Given Nigeria’s past and recurring history, does one realistically expect this state to defend Baga from Boko Haram, comment or mourn the murder of the 2000 from Baga – almost 49 years to the day after it embarked on the murder of 3.1 million of its Igbo population in a studiously-organised genocide that is still ongoing?
As the world witnessed a fortnight ago, rarely have there been two dreadful massacres carried out almost simultaneously in two separate continents by two organisations surely operating autonomously but belonging to the same overarching religiopolitical agency. Boko Haram, the islamist insurgent group based in north Nigeria, massacred 2000 people in Baga (The Guardian, London, 10 January 2015) during the course of two days. In Paris, France, over a 2-day stretch, during the same week, a French–based cell affiliated to some islamist caliphate brigade in the Middle East massacred 17 people including cartoonists of the satirical journal, Charlie Hebdo, and staff and shoppers at a Jewish supermarket.
Boko Haram is ideologically allied to the global islamist causes and projects of the Middle East amalgam including al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula and the Islamic State (controls vast swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria), as well as the Taleban in Afghanistan and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in west/northwest Africa and al-Shabaab in Somalia. Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau never tires to extend solidarity messages to these fellow organisations in his regular video releases that update the strategic objectives and expectations of the ongoing transnational insurgency.
The responses of Nigeria and France to these tragedies couldn’t be so trenchantly different, though. Right from the outset, the French state robustly came out in defence of its population. It mobilised the entire range of its security forces to hunt down the murderous cell, stepped up security for its citizens whilst continually reassuring them, attended to the dead, the dying and the wounded, and organised a solidarity march in honour of the 17 and their families and for the reaffirmation of the crucial tenets and ethos that underpin the existence of the French republic. 3.5 million French people turned out in Paris on Sunday 11th January for this historic gathering. The heads of state or government of most countries of the European world and beyond attended the march in support of France. The global media covered this story of a week comprehensively.
In Nigeria, in contrast, the country’s regime-leadership and its expanded establishment exercised a morbid silence over the outrage in Baga – not a word on Baga from the current head-of-regime nor from any of the seven ex-heads of regime. None of the eight was moved to act in defence of Baga from its ruthless assailants, not even in the wake of that haunting, graphic account of the tragedy of his town rendered soon after by Baga district head survivor Baba Abba Hassan: ‘…most victims are children, women and elderly people who could not run fast enough when insurgents drove in … firing rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles on town residents’. Silence, punishing silence, utter silence… Such was the staggering indifference displayed by the Nigeria state to this massacre, within its frontier, that an observer would be forgiven if they thought that the slaughter that occurred in Baga never happened or that Baga were somewhere else on the planet or, perhaps, that Baga didn’t really exist… In effect, this state no longer pretends that it exists to serve its peoples (for an expansive discourse on this feature, see Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe, ‘Readings from Reading: Essays on African Politics, Genocide, Literature’, 2011). If anyone is still unsure of this crucial characteristic, a reminder of the final segment of Nigeria’s response to these massacres of a week might be of help: despite the silence on Baga, the state’s head of regime found the time and purpose to send a message of condolence to the French head of state on the murder in Paris; equally silent on Baga, another senior regime official found the time and purpose to tweet a message of condolence to the people of France on the murder in Paris. It shouldn’t be found surprising to add that no one marched in Nigeria on behalf of the 2000 murdered in Baga nor for their families nor indeed for any exhortative values of a doubtful state. As for the world’s media, the lenses of their camera, during the week, were of course focussed 2600 miles away from Baga – Paris.
It is to this focus of the world media and some of its wider consequences that led Simon Allison of the Daily Maverick to observe: ‘It may be the 21st century, but African lives are still deemed less newsworthy – and, by implication, less valuable – than western lives’. Allison is undoubtedly alluding to the catastrophic diminution of the African humanity by the pan-European World during 400 years of the latter’s enslavement of African peoples and its conquest and occupation of Africa. But as we now show, the perceived ‘less valuable’ status of African life in the contemporary epoch has not just been a teleological transposition from a somewhat distant past. On the contrary, it is a thoroughly, consciously mapped-out package and practice designed and formally launched much more recently, in the mid-1960s, by a not-too-unfamiliar global power central in this visceral African subjugated history/international politics.
Finally, let us return to Nigeria’s deafening silence on Baga. Given Nigeria’s past and recurring history, does one realistically expect this state to defend Baga from Boko Haram, comment or mourn the murder of the 2000 from Baga – almost 49 years to the day after it embarked on the murder of 3.1 million of its Igbo population in a studiously-organised genocide that is still ongoing? Each of the seven of Nigeria’s ex-heads of regime, referred to earlier, is a structural participant in this foundational genocide of post-(European)conquest Africa. They all constitute a génocidaire septet. This genocide at once shapes the architecture of the present Nigeria establishment as the world knows it. Therefore, no one from any spheres or levers of this state assemblage could have had anything intelligible or/and credible to say on Baga. Part of the reason of Nigeria’s silence on Baga is that given the country’s genocide antecedent, few would have believed any word declared on this massacre by any officials of its state.
Britain, the ex-conqueror/occupying state in Nigeria supported the Igbo genocide from conceptualisation to execution. In supporting the genocide, Britain sought to ‘punish’ the Igbo for being in the vanguard, since the 1930s, to terminate the British occupation of Nigeria – one of the very prized lands of the British conquest of Africa. During the course of the 1968/1969 gruesomely devastating apogee of the genocide, Harold Wilson, the British prime minister, informed C. Clyde Ferguson, the US state department special coordinator for relief to Biafra, that he, Harold Wilson, ‘would accept a half million dead Biafrans if that was what it took’ Nigeria to destroy the Igbo resistance to the genocide (Roger Morris, Uncertain Greatness: Henry Kissinger and American Foreign Policy, 1977: 122). For the records, Wilson’s ‘a half a million dead Biafrans’-wish represented 4.2 per cent of the Igbo population then; by the time that that phase of the genocide came to an end, 6-9 months after Wilson’s wish-declaration, 25 per cent of this nation’s population or 3.1 million Igbo people had been murdered by the genocidists.
Undoubtedly, the Nigerians had handsomely obliged Harold Wilson’s wish. Those punching words of historian Chancellor Williams’s were at once vindicated, most dramatically: ‘… The Europeans had also been busily building up and training strong African armies. Africans trained to hate, kill and conquer Africans…’ (Chancellor Williams, ‘The Destruction of Black Civilization’, 1987: 218). In the construction of the template of international relations that would embody the post-World War II era, the British-Nigerian genocide diarchy had elevated the ‘dispensability of African life in national and international politics’ to the highest calibrated level possible.
* Herbert Ekwe-Ekwe is visiting professor in the graduate programme of constitutional law at Universidade de Fortaleza and author of 'Longest genocide – Since 29 May 1966' (forthcoming, 2015).
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