On January 9th, I saw an article on BBC News about a massacre of thousands in the village of Baga in northern Nigeria. At that point, I found very few mentions of the event in Western media. Now, the media seems to be catching up to the news and there has been a recent flurry of articles.
The massacre was perpetrated by Boko Haram, the extremist Muslim group responsible for the kidnapping of several hundred school girls in August of 2014. That terrible event captivated the West and began a hashtag storm that even Michelle Obama participated in, but then all seemed to be soon forgotten.
Now, Boko Haram has been ruthlessly invading villages and indiscriminately murdering. According to a local news source, sixteen villages have been razed. The dead have not been counted. Sources disagree wildly on the amount of people who have died. The Nigerian military says the number is less than two hundred. Amnesty International claims that the death toll is in the thousands. One Nigerian news source quoted a witness as saying that after hiding in the village for three days he escaped his village and had to step on bodies for five kilometers.
Who can we believe?
And why is Nigeria ignored while terrorist events in France receive so much attention?
Is it because of racism? Is it because we relate more to European society and culture? Is it because the media is falling down on the job? Is it because, as Pope Francis points out, it is easy to ignore the plight of the poor?
Whether some or all of these things are true, there are also practical reasons for the lack of immediate media attention regarding the events in Nigeria including no mobile phone connections in the area of the attack. But perhaps more importantly, while the world responds to the massacre in Nigeria with crickets, so does their government.
BBC News describes their efforts to get the slightest bits of information from the government and it sounds like they are pulling teeth. For days there has been only silence. While Boko Haram killed Nigerian villagers, the president of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, issued a statement condemning the terrorist attack in France and his finance minister tweeted his sympathies for France:
Terrible incident. Our deepest sympathies to the journalists and their families. We are one with France in mourning #JeSuisCharlie
— Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (@NOIweala) January 8, 2015
According to the BBC, the Nigerian government has still not issued a statement about the attacks in northern Nigeria. The myopia which plagues Western media coverage of Islamic terrorism does not seem to exclude the Nigerian government itself.
As I helplessly follow these events in Nigeria and see this play out in the media, my heart is moved by the pleas of the Archbishop of Jos, Nigeria, Ignatius Kaigama. The Archbishop, upon seeing the worldwide display of support for France in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, asks that the West show the same support for Nigerians as they do for European victims of terrorism.
How can we respond to Archbishop Kaigama’s plea to support the people of his country?
Here is a prayer that you can use:
Prayer for Nigeria
Lord, your people in Nigeria are suffering.
Please be with them as they struggle to survive in the midst of war, violence and pain.
Change the hearts of terrorists who kill in your name. There are some who participate in the violence but feel divided. Continue to work in them until hearts are converted.
You are the God of peace. Bring peace to Nigeria and peace to the hearts of all who suffer at the hands of extremists. Help them to find shelter, food, and safety. Be with them as they mourn the death of people they love.
Lord, be with the people of the world as they look upon the tragedies brought about by terrorists not only in Nigeria but in all countries where people suffer at the hands of extremists. Help our governments to respond to these injustices with prudence, strength, discernment and unity.
We entrust this situation to you with faith and we ask all this through the intercession of your Mother Mary.
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If you have any additional ideas to help Nigeria, please add them in the comments, (especially if you know of any Catholic organizations on the ground in northern Nigeria to which people can donate).
– Experts are saying that Boko Haram suicide bombings in Nigeria carried out by young girls as young as ten years old are most likely kidnap victims.
– Satellite images are now available which show widespread destruction after the massacre in northern Nigeria.