him. I am Baga and if this government will not rise to defend the furor of a hurt people, then a government which has failed to answer any questions may have answered the only question that matters at this time – who should lead Nigeria.