"For five kilometres, I kept stepping on dead bodies."
January 14, 2015 3:53 AM   Subscribe

In the week before Paris grabbed the world's attention, Boko Haram (previously) staged an attack on the northeastern Nigerian town of Baga which reportedly forced 20,000 people to flee and left hundreds or even thousands dead. A Baga survivor who hid for three days said that, after breaking cover and escaping, "for five kilometres, I kept stepping on dead bodies".

In the later months of 2014, the town of Mubi, home to Adamawa State University, was captured by Boko Haram in October, then retaken by the government in November. One survivor described the initial capture of the town on video.

Two hundred and twenty-seven soldiers were dismissed yesterday for refusing to fight in Mubi in October, but claim they were given no opportunity to defend themselves: “How could they accuse us of refusing to fight when we have actually fought and the Boko Haram overwhelmed us?”

As BBC reporters discuss why it is hard to know the truth in Nigeria, others ask why the world has ignored Boko Haram's latest attack.

Meanwhile, Nigeria's president, in the middle of an election campaign, has made no statement on the Baga reports.
posted by rory (33 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've been reading this about this since last week. Thank you for bringing it to the front page. Like the Guardian and its readers, I've been bothered by the fact that this has received little press.
posted by Partario at 4:07 AM on January 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


It is astounding that Nigeria has done so little to stop Boko Haram. They have killed thousands over the years. It should be remembered that many or most of their victims are Muslim, and the religious nature of their war is complex.
posted by Thing at 4:21 AM on January 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Thanks I've been waiting for someone to post about this. Reminds me of Darfur.

Royal Dutch Shell and others have massive (~20%? of crude reserves?) investment in Nigeria. Are the global energy giants so... impotent? Do we have to stomach this for cheap oil?
posted by evil_esto at 4:21 AM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


Does anyone happen to know the media's current conversion rate for third world to first world deaths?
posted by fairmettle at 4:21 AM on January 14, 2015 [13 favorites]


What is there to do? Boko Haram isn't just ten thousand guys on a base somewhere, they're a clandestine cell system. Has anyone had good luck fighting these in the past?

I don't think that killing the bad guys will be enough here; any effective response will have to prevent the next power vacuum, hard work without massive, systems-level investment in infrastructure. I'd prefer it to go to sanitation, roads, and a professional police force that could guarantee the rule of law.

But the more predictable response will be police militarization, surveillance, and probably the training of some very, very bad men who we will order to kill the other very, very bad men. Why must we watch this play out over and over? Is it because the news isn't covering it enough? Is it because there truly isn't any solution-- no way to alter the course? Or is it because we as a society lack the backbone to deal with Boko Haram/ISIS effectively rather than on the cheap.

Our ideological war against Communism sent us to the moon. What do we have to show for our latest conflict? What will we have to show after our pet warlords divide their spoils?
posted by The White Hat at 4:30 AM on January 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


The tragedy-envy is a pretty ugly media slant, and not really about those involved in the conflict: it's useless Western self-flagellation. It's something else to talk about instead of what's happening, and a way to make it about us instead of them.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:30 AM on January 14, 2015 [10 favorites]


others ask why the world has ignored Boko Haram's latest attack

I dunno. It was reported in a timely way. I didn't ignore it. But there were millions of people (pretending?) to love 'free speech' all of a sudden by adopting the 'Je Suis Charlie' slogan. That was a juggernaut, a tragic juggernaut. But not everyone was deaf to other events at all. I wept for France and Nigeria that weekend. And made soup to soothe myself...
posted by evil_esto at 4:32 AM on January 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


Nigerian political cartoons
posted by phoque at 4:44 AM on January 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


[One comment removed. Let's please be careful about conflating an entire religion of over a billion people with the horrific actions of some. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 4:44 AM on January 14, 2015 [7 favorites]


A few more links:

UK defends response to Boko Haram slaughter in Nigeria.

African Union statement on the attack.

The Wikipedia entry on Boko Haram adds some further useful background information on the group and on the international response to date.

Beyond the news of the attack itself, the link about the 227 soldiers dismissed for "refusing to fight Boko Haram" is particularly disturbing in its implications. “They froze my account," said one soldier, "and stopped my salary for four months before dismissing me yesterday. All the allegations against us were false because we didn’t refuse to fight. We fought and lost many of our colleagues in Mubi and we had to give up because the Boko Haram were better equipped than us. Why were they not happy that we are still alive? I’m still surprised seeing myself alive after the encounter.”
posted by rory at 4:46 AM on January 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think it's weird if the Guardian asks "Why did the world ignore Boko Haram's Baga attacks?"

What do you mean "the world"?
Isn't it your friggin job to tell me what is going on in the world?

And then in the first paragraph they hypocritically ask: "What makes one massacre more newsworthy than another?"

