In the U.S., where rain falls and pedestrians videotape the news of each drop, where painful issues of police brutality receive minute-by-minute recaps even by middle schoolers, where minuscule events like “baby twins talking to each other” go viral and receive national cable coverage, it is understandably puzzling when a huge African nation like Nigeria experiences full-scale, catastrophic, historical-level trauma, and neglects to broadcast it, protest it, or call on its National Assembly to rectify it immediately.
In Nigeria, there is simply no rush, no immediacy. It is misguided to expect American urgency from a Nigerian government whose moral compass has been clouded by apathy.
Recent questions about why “the media” have been so late to cover Boko Haram’s recent terrorist attack on Baga, Nigeria – a massacre that may have killed thousands – miss the point.
Neither American nor global media outlets can cover urgently what the Nigerian media and government attend to only belatedly.
Recall that when 276 girls were kidnapped from the Northeastern region of Chibok, many Nigerian newspapers failed to put that story on their front pages (as web archives and on-the-ground anecdotes will show). To be fair, some did report the news, but the story was covered on the same level as another small-scale terrorist blast in Nigeria’s capital city, which occurred on the same date – April 14, 2014.
They did not broadcast it as a historical-level threat that required instant repercussions. The government did not raise the national security level to any color: not orange nor yellow nor green nor purple nor blue, nor any other color in the rainbow. Nobody felt outraged enough about the fact that a sovereign state had been infiltrated by terrorists in violation of its borders and taking children as victims – for at least a whole week after the incident.
Nigeria’s own chief of defense staff said, point blank, a month later: “just leave us alone.” He promised to find the girls, while taking no visible action and giving no comforting details to the parents of the victims. The country’s president famously scheduled a visit to Chibok, but pulled back after concluding that it was too dangerous.
Contrast the apathy of the Nigerian media and government with America’s culture of urgency and you begin to understand why U.S. media outlets are asking the wrong questions about Nigeria’s coverage and reaction to the news.
Instead of asking why the Baga attacks – which began on Jan. 3 and caused more than 11,300 Nigerian refugees to flee into neighboring Chad – were not covered as immediately as the Charlie Hebdo massacre, we need to ask who in Nigeria is responsible for striking the first blow of coverage – and why those parties are not as passionate in their reporting as the world expects them to be.
To the American psyche, for example, it only takes one incident of an Amber Alert in a local city to incite anger, fear, constant media coverage, and immediate police action. Thus, an incident of 276 girls being abducted is equivalent to 276 Amber Alerts happening simultaneously. Such a thing would be unimaginable. Even if such an event were to happen, it would live on American cable news indefinitely, and everything would stop until those 276 girls were found.
But in Nigeria, everything unimaginable, everything wrong, everything unjust, has now become par for the course. To phrase that reality any other way would be a further disservice to the people of Nigeria. The singular truth of the Nigerian condition is that its people have been unapologetically robbed, abused, and left to die by their government.
When the Nigerian media attempts to tell that truth in full – detailing and investigating the full extent of government corruption that rots society at its core – they are curtailed by bribes and threats. As a result, many Nigerian newspapers retreat into milder, less opinionated fairy tales, rather than spelling out that Nigeria – with its unprecedented death toll in the wake of mounting terrorist attacks – is essentially at war.
The truth is, the world should not expect to hear urgent, immediate, pressing news of Nigerian attacks in the same way we heard about Charlie Hebdo, because Nigerians have essentially succumbed to a culture of silence. They have been numbed by the constant geopolitical abuse carried out daily by their incompetent leadership.
When Nigerians organized and attempted to cry out for help recovering their kidnapped girls, their first lady, Patience Jonathan, dismissed them.
Nigeria is the richest, most populous country in Africa, with a maddening level of sociopolitical and economic potential. Yet it is ravaged by internal cancers – not just Boko Haram, but also the national government and media that ordinary Nigerians look to for protection.
The question, therefore, is not “why is the globe not covering Nigeria as quickly as Paris?” The correct question is: why is an African giant not equipped enough to cover itself?
China Okasi is an opinion journalist, forthcoming author, and television commentator.