Of Charlie Hebdo and Boko Haram … Because life is cheap in Nigeria

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan

The violent attacks and killings in Paris in the last week, of cartoonists and journalists working for the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo, police officers and some citizens have reverberated around the world.

Following the attacks, however, the French society in general has made a much stronger statement that has been heard across the globe – the French security services dealt decisively with the threat and as they said ‘neutralized’ the killers.

That togetherness and the expression of what the French value in human rights and freedoms became even more poignant when they stood together and condemned in no uncertain terms the dastardly attacks with a march in Paris. Millions of citizens around the country marched in condemnation of the attacks and in support of freedom, some estimates put the numbers at over two million people, making the march the largest ever after World War Two.

The French were not alone; the whole world just didn’t hear about them, but also joined them in chanting the defiant phrase JE SUIS CHARLIE.

Right in the moment of these historic happenings in Paris, news broke of the massacre of ‘2000’ Nigerian citizens in a northeastern village called Baga. As it turned out the Nigerian military and political officials are disputing the figures.

The country’s Defence Ministry dismissed the higher estimates for deaths at Baga, as “speculation and conjecture” and “exaggerated”, according to the BBC. The ministry even added that some of the dead included insurgents who were confronted by Nigerian troops.

As information on the Nigeria killings kept swinging, some critics started blaming the West for ignoring the ‘2000’, well, now ‘150’ Nigerians who have been massacred by Boko Haram.

Some argued that while the world was marching in Paris for 17 victims of the violence in that country, no one was marching for the victims in Nigeria – how preposterous.

Nigeria, just like France has an elected government. The country has a Police Force, at the last check it was still a FORCE. The country has Armed Forces, and for a population of more than 170 million, one could guess the number of soldiers it has.

Nigeria cut its defence budget from $2.3 billion in 2013 to $2.1 billion in 2014.

Some defence publications have reported that under the 2014 budget, the Nigerian Army was allocated $830 million, the Navy, $440 million, and the Air Force, $460 million. Another $400 million was allocated across the board, including for missions and deployments. These figures are substantial in comparison to a lot of countries in Africa.

The current depressing situation in Nigeria where an armed group of religious zealots are literally routing the Nigerian army and decimating its helpless populations should shock everyone, but it hasn’t yet, or so it seems.

There are reports of soldiers refusing to fight Boko Haram because they are ill equipped to do so, and wives and relatives of soldiers have been refusing to allow them to go out and fight because, the last time some of them did, they suffered reprisals from Boko Haram! It couldn’t be any worse than that.

There are reports of soldiers taking off their uniforms and asking for directions out of villages under attack from villagers also escaping from the insurgents.

But that situation didn’t start yesterday; it is the result of several years of cannibalization of the state structure in Nigeria. The political skullduggery, impunity and the incessant manipulation of public office for self-aggrandizement and circumventing of the systems of state over a long period of time are what have reduced Nigeria to this pitiable state.

The legendary thievery of the Nigerian political elite, most of them undeserving of public office, and who often flagrantly display their stolen money with unmatched vulgarity have never been lost on any one. They steal huge amounts of money from the public and they show off, because there are no repercussions for stealing from the public or being corrupt.

Getting into political office in Nigeria is more for what the politician can get than what he or she could do for the people. And this has eaten so deep into the social fibre of the country that some citizens aspire to public office so they can enrich themselves.

Indeed, the BBC did a show sometime ago in which most Nigerians who were interviewed about joining the fight against corruption said they wouldn’t, because they ‘might be the next lucky thieves’. If this is the psyche of a people, what else can one expect?

There is fear in Nigeria, fear of death from Boko Haram violence, but not enough revulsion at the fast rate at which the state system is crumbling right in everyone’s face.

Nigeria, the ‘big boy’ in West Africa has literally become the ‘whipping kid’, brought down to its knees by corruption, nepotism and sickeningly low levels of political leadership.

There is very little or even quite safe to say, there is no accountability in Nigeria. Human life has become cheap. People can kill at will and get away with it.

A very dedicated journalist Dele Giwa was murdered in his office in October 1986, and even though those who matter know his killers, to date, no one has been brought to justice.

Alhaji Zakariya Isa, a reporter and cameraman for the state-owned Nigeria Television Authority was on October 22, 2011 shot and killed near his home and no one has been brought to book.

In April 2010, three journalists were killed in separate incidents in Nigeria. Among them was Edo Sule Ugbagwu, who worked for the private daily The Nation. He was shot dead at his home – the two gunmen who shot him have never been caught.

In September 2014 a six-storey building of the Synagogue Church of All Nations collapsed killing more than one hundred people. The state has not shown responsibility yet, because no one has been held responsible or accountable for the avoidable deaths. Instead, a journalist who turned down bribes and reported the story accurately and truthfully was vilified and called names.

In the case of the abduction of the school girls that made waves globally and generated the hashtag #bringbackourgirls, and subsequent abductions – the Nigerian state has failed thoroughly to live up to its responsibilities. The response of the state in most of these cases has generally been weak, if any at all. In a nation like this, life must be cheap!

It is therefore, out of place for anyone to blame the West for remaining silent over the situation in Nigeria, while in fact, the Nigerian state itself has said nothing about the killings in Baga, except to deny the 2000 figure and put out the 150 figure.

President Goodluck Jonathan is on record to have condemned the Paris attacks, but is still silent over the killings in Baga. Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has tweeted about the Paris killings but has not tweeted about the Baga killings.

Ngozi tweet

Ironically, in the midst of the chaos and constant terrorizing of poor and defenceless citizens, the Nigerian political elites are campaigning for elections to be held on February 14, 2015. For them, it’s business as usual.

In such time of dire crisis, wouldn’t it have been prudent, if the country’s constitution allows it, to suspend the elections, form a unity government, and then formulate a national strategy to deal with the Boko Haram menace, fight the group off, secure the country and then hold the elections?

If the Nigerian state does not care about its people, it is certainly too much to ask anyone else to. The French state stood up to the cowards within hours and dealt swiftly with the threats. Following the attacks the state has deployed 10000 troops, both the police and military to protect its people.

In Nigeria, the troops are so demoralized, knowing how uncaring the state has become. They are poorly equipped and yet they observe how fat the politicians are living, and so they are unwilling to stand up and fight.

It is unjustifiable to accuse the West of not helping Nigeria. For instance when the 200 girls were reportedly kidnapped, the US and UK offered help to Nigeria, but for weeks, the country rejected the offer.

The French government is paying its due to the people who elected it into office. The Nigerian state must do the same, and when it is necessary, the West would offer help, if it were needed.

If Nigerians organise a march in defiance of the killers of their citizens and they hold the state accountable, the rest of the world would join them.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

Email: [email protected]

1 Comment
  1. Samuel says

    A masterpiece. It is a very unfortunate development. It appears that the Nigerian government itself has fed up with the spate of killings carried out by Boko Haram. It’s so bad that they can no longer keep track of the number of dead.
    In my view, ECOWAS must step in to contain the Boko Haram threat before it overwhelms West Africa.

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