Nigeria's forgotten massacre: 2,000 slaughtered by Boko Haram, but the West is failing to help

Archbishop of Jos calls on the international community to do more than just express their solidarity

One of Africa's most senior church leaders has accused the West of ignoring the threat of the militant Islamist group Boko Haram, days after the reported slaughter of up to 2,000 people by the group.

Ignatius Kaigama, the Catholic Archbishop of Jos and president of the Nigerian Bishops Conference, spoke as bodies lay strewn on the ground in Baga, in north-east Nigeria, after a surge by Boko Haram fighters who took over the border town earlier this month.

He highlighted the stark difference between the West's willingness to act when 17 people were killed by militants in France and the approach to the slaughter in Africa.

Estimates of the death toll in Baga and surrounding villages, which were razed by fire, have been put at up to 2,000. Most of the dead were women, children and the elderly who could not flee in time, said Amnesty International, which labelled it the group's deadliest massacre yet.

A further 30,000 people are thought to have fled their homes, 7,500 seeking sanctuary in Chad and the rest adding to Nigeria's tens of thousands of displaced people.

Archbishop Kaigama told The Independent on Sunday that while the Nigerian government was "dilly dallying" and needed to improve its effectiveness against Boko Haram, the West must also act before the militants' power grew to stretch far beyond Nigeria's borders.

The government's military response to Boko Haram's advance in the north has been described as chaotic and ineffective. Soldiers often claim their allowances aren't paid and there are repeated reports of desertion and mutiny, weakening the army's ability to take on a well-organised and determined foe.

President Goodluck Jonathan has promised to re-equip the army to improve its effectiveness and there are hopes that after the election in February there will be the political will necessary to support the military against the Islamist fighters. However, Boko Haram, which regards democracy as blasphemous, is expected to do all it can to disrupt the elections.

But Archbishop Kaigama said the West should recognise that the problem is not simply a Nigerian one.

"I can smell a lot more trouble. It's not going to be confined to this region. It's going to expand. It will get to Europe and elsewhere," he warned.

"When it comes to the international community, they express their solidarity but it isn't really concrete help. We have always said that there should be concern expressed more concretely by the West beyond just expressing their solidarity. They should do more than that," he said.

"We believe there is a lot we can share in terms of security information. I would have thought by now they would be able to help Nigeria. There has to be a concrete collaboration between Europe and America to bring this to an end."

He added: "Compare what has happened in Paris and what is happening here. There is a great difference.

31-Nigeria1-AP.jpg

The British Government has in recent months announced a new package of help for Nigeria, including intelligence and training advice, to fight the militants. A spokeswoman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: "Boko Haram deliberately targets the weak and vulnerable, causing suffering in communities of different faiths and ethnicities. They must be stopped. The UK – with France and the US – has taken an active role in supporting Nigeria to tackle Boko Haram."

For the Archbishop, this hasn't been enough.

"We were hoping by now that we would be talking about successes in confronting this militant Islamic group but they are causing more destruction and capturing more villages and killing innocent people. It's quite disturbing.

"I believe that Boko Haram and their allies want to cause more harm, more destruction. We are just hoping a remedy can be found and this terrible situation be brought to an end," he said.

The gulf in the attention between the murders in France and the Nigerian massacre was highlighted Twitter messages yesterday.

Imad Mesdoua, a political analyst at consultants Africa Matters, tweeted: "No breaking news cycle, no live reports, no international outrage, no hashtags." The actress Mia Farrow and Stephanie Hancock, of Human Rights Watch, were among those to observe that there had been "no outrage or headlines" about the Nigerian slaughter.

Harry Leslie Smith, the 91-year-old who electrified the Labour Party conference last year with a speech on the NHS, said on Twitter: "Note to the media and Western politicians that Paris isn't burning but Nigeria is."

Nigeria wasn't the only tragedy that fell by the wayside in last week's news cycle. On the same day that 12 people were killed in the attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, at least 37 died and 66 were injured in an al-Qaeda bomb blast in Yemen that went virtually unnoticed by the international community.

The difference in reaction to Nigeria and other tragedies was, a spokeswoman for the Catholic aid organisation Cafod suggested, "about the value of a life – an African life versus a European life".

Concerns about the international response to Boko Haram, the group which infamously kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls in a single raid last year, were raised as further details emerged about the massacre in and around Baga, on the shores of Lake Chad.

One of the survivors of the slaughter told of how he escaped to the city of Maiduguri, 100 miles away, after hiding for three days in a gap between two houses. Yanaye Grema was part of a group of locals who had banded together to try to defend their homes from the Boko Haram advance but were overwhelmed.

"People fled into the bush while some shut themselves indoors," he told AFP. "The gunmen pursued fleeing residents into the bush, shooting them dead.

"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. I could also hear their cheering and laughter.

"On Tuesday they began looting the market and every home in the town. They set fire to the market and began burning homes. I decided it was time I leave before they turned in my direction."

After emerging from his hiding place he decided to escape the area on foot, and witnessed the horrific extent of the bloodbath by victorious militants.

"For five kilometres, I kept stepping on dead bodies until I reached Malam Karanti village, which was also deserted and burnt," he said.

Muhammadu Buhari, the former military ruler of Nigeria and Mr Jonathan's challenger in next month's presidential election, said more soldiers need to be deployed against Boko Haram.

"I have made this comment before and the federal government refused to react to it," he said.

"The number of soldiers, policemen and officers of the State Security Services they deploy during elections, if they had deployed them to Borno and Yobe states to fight Boko Haram, by now, Boko Haram would have been history."

There was further carnage yesterday when a female suicide bomber, who according to one report was aged just 10, detonated explosives at a market in Maiduguri, a city of more than one million.

The authorities said a Boko Haram attack on Damatu, 80 miles west of Maiduguri, was repulsed after a robust response, including air strikes, from the military.

Comments