Are you kidding me? YOU are the goddamn newspaper! You obviously know why you give one event more coverage than the other! So don't phrase it as a question, dumbasses!

Just in case you really are that clueless, Guardian: The reason is that one story sells more papers than the other.
posted by sour cream at 4:52 AM on January 14, 2015 [23 favorites]


I think I read about the Baga attacks online on the Guardian. Or maybe AlJazeera. I forget. But it was most likely one of the two. They did report it. The punditry and reaction was out of balance.

(And this thread already too).
posted by evil_esto at 4:59 AM on January 14, 2015


CBC's The Current just did a report on this the other day, with the same angle as the Guardian. I've seen more coverage of how the media isn't covering this story than I have of the story itself.

Here's an idea, media... cover the story, then you won't have to wonder why you're not covering the story.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 5:28 AM on January 14, 2015 [6 favorites]


My first exposure to the Baga news was the "survivor who hid for three days" link, which is from the Guardian last Saturday. Their "Why did the world ignore the attacks" article came two days later, and beyond its lede is more of a news/social media links round-up. Later on Monday they posted this piece on the challenges facing Nigeria: Boko Haram’s deadly advance must be stopped, but how?

I don't think this BBC story from last October has appeared on Mefi yet: Escaping Boko Haram: How three Nigeria girls found safety.
posted by rory at 5:49 AM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


From the Black Skeptics blog - "A Tale of Two Massacres: The West & the Rest." Includes an editorial cartoon and a photo of an Ivory Coast protester carrying a sign that reads "Je suis Charlie, n'oublions pas les victimes de Boko Haram" (I am Charlie, let's not forget the victims of Boko" Haram).
posted by audi alteram partem at 5:57 AM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


antiwar.com has had a Boko Haram story on their front page every single day for months. Right now there is a Reuters story from Camaroon:

Cameroon says 143 Boko Haram fighters killed in clashes
posted by bukvich at 6:17 AM on January 14, 2015


Are you kidding me? YOU are the goddamn newspaper! You obviously know why you give one event more coverage than the other! So don't phrase it as a question, dumbasses!

So, are you being intentionally disingenuous, or are you legitimately confused about one newspaper critiquing the media in general?

Tragedies in Africa rarely get the kind of timely and prominent coverage that tragedies in the rest of the world do, particularly in television coverage. In this case, I assume it's partly because Boko Haram actively targets journalists, so central Africa (Nigeria, Niger, Chad) is a much more dangerous region to report from, but also because news consumers really don't seem to respond to stories from Africa the way they do tragedies in other parts of the world. Very sad.
posted by aught at 6:17 AM on January 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


Here's an idea, media... cover the story, then you won't have to wonder why you're not covering the story.

...but then the media wouldn't be able to talk about itself, which is probably its third mostest favorite thing to do, right after fear-mongering and gossip.

As for Boko Haram, I'm starting to wonder if perhaps Nigeria isn't essentially doomed as a unitary state. Biafra MkII, here we come.
posted by aramaic at 6:19 AM on January 14, 2015


I think there is something to say about the imbalance of the reporting of the two attacks. On the other hand, media critics are always going off on the media giving terrorist attacks too much coverage, and how that feeds into the terror/recruitment cycle, so I guess it's a little confusing to figure out where I stand on this. Given the choice between accurate, effective, yet brief reporting versus drawn-out and sensationalized reporting, I'm kinda leaning toward the former.
posted by Think_Long at 6:23 AM on January 14, 2015


From May 2014... "The origins of Nigeria's Boko Haram: Armed group that kidnapped more than 270 school girls has been in conflict with government for 12 years"... Al Jazeera vid
posted by Mister Bijou at 6:26 AM on January 14, 2015


Are the global energy giants so... impotent? Do we have to stomach this for cheap oil?

Multinational corporate interests aren't well-aligned with the interests of any country's citizens, so they aren't well-served by countries having well-functioning governments or safe, secure citizenry.
posted by mhoye at 6:34 AM on January 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


aught: Are you kidding me? YOU are the goddamn newspaper! You obviously know why you give one event more coverage than the other! So don't phrase it as a question, dumbasses!

So, are you being intentionally disingenuous, or are you legitimately confused about one newspaper critiquing the media in general?
So, you have evidence that The Guardian posted multiple stories on this topic in the recent past? sour cream's point is quite cogent: When one part of "the media" criticizes "the media", it had better be prepared to either say "We did it better, why didn't you?", or else "Mea culpa, too."
posted by IAmBroom at 7:07 AM on January 14, 2015


The Charlie Hebdo murders are much closer to home for most western readers than the violence in Nigeria, 12 people killed in broad daylight in a newspaper office not very different from the office you or I might work in.

