While the western world mourned over the devastating attacks on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and world leaders called for unity and free speech, an even deadlier attack by Islamist militants was forgotten.
Unfolding over several days, the armed group Boko Haram reportedly attacked the town of Baga in Nigeria’s Borno state, killing as many as 2,000 civilians, many of them children.
Amnesty international described the attack on Baga and the surrounding towns as, “Boko Haram’s deadliest act in a catalogue of increasingly heinous attacks,” they called it a bloody escalation of Boko haram’s on-going onslaught.
In an interview with the Associated Press (AP), Ibrahim Gambo, a member of the civilian militia that had been resisting the Boko Haram insurgents said that his group was told to pull back by the Nigerian army so that a military aircraft could attack the oncoming militants. The plane did not arrive and Boko Haram surrounded Baga.
“As we were running for our lives, we came across many corpses; both men and women, and even children,” he said. Some had gunshot wounds in the head and some had their legs bound and hands tied behind their backs.
District head Baba Abba Hassan told The Guardian that the majority of victims are women, children and elderly people who could not run fast enough when the insurgents attacked, using rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles.
The group are also suspected of using a 10-year-old girl to detonate a bomb in a market in Maiduguri on January 10th. The explosion left at least 10 dead and others seriously wounded. According to AP the bomb was detonated after explosives were found under the girl’s clothing during a search.
Boko Haram has wreaked havoc in Nigeria over the past 5 years; they have killed thousands and been responsible for hundreds of abductions. Their goal is to overthrow the government and create an Islamic state.
The group gained media coverage in April 2014 following the kidnapping of 276 female students from a boarding school in Chibok, another town in Nigeria’s Borno state. Although some have managed to escape, 219 remain missing.
A report in March 2014 by Human Rights Watch said that Boko Haram was causing a humanitarian crisis in the region and violence has become a daily occurrence.
The horrific massacre of Baga raises questions over why western leaders and many media outlets appear to have turned a blind eye to Nigeria, instead focussing their attention entirely on Paris. The violence in both cases was driven by the same struggle against Islamic extremism.
It is possible the reason is because the situation in Africa is harder to understand or define, or because some see violence in the region as such a common occurrence that it is dismissed and African lives are somehow seen as less newsworthy than western lives, or perhaps it is simply that the story sounds remote and people feel disconnected from the violence when compared to the terrifying and jarring images of gunmen wearing body armour and carrying Kalashnikov assault rifles in the centre of Paris.
Whatever the reason, up to 2,000 people are dead and an entire town has been practically wiped off the map. That should not be ignored.
Simon Allison, a writer for The Daily Maverick, a South African daily online newspaper, described the attack as, “apocalyptic” and in comparing the reaction to Paris, he asked: “Where are the solidarity marches, the passionate editorials and the international condemnations?”