Although two terrorist massacres happened at the same time in Paris, France and Baga, Nigeria this past January, the responses were different. The world rallied for the three days following the extremist Islamist incidents in France that left 17 dead and dallied on the four days of violence that wiped out 2,000 souls in Baga.
It is the third time this year that I have been in a city that was attacked by terrorists the same day – both Paris attacks and one in Yola, Nigeria. But I see a difference in responses already. Although some Nigerian writers railed against Mark Zuckerburg for Facebook’s special French flag colors in honor of the slain, when the company appeared to never give a thought to countless victims of Boko Haram in Nigeria, most Nigerians stood with France. There is now a greater global appreciation of the oneness of our pain in the horrific scourge of terror.
But I see other, less lofty connections. France finances Boko Haram – and, now that they are affiliated, the Islamic State (ISIS) –by paying millions in ransom for abducted French citizens. The Washington Post once described the payment of ransom in relation to Boko Haram as “fairly routine” among many nations. The New York Times found that France once paid up to $28 million in ransom to an al Qaeda affiliate in west Africa, as well, indicating a willingness to cooperate with and fund jihadists. France has denied both incidents, in which French citizens were returned unharmed.
This is a serious problem. France may think that the jihad is far removed from them but, in essence, it is fueling Boko Haram’s mass murders which are inspiring other global jihadists, too. Indeed, Boko Haram has killed people from UK, Germany, Italy, Kenya, Norway, China, Ghana, North Korea, Lebanon, Mali, Algeria, Greece… Boko Haram just did not have the media savvy of ISIS to post these executions on Youtube. Now that they are a bona fide subgroup of ISIS, that has changed as both groups now release jointly branded messages.
France’s paying ransoms to jihadists does two things: it sends a message that African lives are expendable in exchange for French lives. Worse still, it fosters a hostage cottage industry against Westerners which last year had a $20 million turnover in Iraq alone. Considering Boko Haram’s limited access to Nigeria’s southern oil fields, unlike ISIS, the abduction pipeline is a more high-value revenue stream for the group than banditry spoils.
But the French connection to Boko Haram’s rabid insurgency goes further. The successful French-led military roll-back of MUJAO jihadists in northern Mali had an unintended but not unavoidable impact on Nigeria. Boko Haram relocated its training camps and equipment from Mali back to Nigeria with a slew of foreign fighters in tow. Speaking to a colleague whose town was captured by Boko Haram, locals reported seeing Malian Tauregs acting as commanders. In a scene poignantly reminiscent of the Holocaust, his 84-year-old father fled over 10 km on foot to escape. His immobile, arthritic wife moved into the Muslim neighbor’s home for safety. Five days later, someone turned her in to Boko Haram as a pastor’s wife. Another pointed out their home as a retired pastor’s. The jihadists blew up the empty house with an RPG.
Similarly, NATO’s overthrow of Gaddafi has led to documented arms proliferation into northern Nigeria. Over 5,000 out of 8,000 missiles had not been accounted for, according to U.S. analysts – again an unintended but not inevitable fallout of the Libyan intervention. Viewing the theater of conflict as localized jihad has been disastrous regionally in both situations. The new violent Jihadi strategy is to “Think Global and Act Local” – for those who cannot afford to be foreign fighters – and “Think Global; Link Global” for those who can, as attacks in Australia and the UK aptly illustrate.
In addition to a series of destabilizing measures treating jihad as a regional, and not globally interconnected, threat, the West has failed to properly support anti-jihadist elements, often in precisely those regions most destabilized. For example, U.S. troop training in Nigeria has stalled amidst accusations that the U.S. denied arms sales to Nigeria. The U.S. cutback on oil purchases from Nigeria, leaving 35 million barrels of unsold crude in December, created economic downturn in the country, pretty much stymying the newly elected government.
The net effect is that Nigeria is in a situation as though it were under sanctions similar to Russia, Syria and Iran. Yet when the world needed Nigeria for peacekeeping, it showed up. Now that Nigeria needs the world, not so much.
Fortunately, Chadian, Nigerien and Camerounian troops along with the Nigerian army have rolled back Boko Haram from controlling 27 out of 29 counties (a larger footprint than ISIS controls – about the size of Belgium). France has also restated its commitment to hosting a regional summit to counter Boko Haram. But it can do more.
As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, France needs to start first by complying with U.N. sanctions per Security Council resolution 2083 (2012) barring finances to Al-Qaeda-linked genocidal groups like ISIS and Boko Haram.
The world stood with France, now France and the world should stand together. Last year, the #Bringbackourgirls campaign took the world by storm. By the end of the year, Boko Haram was the most lethal terror group in the world, with thousands killed and 2000 women abducted. Most of the girls are still in captivity. This January the “Je’ suis” hashtag again took the world by storm. Now 129 more lives are gone. These two hashtags must give way to harsh facts: terrorism is still alive and well and we all must work practically to end it.
And there is one connection that did not exist between the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris last January and Nigeria. In ISIS’ claim of responsibility for the Friday November 13 Paris attacks, it specifically referenced Nigeria. Guess who are standing together bandying against the world now?
Emmanuel Ogebe is a Nigerian human rights lawyer.