Think “shocking Islamist terror attack”, think “religious extremism”, think “tragic number of innocent deaths”. Probably the first thing that comes to your mind are the Charlie Hebdo killings that made Paris the centre of the world’s attention a few weeks ago. 20 people lost their lives in a series of attacks, the most prominent being the murderous assassination of the cartoonists of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Whilst international outrage at this brutal attack, inspiring people from different political camps to overcome their differences and speak out for freedom of expression, can only be viewed positively, the extensive media coverage of the attacks, and the ensuing outpour of sympathy and solidarity on social media sites positively smothered a number of news stories that as a consequence, received pitifully little attention in mainstream media.
Amongst these, ironically, were a number of deadly attacks that had an equal, if not a greater claim to such terms as “shocking Islamist terror attack”, “religious extremism” and “tragic number of deaths”, the very labels used to describe the Charlie Hebdo attacks. However, unlike the Charlie Hebdo attacks, these took place, not in Paris, but in Nigeria, where over the past few weeks Amnesty International reports that more than 2000 people lost their lives in attacks instigated by the Islamist group Boko Haram.
Since its inception in 2002, the group is estimated to have claimed the lives of more than 6000 civilians, gaining particular notoriety in April 2014 for kidnapping 276 girls from a secondary school in Borno. Yet the attacks reported in the past weeks might be the deadliest to date. Since the beginning of the month, the group has been gaining ground in the north of the country; destroying 16 villages within a week. Boko Haram’s main target appears to have been the town of Baga which functions as a military outpost. The Nigerian army was forced out and Baga, previously a town of 10,000, was reduced to ruins and its remaining inhabitants were forced to join the 1.5 million people who have had to flee their homes following attacks by Boko Haram.
Ever since, the Islamist group has claimed responsibility for further atrocities, the most shocking of which have been the suicide bombs set off by girls as young as 10 in a crowded market in the north eastern town of Maiduguri and only days later in Potsikum, killing more than 20 people and injuring dozens.
Whilst in recent days, mainstream Western media has been taking more of an interest in the mass violence in Nigeria, the reactions of Nigerian politics remain shockingly sparse. President Goodluck Jonathan was quick to condemn the Charlie Hebdo killings, calling them a “dastardly terrorist attack”, but has yet failed to speak out about the barbarities committed in his own country, and government spokesmen have merely commented on the “exaggerated” death toll estimates.
With only a month to go until the next elections, it is not surprising that Goodluck is averse to drawing attention to the attacks. Yet if Boko Haram has its way, elections might not even take place in Nigeria’s north eastern states. The group, whose name means “Western education is forbidden” in the Hausa language, aims to create an Islamic state. Weakened by the fall of oil prices, the government is struggling to respond to Boko Haram’s constant attacks and has so far relied heavily on military assistance from neighbouring Cameroon.
It remains to be seen how long Boko Haram can be kept at bay; their ruthless tactics make it likely that many more lives will be lost.