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WRITTEN BY : LUCIE P NORRIS.
__ Historical background :
Since the mid-sixties, Nigeria has had an ongoing history of violent dictatorship regimes – except for 4 years period between 1979 and 1983. It was only in 1999 that democracy was established in the country.
Boko Haram profited from the wide social inequalities, the longstanding poverty and the global rise of a more radical Islam.
Mohammad Yusuf first created Boko Haram as a sect, in Borno, Nigeria. His well-formulated discourse, denouncing the corruption of the elites, encouraged many poor Muslim families to join him and his cult.
Meaning ‘Western education (boko) is forbidden (haram)’, the Islamist group developed into a Salafist-jihadi in the late 00′s.
Its purpose lies in the establishment of an Islamic State in Nigeria. Boko Haram shows fierce opposition to the ‘Westernisation’ of Nigeria and to Western education as a whole.
The group is said to have led its operation rather peacefully – as peaceful as an Islamic group can be – during the first years of its creation.
In 2009, Yusuf was arrested during an operation launched by the police to investigate the sect after repeated warning of its radicalisation. Several members were arrested. Following the militant’s unrest and clashes with the police forces, a task force was created. This led to the deaths of hundreds of people – reportedly 700 – for the most part, Boko Haram members.
In 2009, after the death in custody of Yusuf, Abubakar Shekau, the current leader, succeeded him.
Reports say that both the local and national authorities underestimated the group’s force of attack. How wrong they were. In 2010, under its new leader’s aegis, they freed 105 of its members out of prison along with 600 other prisoners.
During the following years, the group continued its expansion and improved its tactical aptitudes.
By 2012 the government was to declare that the group had infiltrated both the army and the police. They also admitted to the infiltration of members in the 3 branches of the government (legislative, executive, parliamentary).
__ The attacks
In 2011, they started to include suicide bombers to their chosen attack methods. They used this method of bombing on the UN headquarters in Abuja, killing 25 people. (Human Rights Watch) The same year, after Goodluck Jonathan was elected, they bombed several targets including one on an army camp located in Bauchi. Since then, they have been regular bombings and assassination of very diverse targets at a rate of several attacks a week.
For that year alone, 115 attacks were reported, leading to the deaths of at least 550 people, according to Human Rights Watch.
On December 31th 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency in the wake of the ever-growing number of attacks perpetrated by the Islamic group, especially on Christians – like the bombing of a Catholic church during Christmas Day, that same year .
In way of retaliation, Boko Haram gave an ultimatum to southern civilians currently residing in the North of the country : they had 3 days to leave or else would be killed.
This led to atrocious massacres where 253 people lost their lives in the fleeting period of 3 weeks, reports Human Rights Watch.
January 20th 2012 is also a baneful day to remember where the group killed 185 people – police officers and civilians – making this day the most murderous in Boko Haram’s history since the group launched its repeated attacks in 2009. West-Africa Human Rights Watch researcher Corinne Dufka claimed the attacks showed ‘a complete and utter disregard for human life’. Boko Haram’s leader justified the attacks on Christians as a revenge for the deaths of Muslims by the hands of Christians in the centre of the country.
__ The international concern and condemnation
Human rights associations such as Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch were prompt to condemn these brutal killings. In 2012, both published reports on the various human rights violations occurring in the country. HRW assimilated Boko Haram crimes to ‘crimes against humanity’.
Despite a raising global awareness of their actions, it did not deter Boko Haram from continuing their murderous activities.
__ The abduction of 276 schoolgirls, Nigeria, April 2014
On April 15th, 2014, the group abducted 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Nigeria, in the Government Secondary School on the pretence to protect the girls from imminent insurgents attack. Boko Haram then claimed responsibility for the abduction, threatening to marry the girls.
The kidnapping raised global awareness and support. The Hashtag #BringBackOurGirls went viral and celebrities, including Michelle Obama, delivered speeches and wrote posts on social medias, urging the Nigerian government to take action.
Unfortunately and despite worldwide concern, the website BringBackOurGirls reports 223 girls still missing today, only 53 of them being able to escape and return home. Still according to the website, the others are believed to have been moved to neighbours countries such as Chad or Cameroon.
