CNN in Nigeria bringing back our girls and the law of unimagined consequences

Bringbackourgirls  This is going to sound like heresy, the cold steel of a knife cutting through the warm flesh of idealism but as the days wear on I am seeing too many signs pointing in the wrong direction, down  routes with no discernable compass or maps to define a destination. And that is surely the fastest way to get lost.

#Bringbackourgirls is like #Kony without the video – it even has the element of religion only this time, instead of Evangelical Christians driving the car we have the bogeyman  of Islamic radicalism providing the fuel. We even have the compulsory Kristof article, and I am horrified.

The doctrine of simplicity is always at war with reality – not a click away, said Dinaw Mengestu, writing about the Kony campaign, and he was right.  But hey, we are raising  awareness and after endless articles extolling how ‘the media’ was ignoring the story that must be good, no? After all We All Are the Kidnapped Nigerian Girls according to Ms  magazine, and they should know.

Now CNN have sent in a film crew to the rescue we can all sleep well, content in the knowledge that we are doing something to #bringbackourgirls

In the gospel according to CNN and Kristof,  history hasn’t just ended like they say it did over here because we are talking about ‘over there’ where it never existed and political agency is rinsed away and squeezed dry. It inflicts a new  meaning on the saviour complex – it’s not just white it is whitewashed.

And ‘over there’ spans the range from Afghanistan to Syria according to our CNN opinionista, Frida Ghitis, because of course we know these conflicts all look the same in the  dark.

‘Our’ Nigerian girls are nameless, faceless, even uncounted, victims according to CNN, of an identikit conflict between those beastly Muslims (not just radical but ultra- radical) and ‘modernity’.  Ignoring that Nigeria lives in the 21st Century just like the rest of us, has an economy that the hedgefund world is slavering over, supplies around 8  percent of America’s oil and has a space programme, our saviours are guilty of that age-old colonial command-and-control trick of essentialising ‘the primitive’.

Kristof underlines this timebending by reporting that anguished parents searched the forest armed with bows and arrows, and are now praying to  God for help from the United States and United Nations.   Never mind that neither have a very good track record – where’s Kony?  Like Wally he got lost in the crowd.

But as the Nigerian-American writer, Teju Cole, observed in a series of tweets: “These are difficult conversations to have because we’re good and we care. We don’t want to be interrupted during the fervor of our hashtags.” This may be a good time to ask ourselves why that fervour seems to always be reserved for the elsewheres of this world and never our own back yard.

Meanwhile, the ‘doing something’ is as fraught with as much danger as the threat of the kidnappers and bombers and Cole is right to remind us that: “the ‘something’ eventually done will likely—as in the past—get many other boys and girls killed, and no one will be accountable for it.”  The Nigerian military has a long history of murdering its citizens in the name of the state.

Furthermore, the danger to the children during their exam time was a problem anticipated by the  West African Examination Council, who asked state officials to relocate the exams to the State capitals because they were worried about the security situation in the rural towns. Borno state governor, Kashim Shettima, refused to relocate the exams and insisted the security arrangements were adequate.

Clearly the definition of ‘adequate’ depends on whether you are a school kid in Chibok or a head of state visiting Abuja for the World Economic  Forum where the schools are closed ‘to ensure the smooth flow of traffic’.

From Chibok to New York the girls are on everyone’s agenda, every organisation with a communications team on tap makes sure they are seen to be a part of the action that is taking place in the darkness of our Grimms fairytale forest where it is claimed the girls are raped ‘up to 15 times a day‘.

We may not all be Malala’s anymore but that’s alright because Malala (or the comms team that acts in her name) stands in solidarity and anyway a faded and failed UK politician, Gordon Brown, has jumped from the bandwagon to the plane.   Any minute now Oprah will launch a foundation and Tony Blair will call for the resurrection of Abacha.

Now the names of the girls have been leaked by a Christian organisation with what appears to be a political mission and President Goodluck Jonathan has appeared on TV in a fumbled address where he seemed to highlight the virtues of the Niger Delta militants, MEND, in preference to Boko Haram.  Better the devil that feeds your political platform than one that feeds the platform of the opposition?

He also explained that corruption is misunderstood – it’s common thievery. Is that why he suspended Central Bank governor, Lamido Sanusi, when Sanusi blew the whistle on a multibillion dollar rip-off of the nation’s oil accounts?

