by Renie Anjeh
Over the last fortnight, the international community has shown tremendous solidarity with the people of France after the horrendous terrorist attacks in Paris. Millions from across the world, from all faiths and none, took the streets in defiance of vile terrorists, in order to defend values that we hold dear – freedom, democracy, equality, rule of law. In our country, it has sparked a national debate about freedom of speech, liberty and security and the role of religion. If anything is clear from the last week or so, it is that the perpetrators of this disgusting attack on freedom have failed.
However, while the eyes of the world has been focused on France, little attention has been paid to atrocities that are taking place in Nigeria.
But first, let’s go back to last April. 276 schoolgirls, studying at a school in Borno State in north Nigeria, were kidnapped by Boko Haram, and as news of the abduction spread, awareness of this terrorist group grew. The Twitterati took to their smartphones to calling on Boko Haram to #BringBackOurGirls.
Celebrities with melancholic faces held placards calling on Boko Haram to do just that. Our Prime Minister David Cameron and the First Lady Michelle Obama also joined in, demonstrating their anger at the terrorist group. Goodluck Jonathan, the criminally ineffective President of Nigeria, called Boko Haram to release the girls but blamed the parents of the girls who were kidnapped. But did Boko Haram ‘bring back our girls’? No. And the world forgot.
Now in January 2015, Boko Haram have killed 2,000 people in one single attack. Sixteen towns and villages in northeast Nigeria have been burnt to the ground. Almost 4,000 homes have been destroyed. Girls as young as 10, have been used by Boko Haram as ‘suicide bombers’, killing at least 23 people. 20,000 have fled their homes, with the majority seeking refuge in neighbouring Chad. As a result, Boko Haram now control 70% of Borno State, in northern Nigeria.
While it is true that Boko Haram is strong in Nigeria, they are also active in Cameroon, Niger and Chad. In Cameroon, airstrikes have been launched against Boko Haram and this week Boko Haram kidnapped 80 Cameroonians (50 of which were children) but their problems with Boko Haram are not new.
Last year, they attacked the region of Tourou in north Cameroon and even abducted the wife of the Cameroonian vice-president. Now Boko Haram control an area the size of Costa Rica and Slovakia, and they will stop at nothing until they will stop at nothing until they establish an Islamic caliphate in West Africa.
Paul Biya, the President of Cameroon, has called for assistance from the international community. His calls have been supported by Ignatius Kaigama, the Archbishop of Jos, in central Nigeria, who said that the world must show more determination to halt Boko Haram’s advance. They are right and we should heed their advice.
This is a classic case of ‘responsibility to protect’ and the world must start taking the threat of Boko Haram by showing the same resolve that it showed during the attacks in Paris. If it is right that world is carrying out action against ISIS in Iraq (which I believe it is), why not act against the new ISIS in Nigeria? There will undoubtedly be a coalition of Ukippers and lef-twing neo-isolationists who will argue that it is our proclivity for foreign intervention that has caused the rise of Boko Haram and ISIS but this argument elides the fact 9/11 took place before intervention in Afghanistan and that Nigeria has not experienced Western intervention but still faces the rise of Islamist terrorist group.
It has been said that Phillip Hammond and John Kerry have an initiative to deal with Boko Haram but they have not elaborated on any details. That is not good enough especially seeing as Russia (yes, Russia) have agreed to supply the Cameroonian army with more sophisticated and modern weaponry.
David Cameron should encourage his “bro”, Barack Obama, to act on this issue. He should be on the phone to Goodluck Jonathan asking him to put his election campaign aside and focus on supporting his own people. Parliament should debate this just as it debated the conflict in Iraq and Syria.
Also, there is a challenge for Labour. If Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister in May, which I hope he does, he must not give succour to the hard left in our party but do the right thing and show solidarity with the people of Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon.
Britain has a choice: either we can follow the path set by the Farageists and pull up the drawbridge even when people around the world need our help or we can continue to uphold the great British tradition of internationalism and openness. I know which choice I’d make!
Je suis Charlie, mais n’oublions pas les victimes de Boko Haram.
Renie Anjeh is a Labour party activist