Charlie Hebdo was covered extensively because it felt like: oh shit could that happen here? And because it raises clear and present questions about how we manage the increasing diversity within our borders, how we in the west move foreward with the possibility of an extremist threat within our borders, and about the benefits and risks of free speech. It was covered because it feels like a threat to central tenants of our society.

I find a lot of the outrage I've seen over the differences in the coverage naive.
posted by wemayfreeze at 7:10 AM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, you have evidence that The Guardian posted multiple stories on this topic in the recent past?

Evidence aplenty for anyone who cares to do a 'Boko Haram' search on the Grauniad website.
posted by Mister Bijou at 7:18 AM on January 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


This CNN International article on the differences in coverage is actually pretty good.
posted by wemayfreeze at 7:26 AM on January 14, 2015


Idea: Stop building bombs. Use money to fund more Nigerian reality shows. Give all Nigerians ipads to watch the reality shows. Massive peace for all.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:47 AM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Nigerian government is corrupt and weak, having neglected many of the poor and people outside of the ruling party's ethnic clique. There's a "chickens coming home to roost" factor that is also being neglected in much of the reporting.
posted by Renoroc at 8:54 AM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


What is there to do?

Follow the money.

Charlie Hebdo was covered extensively because it felt like: oh shit could that happen here?


Call me a cynic, but I'd say the coverage was largely journalists looking after their own. My wife thinks this is a turning point. She's usually right, but this time, I kind of doubt it. (Well, unless you're Jewish and French.) The marches were a big catharsis and understandable, but as far as I can tell, they change nothing in practical terms. Give it a while and Je Suis Charlie too shall pass down the memory hole.

Think I'm wrong? Raise your hand if you can name the last two public outrages along these lines. (Hint - both were just about a month ago.)

"Could happen", indeed.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:20 AM on January 14, 2015


The root cause of this problem, and most of Nigeria's other woes, lie directly at the feet of it's profoundly corrupt political and wealthy class. No matter what Good Luck Johnson says, he and his entourage are little better than most of the tin hat dictators that populate so many other nations. If it wasn't for oil, Nigeria would be a backwater.

I feel for the Nigerian people; they are little more than chattel to those who are supposed to be guaranteeing their security, and protecting their other interests.

As for Boko Haram, the most infuriating thing is that they continue to act, unabated. The world could put an end to Boko Haram's barbarous ways if it bothered to muster the will. Watch everyone in high places get all giddy when a new capital improvement program is funded by this or that foreign aid, where they are all skimming off the top. Boko Haram? "Who cares?"
posted by Vibrissae at 10:45 AM on January 14, 2015


Controlling the media is an important power for governments. In the case of Nigeria, they get to suppress stories of their own brutality and viciousness, while making sure the rest of the world knows about the opposition's terroristic misdeeds. At least the media is covering the Boko Haram kidnappings and massacres. We in the West hear little about the Nigerian government's atrocities, not just the current ones, but earlier ones that Boko Haram alleges led to their conversion from a peaceful political group to an insurgency army.

I'm not defending Boko Haram and not blaming the government, because I am too ill-informed to do so. But I do know that we have been fed half the story, partly through Nigerian manipulation, partly by news media laziness, and partly by indifference. There are too few people coldly bloodthirsty enough to explain the existence of groups like Boko Haram (and there are many similar groups across Africa of all different religious persuasions) and ISIL as just a bunch of crazies. The fighters in these movements are motivated by what they perceive to be very real life-and-death struggles. Recognizing this, getting to the root of their perceived problems, and sincerely trying to solve them is the only way to stop them. We've proven many times over to every rational person's requirements that a purely militaristic response will never by adequate.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:15 AM on January 14, 2015


Boko Haram And The Politics Of Fighting Jihadists In Nigeria By Leo Igwe
But this campaign is not a new development in Nigeria. Boko Haram is not the first militant group to mobilise for Sharia.

At independence, Nigeria inherited an extremist Islam. This radical form of Islam is a legacy of Sheikh Uthman Dan Fodio, a Muslim scholar-turned-militant who founded the Sokoto Caliphate. Ever since, the quest for Sharia and formation of an Islamic state has haunted the people of the country.

Since independence, northern Nigeria has witnessed campaigns and clashes by state and non-state actors with a competing political Islamic agenda. In the 1980s, an Islamic militant group known as the Maitatsine launched violent attacks in different states in northern Nigeria to enforce its purist form of Islam. Other militant groups have carried out similar attacks which the government succeeded in neutralising.

But this has not been the case with Boko Haram.
posted by audi alteram partem at 11:20 AM on January 14, 2015




What happened in Baga, Nigeria?
This article was first published by Africa Check, a non-profit fact-checking organisation (@AfricaCheck)


They've debunked most of the photographs attributed to this event. Worth a read.
posted by infini at 5:59 AM on January 16, 2015


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