On the 12th January, I returned to the UK having spent most of December and much of my new year in Nigeria. I boarded the plane and looked forward to perusing the on flight entertainment but before I could, the news about the 10-year-old “suicide bomber” in Borno appeared on my screen. According to the description below the headline, a bomb had been strapped to a little girl believed to be 10 years old and detonated in Maiduguru market in Borno state, killing 19 people. My immediate reaction was shock but soon I remembered that the ongoing terrorism in Nigeria is not novel, although the use of children as human bombs is. A day later Boko Haram were again testing their new offensive in Yobe, when two children believed to be 10 years old in Potiskum were again used as human bombs, killing four and injuring roughly 26.
14-year-old Nigerian girl who was arrested with explosives strapped to her body
I spent my days in the former capital, Lagos, purely because my mother lives there and she was the main reason for my visit. I wanted to experience Christmas beyond the parameters of the United Kingdom and within my mother’s land but whilst there I knew I was witnessing Nigeria on the cusp of yet another great national upheaval. The numerous posters plastered on every street corner, every highway and every bridge were a reminder of the upcoming elections taking place in February but even without these pictures calling for the re-election of the People’s democratic party and Goodluck Jonathan or the entry of the All Progressive Party and General Buhari, it was evident that something was about to hit Nigeria. I was struck by how conversant in politics the layman was. From the hairdresser that braided my hair to the retired school teacher who lived opposite, the general consensus was if change was going to come it wouldn’t look like Jonathan. Whenever I questioned the hostility towards Jonathan I was always inundated with the socioeconomic promises he made in 2011 and failed to fulfil four years on. When the mention of Boko Haram would come up, they would point out his ineptness in that area, citing the story of the Chibok girls and the constant bloodshed that characterises the northern part of the country, again adding to the notion that Nigeria can no longer rely on Goodluck (pun intended). They now look to Buhari to calm the Boko Haram storm with his military prowess as he did the Maitatsine. In a Vanguard article, the governor of Rivers State, Rotimi Amaechi said,
“The message is simple. Buhari chased away Maitasene while he was Head of State. Many Nigerians will remember that Maitasine was like Boko Haram and they were killing people in Borno and Kano and Buhari chased them away because he is a strong leader… We need a strong leader now to chase away Boko Haram or it will chase us away. Buhari will deal with insurgency because he has done that before. Many Nigerians would remember that when Borno was attacked by Chadian rebels, Buhari as an officer of the Nigerian Army almost chased them into Ndjamena. He had crossed the Lake Chad when President Shehu Shagari called him back. If he didn’t do that, Borno would have been overrun by Chadian rebels and till today Chad has never crossed into Nigeria to fight us. It takes a strong leader to do that.”
This was the Nigeria I was experiencing, a cauldron of political activity blowing up at every minute, so imagine my surprise when the nation was overlooked for the Charlie Hebdo shootings. Many may read this article and criticise my bias but I am not calling out to the world because I’m a British Nigerian, I’m appealing to your humanity because I am human and when the atrocity happened in France, for the sake of the victims, I too became French.
It was in Nigeria that I heard of the attack on the Parisian magazine, Charlie Hebdo and of course given the gravity of the crisis, arguably the worst security threat to France in recent years, the siege which killed 17 people received immense international coverage and support. Social media rallied around France by way of the hashtag #JeSuisCharlieHebdo and 3.7 million people including world leaders gathered in the capital and various other locations on Sunday, a day after the 10 year old little girl detonated a bomb in Borno and the same day of the Potiskum attack, to offer their condolences and stand together with France in its defeat of terrorism. It’s not my intention to compare the levels of terror being waged against citizens in both countries, because then I would be guilty of creating a hierarchy of humanity as it appears the media is doing, but to remind humanity that we are fighting the same war on terror. Therefore the day we became Charlie Hebdo, we became Borno, Yobe and Baga also.
The spotlight could have shone on both France and Nigeria — think of how powerful the message to the world would have been. Instead Nigeria like an understudy had to wait for the lead to fall ill before it could receive the empathy due to it, feeding into the image that the world is a stage and each country’s significance is awarded on the role it’s perceived as playing. But such an image is destructive as it is unfair. Notice when the news of France began to diminish, the situation in Baga was made known, implying that even in death the western world is far more news worthy. This should not be the case. Each country is as important as another and by extension each life is not any more valuable than another.
Or should I speak on the speed at which we all became Charlie Hebdo.
The world needs articles like this to remind it of its duty of care. Charlie Hebdo happened and we all became French but when Boko Haram unleashed their wrath on Baga, killing somewhere between 150 and 2000 victims, nobody wanted to become Nigerian.
“As we were running for our lives, we came across many corpses; both men and women, and even children. Some had gunshot wounds in the head and some had their legs bound and hands tied behind their backs”, Yahaya Takakumi, a 55-year-old farmer, told the Nigeria’s Premium Times.
I stood up for France but nobody wanted to stand up for me and it hurts. It feels like a knife being twisted in my back and suddenly pulled out, leaving behind feelings of betrayal and displacement. The events in France overshadowed Nigeria to the point where the world momentarily forgot Baga ever happened and I began to understand the angle taken by many who argue that the western world does not care about the insurgencies taking place in Nigeria. Whilst I do have slight qualms with this notion, especially as the international support for the retrieval of the Chibok girls suggests a degree of care, I can admit that the response to atrocities outside of the “western world” is never as swift and the care is always delayed. For instance, we needed reminding that a kidnapping of roughly 200 young school girls happened in the Northern part of Nigeria and assistance would be required. The problem isn’t necessarily a lack of care but why it takes so long for the world to pay attention. I shouldn’t have to remind humanity to show compassion whatever the context, as nobody had to remind me.
When the news of French terror takes pre-eminence over the news of Nigerians terror, when we would rather become Charlie Hebdo than Baga, Yobe or Borno, then we are sending out a very dangerous message, one that implies that the deaths of the Nigerians can wait. As there are over 250 languages spoken in Nigeria a simple hashtag like #JeSuisCharlie would be difficult to conceive and so I have taken the liberty to devise my own, #WeAreAllNigeria.
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Cristine Edusi is an aspiring solicitor and a freelance writer. She is currently trying to change the world a mind at a time through her blog thepromisciouspen and PenTalk, a series of discussion events that will unpack sociological and economic issues within society. She has a passion for displacing stereotypes, gender relations, emerging markets and personal development. When she is not working on her master plan to become the British equivalent to Ally McBeal, you will find her writing. She is a graduate of Politics and History and wrote a thesis on the Arab Spring with a particular focus on Yemen. She also recently completed a graduate diploma in law. Find her on Twitter: @iamcroe.