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For the last few months all eyes have been on the Ukraine with American mainstream media’s endless flurry of headline news updates about the protests, the violence, the major players and what’s at stake for the country. President Obama and Vice President Biden have been vocal, the general public has exercised their concern, and I have seen my fair share of “Pray for the Ukraine” on social media. But there is another crisis happening, one that has wrought violence, has its own major players, and has a lot at stake for both the US and the region. This crisis has not received as prominent coverage as the crisis in Ukraine and the underlying question is why. But first, what is this crisis?
Boko Haram, which translates to “Western education is sin,” is a terrorist group that is trying to impose strict enforcement of Sharia law in Nigeria. The group allegedly has ties to al Qaeda and sources say that its presence in the country predate the al Qaeda era. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation with 170 million inhabitants and is also its biggest economy, but for the past five years they have lived under the enlarging thumb of Boko Haram. The group was founded in 2002 by cleric Mohammed Yusuf who wanted a pure Islamic state in Nigeria. Police killed him seven years later. It is now lead by the elusive Abubakar Shekau who came out of hiding for long enough to make a video admitting to last week’s bus station bombing, the deadliest attack ever in Nigeria. Shekau has also been at the forefront of attacks waged on churches which has resulted in Christian leaders urging dialogue with the group. And though it is an Islamist terrorist group they have also attacked other Muslims. Recently, the group set their sights on destroying the Nigerian government and, as of last week, Boko Haram was behind the abduction of nearly 200 schoolgirls. Dozens have escaped but the fate of the missing girls is still to be determined.
Boko Haram and Shekau have wreaked havoc in Nigeria for five years and yet coverage of this doesn’t receive breaking or headlines news status on American cable networks. You can find stories about the crisis on major news sites—buried underneath features–but few, if any, are doing hour-long specials or conspicuous updates on site. What makes the lack of featured coverage all the more interesting is the bilateral relationship between the United States and Nigeria. Prior to the nullification of Nigeria’s presidential election in 1992, the US was Nigeria’s greatest trading partner and its most important diplomatic partner. It went through a period of strained relations and sanctions, which were alleviated by the arrival of General Abdulsalami Abubakar, President of Nigeria from June 1998 to May 1999. In regards to the current terms of bilateral relations, the US has programs in place geared toward securing the well being of Nigerians and ensuring that their democratic institutions are strengthened and secure. Furthermore, the US is invested in Nigeria as a capital enterprise because it is the largest foreign investor in Nigeria with direct investment concentrated in the petroleum/mining and wholesale trade sectors. This is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Nigeria-US relations but it shows that the US has as much vested interest in protecting Nigeria as it does in protecting and promoting Ukraine. Yet, by the way media covers the crisis in Ukraine versus the crisis in Nigeria, we wouldn’t know that any such relationship or responsibility existed.
It isn’t clear why American media doesn’t prominently cover the stories of the Nigeria crisis, why the kidnapping of 200 schoolgirls doesn’t interrupt our regularly schedule programming, or why the nation’s deadliest disaster didn’t force all of us, regardless of color or creed, to slow down. We can speculate on these things and claim that Nigeria doesn’t get coverage because black bodies don’t matter nearly as much as white bodies. Or maybe it is the argument that black people are violent by nature so why state the obvious. Or maybe the issue is that it isn’t a black and white issue because Boko Haram is attacking both Christians and Muslims, men and women, and children. But we can all agree that this is news that should matter not just to those of us who are descendants and part of the African diaspora but to those of us who believe in the common humanity of all people.
In the world of so-called “fair and balanced journalism” there should be a way to level the playing field to ensure that stories such as the Nigerian crisis have coverage on par with the Ukrainian crisis. Both stories involve a nation in turmoil, citizens in danger, violence and destruction that are ravaging the land, and crumbling government infrastructures just to name a few. Indeed we here at UrbanFaith consider it our responsibility to cover the news of the diaspora but we also recognize the common humanity that we share with those outside of it. It is our hope that more media outlets will recognize the common humanity of people from the Ukraine to Nigeria and beyond and that both can share the space of breaking and headline news. That news of the abduction of 200 schoolgirls will be as important as news of protest. Until then, we will certainly try our best to keep our readers up to date about the situation in Nigeria and we ask that you would hold the country in your prayers alongside the Ukraine.