Education is not a given right in Nigeria, and rarely do girls benefit from education. ‘Only 5% of northern Nigerian girls make it to secondary school. The abducted girls were ready to graduate and become doctors and lawyers. They are extraordinary, and they need to be rescued and brought home. All girls deserve education and protection while at school.’ (BringBackOurGirls)
_ Baga massacre, Nigeria, January 2015
The attacks began on January 3rd in Baga and Doron Baga, Borno state, Nigeria, but we only had knowledge of them days after they occurred.
It is with great sorrow that we learned the attacks are the deadliest ever carried out by Boko Haram, and even outnumbered the attacks carried out in January 2012, reports announcing more than 2000 deaths. This was sadly confirmed by satellite images commissioned by Amnesty International and relayed globally.
Because of the great differences in numbers of victims between the Government and NGOs such as Amnesty International, the tragedy can only be recounted through survivors’ testimonials.
One of the survivors, Yanaye Grema, remained hidden between a wall and his neighbour’s house for 3 days, only daring to go out at night to eat cassava seeds and then hurrying back in his hiding spot.
On the 3rd day he was finally able to escape to Kekeno, a village almost 65 kms away from his now destroyed village. He then told the story of the horrendous massacre he had witnessed. His testimonials is horrifying, including sentences such as ‘For 5 kilometres, I did not stop walking on corpses’.
Government’s officials said more than 20 000 fled the zone and at least 16 towns and villages have been destroyed and/or burned down. According to the UN refugee agency, people found refuge in neighbour country Chad or in a Médecins sans Frontières camp for refugees.
__ Kidnapping of 80, Cameroon, January 2015
Sunday morning, on January 18th, in North Cameroon, 2 villages were attacked by fighters, supposedly from Boko Haram who kidnapped 80 civilians, most of them being children, numbers report 50 missing boys and girls. It is one of the largest kidnapping to ever occur on Cameroonian soil, reports Reuters. During the raid residents were also killed and several houses set on fire.
Cameroonian forces have been able to free 24 hostages when Boko Haram was trying to bring the hostages back in Nigeria, where they usually operate. At the moment, we do not have any news of the remaining 56 hostages.
__ Human rights violations by security forces themselves
Fighting against extremist groups is in itself an extremely laborious task; even more so when the security forces themselves are under international scrutinisation for human rights violations. The US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor published a Country Reports on Human rights Practice for 2012 accusing the security forces in Nigeria to be committing ‘extrajudicial killings (…) including summary executions; security force torture, rape, and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of prisoners, detainees, and criminal suspects ‘. HRW also condemned the security forces of the government, accusing them of engaging ‘in numerous abuses, including extrajudicial killings, which contravene international human rights law and might also constitute crimes against humanity.’ It then goes on saying that ‘the authorities have rarely prosecuted those responsible for the Boko Haram violence or security force personnel for their abuses‘.
In the longstanding and ongoing struggle against extremism and terrorism, it is necessary to have security forces going by the rule of law. Otherwise, it just gives a wider audience to the extremists when pointing out possible political and judicial corruption.
If the solution becomes part of the problem, the problem is far less likely to ever be solved.
__ Glimmer of hope : people standing up against Boko Haram.
I could not finish this article on such a sad note, so I decided to pay tribute to the people all over the world, standing up against the terrorist group. Although we could say that, in the wake of Charlie Hebdo’s attack, the attacks in Africa received little news coverage; we cannot ignore the people, like you and I, taking the streets, sending messages via social networks, and globally showing support for the people suffering in Africa.
A demonstrator holding a ‘I am Charlie – don’t forget the victims of Boko Haram’ – sign. Credit : AFP
In countries under permanent threat of attack, it can be rather perilous to dare and stand up against terrorist groups.
However, this did not stop 10 000 people marching the streets in Chad to support their troops being sent to Nigeria to fight Boko Haram, and to show the terrorists they were not afraid.
On Twitter, hashtags such as ‘WeAreAllBaga’ or ‘BagaTogether’ were launched to show support after the deadliest attacks ever carried out by Boko Haram.
In addition, the Montreal Gazette reported more than 200 people in Montreal, holding a vigil, carrying out signs ‘Je suis Nigeria’ (in reference to the ‘Je suis Charlie’ signs after Paris’ terrorist attacks) to raise awareness on the situation in Africa.
However, compared to the 4 millions people marching for Charlie Hebdo’s victims in France, the number of people supporting Boko Haram’s victims remains comparatively low.
When will there be a global awareness on the threats and violence civilians have to face on a daily basis ?
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