I have been covering news about Nigeria for a year and a half and through all the turmoil that I have seen, today was the first time that I broke down in tears. This vast, beautiful country filled with fascinating cultures and even more interesting people has become a constant source of bad news – from corruption to fraud to infectious diseases to kidnappings to child marriages to intolerance towards homosexuals – one does not need to look far to discover something which is currently plaguing the population of this West African country.
But one problem has gained top billing when it comes to talking about Nigeria, and that’s Boko Haram. My first day at my job, my editor told me that the words ‘Boko Haram’ would be burned into my brain, I thought she was exaggerating, surely a country so big had to have more prominent problems than a group of troublemakers, but it took me an hour to discover how wrong I was and how much I underestimated them. My first day I covered a story where Boko Haram charged into a boys’ school, lined up the students and teachers and proceeded to shoot them all in the head.
Boko Haram roughly translates to ‘Western education is forbidden’, and is a militant movement dedicated to turning Nigeria into an Islamic State. They have been declared as an Al Qaeda affiliate and have killed and kidnapped thousands of men, women and children throughout Nigeria through suicide bombings, massacres and raids, and have caused many more to become refugees and displaced, fleeing from their homes in order to find some place of safety.
Throughout this period that I have immersed myself in the current affairs about this culture, I have never visited the country, so I at the safety of my desk cannot even begin to fathom how those in the villages in Borno, Yobe and Kano States of Nigeria must feel. The fear that encompasses them everyday, being too scared to go to school, forfeiting your education, knowing that if you leave your home it might be the last time you ever see your parents.
The international media was outraged in April 2014 when 276 school girls were kidnapped from their hostel in the village of Chibok in Borno State. These young women were brave enough to attend school in a region where Boko Haram terrorizes places of education, and these girls were failed by the Nigerian government and army when almost nine months later many of them have still not been saved. One of the saddest stories I read during this period was about the father of two of the girls that were kidnapped, who was killed during one of Boko Haram’s sieges of Chibok in July 2014, according to The Sun, before he died he kept repeating the names of his two daughters who he would never be reunited with.
Now to what happened this month: while the face of the world was turned to Paris and the atrocities that was happening there, Boko Haram raided the village of Baga which is situated close to the border of Chad. The militants first seized an army base close to the village and then raided the town with rifles and grenades, burning buildings and shooting those in sight, many fled, but hundreds were killed, especially women, children and the elderly who were unable to run away fast enough. Witnesses spoke of corpses littering the streets, of walking over the bodies of their neighbors, their loved ones.
In the midst of all these stories of pain and suffering, Amnesty International released a report from one of the witnesses of the attack that claimed that one of victims of the Baga attack was a woman who was in labor when Boko Haram raided the town, her son was halfway into the world when she was shot by the extremists because she was unable to leave.
This was the hair that broke the camel’s back, when my heart shattered at the thought of what these people go through everyday. These past few weeks I, with so many people exclaimed Je Suis Charlie, I am Charlie, in consolidation with the staff of Charlie Hebdo that were killed in the Paris shootings, and I am, I truly believe in free speech. But even more than that I Am Baga, I am a daughter, I am sister, I am a human being, I want to live my life in safety, I want an education, I don’t want to be driven away from my home, I don’t want to live in fear, I want to bring my children into the world fearing that at any moment someone might shoot at us, or bomb our town. I am Baga, because I believe that every life counts. I am Baga, because hundreds of ordinary villagers of all ages and sexes were murdered because of no other reason than the geographical region in which they resided. I am Baga because I believe that this needs to end. I am Baga because I believe the world needs to rise together and put pressure on Nigeria and their government to make drastic changes in order to save the lives of their civilians. I am Baga because I believe that enough is enough.