As the world turned its focus to the terrorist attack in Paris this weekend, across the continent another barbarous act took place that resulted in the slaughter of over 2,000 people. The massacre exacted by Boko Haram is now the deadliest act to date. The majority of victims are children, women, and the elderly.
As reported by The Guardian, hundreds of bodies remain in the bush, left to rot as the overwhelmed civilian forces could not keep up with the death toll, nor attend to the dying.
The massacre took place in the town called Baga which sits on the border with Chad. Insurgents descended on the area and opened fire on the residents, using rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles. The residents fled into the bush to escape. Those who were not fast enough to flee died at the hands of the extremist group as they ducked for cover in the thin brush.
One survivor gave his account to The Guardian. Yanaye Grema hid between a wall and his neighbor’s house for over three days while Boko Haram fighters invaded his town.
“All I could hear were ceaseless gunshots explosions, screams from people and chants of ‘Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) from the Boko Haram gunmen. At night, I could see lights from the power generator they ran and I could hear their cheering and laughter.”
Grema found his chance to flee and by a chance encounter with a nomad, he found a path to safety. The old man encouraged Grema to continue west to avoid running into militants. Grema expressed his gratitude.
“I will never forget this experience and I will forever be grateful to the old man for his life saving advice,” Grema said to The Guardian. Grema recounted the horror of realizing the extent of the atrocity upon leaving Baga.
“For five kilometers (three miles), I kept stepping on dead bodies until I reached the Malam Karanti village which was also deserted and burnt.”
Officials confirmed this week that the attack had forced approximately 20,000 people from Baga and other settlements near Lake Chad to flee their homes and cross the border into neighboring Chad and Cameroon.
“The human carnage perpetrated by Boko Haram terrorists in Baga was enormous,” said Muhammad Abba Gava, in an interview with the Associated Press. Gava is the spokesman for the civilian defense group that fights Boko Haram. He stated that it was impossible to count all the bodies and that “no one could attend to the corpses and even the seriously injured ones who may have died by now.”
Amnesty International has issued a statement declaring the attack on Baga as the “deadliest massacre in the history of Boko Haram,” and the group reported that the town was razed. Nigeria researcher Daniel Frye commented to the Associated Press that if reports were accurate regarding the death of over 2,000 people, “this marks a disturbing and bloody escalation of Boko Haram’s ongoing onslaught.”
March 14, 2014 was the last brutal attack by Boko Haram during an attack on the Giwa military barracks in Maiduguri city. Amnesty International used satellite imagery to confirm that over 600 people were killed.
The massacre in Baga occurred just five weeks before the presidential election. The three north-eastern states have asked the central government for additional troops. These states have faced the worst assaults by Boko Haram. Tensions are high and additional bloodshed is expected during the election.
The amount of people displaced by the terrorist activity is staggering. More than 1.5 million people have been affected by the violence. Many of these displaced residents will not take part in the presidential election.
The government has not made an official comment on the massacres. As reported by The Guardian, President Goodluck Jonathan barely discussed security issues when he announced his bid for re-election. In the past five years, more than a million people have been displaced inside Nigeria and last year over 10, 000 people were murdered. Hundreds of thousands of residents have fled, crossing the borders of Chad and Cameroon.
Aid workers can barely keep up with the refugees. The most affected group have been children separated from their parents. Boko Haram’s frequent and often deadly attacks force the separation of parent and child. Twelve-year-old Suleiman Dauda made a heartbreaking statement to the Associated Press.
“I saw them kill my father. They slaughtered him like a ram. And up until now, I don’t know where my mother is.”
The young boy now lives in a refugee camp in Yola.
Questions have mounted as to why the media was focused on the attack in Paris without granting this latest attack in Nigeria any attention. It is well-established that media reporting in Nigeria has become increasingly difficult as journalists have been targeted by Boko Haram and access to the internet and communication is limited. The attacks by Boko Haram disrupt what little communications exist in Nigeria and unlike Paris, there is no online community to record, photograph and tweet every action that is taking place.
However, reports from Nigeria have made it through to the international audience, yet it appears as if some media outlets were reluctant to carry the story. As reported on the Daily Maverick, Simon Allison wrote,”I am Charlie but I am Baga too. There are massacres and there are massacres. It may be the 21st century, but African lives are still deemed less newsworthy and by implication, less valuable than western lives.”
Allison did recognize the challenges in reporting in Nigeria, but reiterates the significance of the attack, stating that “Boko Haram effectively controls the Borno state in its entirety. They aren’t ‘just terrorists’, they are becoming a de facto state.”
Western media outlets were not the only ones failing to give proper coverage to the attack. Outlets in Nigeria provided little-to-no coverage and leaders in Nigeria made condolence comments regarding Charlie Hebdo, but failed to acknowledge the attack within their own region. The Guardian reports that Ahmadu Adamu Muazu, who is part of the ruling People’s Democratic Party, actually attempted to downplay the death toll.
“We know it’s a political period so some of this [sic] things are expected.”
He went on to say that he has been working with local security services to ensure peace being restored to Baga and other north-eastern regions.
Ignatius Kaigma, the Catholic archbishop of Jos in Central Nigeria issued this statement to the BBC.
Regarding the threat of Boko Haram, he said that “Nigeria cannot confront this threat alone. It is a monumental tragedy. It has saddened all of Nigeria but we seem to be helpless. If we could stop Boko Haram, we would have done it right away, but they continue to attack, kill and capture territories with such impunity.”
In addition to the massacre in Baga, Boko Haram stunned the world by using a 10-year-old girl as a suicide bomber. The bomb killed 16 people inside the marketplace.
Read more about that attack by clicking here.