by Jay Chin
The last federal government-controlled town, Borno, in northeastern Nigeria, has fallen to the hands of Boko Haram. On January 3, the Islamist terrorist group launched a successful attack on the Multinational Joint Military Task Force (MNJTF) headquarters, a base of operations for Nigerian, Chadian, and Nigerien military forces, located just outside of Baga on the border between their respective countries. With the surrounding towns left defenseless, Boko Haram attacked sixteen towns, the largest of which is Baga, a key fishing and commercial center. The town was completely destroyed on January 7, with fatalities estimated at 2000, comprised mostly of women, children, and elderly who were too weak to flee. Most of those who managed to escape the violence fled to the displaced person camps in Maiduguri, the capital city of Borno, which has a history of Boko Haram attacks. The refugees are estimated to be at 20,000. About 7300 others rowed their way to Chad, which brings the total number of current Nigerian refugees in Chad to 10,000.
The federal government has been extremely slow to respond to this massacre. President Goodluck Jonathan, seeking re-election in the upcoming February 14 elections, took almost a fortnight to
recognize the tragedy as even taking place. Despite this, he made an official statement regarding the Charlie Hebdo massacre, which occurred the same day, within hours of the incident. Ibrahim
Gambo, a 25 year-old truck driver and local militia member, said that the militia was told to pull back to make way for a military air strike. Such aid never arrived. Further, local and federal
government officials are at variance regarding numbers, with defense spokesperson Chris Olukolade stating that no more than 150 people died in Baga. On the other hand, Musa Bukar, head of the
Kukawa local government, of which Baga is a part, has stated that 2000 people have been killed, an estimate that Amnesty International has supported and helped propagate. The relocation of the
refugees has fallen into the hands of the UN Refugee Agency, which is moving the refugees to Diffa, a Nigerien city that lies at the border between Niger and Nigeria. This city alone has housed
about 90,000 Nigerian refugees since May of 2013.
The international response to this tragedy likewise has moved slowly, in no short measure, due to both the Nigerian government’s aversion to the topic and the Parisian massacre at Charlie Hebdo. Bloggers, seeing the lack of solidarity as a sign of hypocrisy, have adopted slogans such as “Je suis Baga” and “Je suis Nigerian”, playing off the viral motif of “Je suis Charlie Hebdo.” The Catholic Archbishop of Jos, Ignatius Kaigama, has similarly called for international support as Boko Haram seizes town after town in northeastern Nigeria, as they currently control a territory roughly the size of Belgium.
The most recent reports of Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria come from Maiduguri and Potiskum, the latter being in Yobe, west of Borno. Three female suicide bombers, ten-year-old girls, killed themselves and twenty-one others. Their current activities, however, are mostly focused in Cameroon with a group of militants attempting and failing to seize Kolofata in Cameroon, losing some 200-300 members. Boko Haram has kidnapped 80 civilians from villages of Cameroom and killed three. 24 have been located, three confirmed to be dead, with the rest still to be found.