The last time Goodluck Jonathan appeared on CNN it is claimed it cost him $40,000 to PR firm, Fleishman-Hillard, although in the world of political lobbying the Nigerian president is small fry compared to the PR antics and vicious attacks on critics of the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame.  They can share some tips when they both appear as speakers at the World Economic Forum in Abuja to discuss ‘how can the continent’s growth strategies be more inclusive.

That bad publicity is better than no publicity is not an axiom the powers-that-be subscribe to in Nigeria and heads will roll, not for the loss of school girls in Chibok but for drawing attention to the failure of the state to protect it’s citizens.

While the beleagured president has admitted that he has no idea where the girls are being held, his wife was demonstrating her solidarity by theatrically screaming “Dia ris God” while simultaneously warning Nigerian women that they: “would have themselves to blame should anything happen to them during the protests.”

Only 24 hours later her threats became real with the arrest of  Chibok Women’s Leader in Abuja, Mrs Naomi Mutu, who was taken to Asokoro Police Station and held without access to lawyers.

Nigerian author, Chimamanda Adichie, said that’s not the president I want: “I want a president consumed by the urgency of now, who rejects the false idea of keeping up appearances while the country is mired in terror and uncertainty.”

Adichie knows first hand about how her country likes to keep up appearances when the Nigerian film censors ‘delayed’ the launch of a film based on the her book,  Half of a Yellow Sun, reportedly because it’s depiction of another painful episode of Nigerian history, the civil war in Biafra, is too close to the history of the fractured present.

And that fractured present is so complex, so enmired in a convoluted past that is quickly erased in the superficiality of social media campaigns and quick click-bait links that ignore Goodluck Jonathan’s own admission on the fragmented, embedded nature of the violent beast.

“Some of them are in the executive arm of government; some of them are in the parliamentary/legislative arm of government while some of them are even in the judiciary. Some are also in the armed forces, the police and other security agencies…”

We have seen the unimagined consequences of internet activism in the Congo which is now strangely named the ‘rape capital of the world’ spawning an endless parade of celebrities and Kick-Starter video projects.

Despite their feel-good factor for those who tweet, click and organise, they have been blamed by Congolese NGOs  for focusing on an end result that produces ‘victims’ instead of prevention while wasting money on administration and western experts.  The devastating conclusion is that:  “there is no evidence that the foreign aid is having any impact on the epidemic of sexual violence.”

So while we may think that ‘a call for action’ is the ‘right thing to do’ we need to pause for breath and ask why we single out particular issues over a myriad other injustices. Where are the hashtags for the thousands of Muslims forced to flee their homes in the Central African Republic?

What happened after our ‘concern’ for Iraq descended into unimaginable (and now unreported) daily violence?  What about the 600,000 Americans who are without a home on any given night?  Or Trade Treaties that will enable corporations to challenge governments in court who try to restrict their behaviour?

Meanwhile, we should recall that it was a claim to ‘make a difference’ that justified the murder, by the Belgian government (in cahoots with the CIA ), of Congo’s first democratically elected president, Patrice Lumumba, and the ‘War on Terror’ has probably done more for recruitment to Islamic radicalism than any Al Shabaab video on YouTube.

As Teju Cole says when speaking of the White Saviour Complex, which he observes is the fastest growing US industry, “If we are going to interfere in the lives of others, a little due diligence is a minimum requirement.”

In that respect, as the call to #bringbackourgirls erases any political underpinnings, we would do well to be reminded that in 2013 the Nigerian military killed more people than the loose conglomeration known as Boko Haram.  Alongside this, as kidnapping is so often a lucrative business, we have to accept that any social media campaign is guaranteed to up the value of the trade.


  • Nigerian Realist says:

    Just for the record, this is actually neither “your” hashtag campaign not is it targeted at you. It is a campaign started by Nigerians in here Nigeria and directed at the Nigerian government. Of course, you, Teju and anyone else “out there” is individually welcome to join us (and we are certainly glad for all who have freely opted to) or to stay away, but it is in extremely poor taste to mock us. Thanks.

    • digitaldjeli says:

      No, you are quite right it is not “my/our” hashtag campaign – I’ve studiously avoided tagging my tweets but I have to ask which bit of CNN in Nigeria and ‘unimagined consequences’ did you miss? Or indeed the reference to the arrest of Nigerian protestors….

      But to imagine that a valid and powerful democratic protest in Nigeria is the same thing as foreign celebrities and politicians seizing opportunites and bandwagon jumping with a hashtag is to diminish the agency of Nigerians to critique their government – they are definitely not the same thing……………

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