By PAT WATSON
In English, Boko Haram translates to “western education is forbidden”. That would explain why a year ago, in northeastern Nigeria, members of that extremist organization kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls, literally taking them out of their program of education. The reports are that the girls, who are from Christian families, were forcibly converted to whatever version of Islam that Boko Haram has formulated. Some were married off. A few have since either escaped or were returned by the kidnappers. Some were said to be suffering post-traumatic stress symptoms. Understandably.
If only a hashtag could have saved those schoolgirls. Even U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama got on the “#bringbackourgirls” bandwagon.
Even before this attack that captured worldwide attention, Boko Haram had been creating a trail of murder and mayhem, attacking villages, killing thousands, kidnapping children and either forcing them to become soldiers in their army of an estimated 10,000 or converting them as they did with the schoolgirls and marrying them off, or turning them into suicide bombers. What then is driving this murderous group?
Northeastern Nigeria, where those kidnappings by Boko Haram occurred is the most impoverished part of the country. It is very far away from the more Christian dominated southwestern region, where the bulk of oil resources and the influence of oil wealth are evident. Boko Haram was born in an environment of neglect, poverty and lack of education.
In just about every African country where there is trouble of this kind, we can trace the genesis to European colonial intrusion. In the case of what we now know as Nigeria, that would specifically be the British. As is the usual modus operandi, the British colonialist movement placed its own grasping interests above those of the region it sought to dominate and exploit. A group such as Boko Haram has, therefore, been centuries in the making, even though it first emerged some 13 years ago, in 2002.
As evidence of the neglect of the region where it now flourishes, Boko Haram was overlooked by the government.
Two wrongs do not make a right of course; the government’s abject neglect does not justify Boko Haram’s extreme cruelty nor does it justify taking the lives of countrymen who are not in a war with this extremist group.
Being far off from this crisis means that few will pay more than passing attention to one more report of troubles in the world. Those troubles are also mainly overlooked in western media. There was more hand-wringing over the tragedy that occurred in Paris, France, when extremists attacked the magazine office of the Charlie Hebdo publication.
It is all horrible stuff, but while we want to enunciate that “Black lives matter”, we also understand that the taking of Black lives by whomever, matters less to those who bring us those reports.
The harder question, however, is how do we respond so as to see resolution to the anger and desperation that become the breeding ground for such insane reactions. When people are hungry and live in want, when they want what to them seems a fair share, in a place like Nigeria, which has Africa’s largest economy and very little debt, and which makes most of its money from exporting oil, then strife and conflict will arise.
Nigeria has just elected a new president, Muhammadu Buhari, leader of the All Progressives Congress, replacing Goodluck Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party, which had dominated government since 1999.
With a new government hope springs eternal, but it will take more than hope to respond to the dire needs of northeastern Nigeria.
A note on critters…
Why the hate for our furry, four-legged recyclers from Toronto Mayor John Tory? Instead of spending millions on new compost waste bins, the money could be better spent by hiring animal behaviorists to educate raccoons on how to clean up after they recycle our uneaten food and compost waste. After all, it’s not their eating the stuff that is the problem; it’s that they leave such a mess after dining. That and the horror-movie like noises emanating from them while they do their late night dining. #respectraccoonnation.
Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through a Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose.