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Boko Haram Awareness Goes Beyond #BringBackOurGirls

Thursday marked the second anniversary of the abduction of 276 schoolgirls from the town of Chibok in northeastern Nigeria. The hashtag #BringBackOurGirls made a brief return to the spotlight, and was accompanied with interviews of women and girls who had escaped the terrorists’ clutches, as Boko Haram subsequently abducted thousands more people.

The anniversary also saw a video release from Boko Haram, the first release since May 2014, that showed 15 girls identified as members of the original 276. Seeing the young women alive and well renewed some hope, but the families of the remaining 230 still missing held a Global School Girl March to show disappointment over how little has been done. Last April, leaders of the Nigerian military claimed they rescued nearly 300 women and girls from the Sambisa Forest, but the Chibok girls were not among them, and the families were outraged.

There needs to be more anger and tangible effort because we cannot forget that more than 20,000 people have died because of the war between the Nigerian government and Boko Haram. Attacks on small villages have become a common fear in the region and an estimated 2.8 million people have been displaced since 2009, many of them children who forced out of school.

Targeting youth has been a clear focus of the group in its seven year campaign, but Boko Haram has actually existed since 2003 and began to form in Kanamma under Mohammed Yusuf, a fundamentalist Islamic preacher. Yusuf gained his following by being anti-Western. The closest translation of Boko Haram is “Western teaching is forbidden.” Yusuf’s strict interpretation of the Quran and his desire to create an Islamist state enabled the extremist militant group to exploit the guise of Islam.

But in no way should they be seen as associated with the faith, as they have frequently attacked fellow Muslims. The first attack to attract attention was in November in 2010, when Boko Haram members freed prisoners and attacked a mosque whose congregation was against the group’s violent methods. In 2011, the terror escalated as students become a focus and Christian churches were bombed during Christmastime. The attacks on Christians continued into 2012, becoming more frequent, more fatal, and more coordinated as mass-casualty incidents replaced shoot-outs. In 2012 Boko Haram released their first video, calling for a jihad against the West.

In 2013, former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan called for a state of emergency, which showed the severity of the situation. This followed a heavily armed attack on Bama, and was followed by more strikes on Christians and Muslims, including the burning of 30 students at a Christian boarding school and the displacement of 4,000 people in Borno State.

In 2014, bombings and murders spread into neighboring Cameroon. The world finally took notice following the Chibok abduction. Despite U.N. sanctions, Boko Haram grew and attracted members from border towns and assaults continued in crowded areas. The Global Terrorism Index stated that the militant group was responsible for 6,644 deaths in 2014 alone.

After the #BringBackOurGirls hype of 2014 died down, so did the coverage and focus on Boko Haram. Their bloodiest massacre, the killing of 2,000 people in the small village of Baga, is largely known as “the massacre that Nigeria forgot.” Much of the 2015 attacks were suicide bombings, including one where a bomb placed on a 10-year-old. Almost a year to the day after the Chibok abduction, another mass kidnapping claimed 500 civilians from Damasak. The group allowed for an eerily quiet spring, but June brought the return of bombings and bloodshed. The city of Maiduguri was a frequent target in 2015 as dozens were killed in each strike.

All of these attacks were documented and reported, but they had nowhere near as much coverage as was given to attacks in France, or even Beirut. Boko Haram killed more people in 2014 than any other terror organization, and yet it has not been part of the foreign affairs discussion in the presidential debates. However, ISIS clearly has.

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Mario Reece, a writer for The Odyssey, has a theory on why Boko Haram is swept under the rug. In a November article, Reece wrote, “At first I was perplexed. Why does no one care about what is happening to these poor people? Then the light bulb came on. The perception of Africa has become synonymous with affliction and catastrophe.”

Reece goes on to say that the media is integral in steering a reader’s attention and shaping public discourse, and this is a known tendency. But just as Boko Haram’s attacks have become commonplace, a change is both necessary and direly needed. It is time to go past #BringBackOurGirls, it is time to go beyond the posts and articles. Now is the time to implement realistic and effective measures to save Nigeria’s innocent.

Photo by @trafficbutter

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