Compared to the terror act in Paris, Boko Haram’s massacre last week was of a far greater scale. Yet, Russia and the West are paying far less attention to it than to the Charlie Hebdo terror attack.


Children who fled their homes following an attack by Islamist militants, in North East Nigeria, wait to be registered at the camp for internally displaced people in Yola, Nigeria, Thursday Nov. 27, 2014. Thousands of people have fled their homes in recent times due to Boko Haram attacked . Photo: AP

Four million turned out to mourn the 17 who died in various attacks in Paris on Jan. 7-11 after the Charlie Hebdo shootings. How many, though, will turn out for the 2,000 who lost their lives in Nigeria to Boko Haram, a militant and self-professed radical Islamist movement based in northeast Nigeria, or the 20,000 who were forced out of their homes to become refugees after Boko Haram’s onslaught last week?

Few in the Western world will feel the pain of the massacre by Boko Haram. Why? Because, sadly, we are used to stories of death, atrocities and brutality from Africa. The Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, child soldiers in Sierra Leone, civil wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Mali, the Central African Republic, Sudan, South Sudan, and the list could go on. But we are not used to journalists being machine-gunned in their offices in the capital of a major Western city.

A man holds a a sign 'Stop Boko Haram' in Germany, Monday on Jan. 12. Photo: AP

We have the great privilege and luxury in the West of not being used to such events because for over two centuries we have worked to put our lives under the rule of law, not the rule of guns and whoever wields them. We learned to trust our government and our fellow citizens to settle differences and conflicts with restraint, trust in legal procedures, and democratic methods of law enforcement, such as civilian police under control of elected governments, and a court system that is independent and committed to following the law and not to promoting the agenda of any person or political party. 

The terrorists in Paris tried to take away that sense of trust and security. Awful though their deeds are, they will fail. More likely, they have inspired a renewed commitment to the institutions of rule of law that provides our true security. The terrorists themselves will be treated as criminals who violated those laws and who will be dealt with accordingly. But they will not succeed in putting their version of social order – Sharia enforced with bullets and slaughter – in place of that in the West.

But in Nigeria, as in much of Africa, the institutions to provide and protect the rule of law are weak. All too often, it is the guns that prevail, and thus we are not greatly surprised when dozens, hundreds, or even thousands are slaughtered by one group or another seeking to impose their views on others, or to claim the land or property they want for themselves.

This state of affairs can be changed. What must be done is for the leaders of African nations to come together and, instead of agreeing to protect their sovereignty, agree to protect their people. The tragedy of Boko Haram in Nigeria is that it could have been prevented by the vigorous action of Nigeria’s large and professional army. It was the Nigerian army, after all, that was key to stopping the ravaging forces behind the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The Nigerian military, if it were united behind a popular government, could take the measures needed to put down the Boko Haram revolt.

Of course, the Nigerian army is not doing so, precisely because the government of Nigeria is not united. It is split, mirroring the split in the nation, between Christians loyal to the southern regions and Muslims loyal to the north. These splits have prevented vigorous reaction to a regional problem, and left the Boko Haram revolt to grow and commit one atrocity after another.

There is little that anyone can do about the Boko Haram massacre. Only the Nigerian government can decide if it will get serious about protecting its own people, and overcome the North-South divisions that plague the country. Boko Haram should be seen as a threat to the law and order that would give all the people of Nigeria a better life. Instead it is seen as a local threat to people in the northeast corner of the country, and not a concern elsewhere. It is for this reason that Nigeria may wait a long time before it has law and order. Even though, if 4 million Nigerians  or 12 million, if the proportion to Nigeria’s population were the same as in France – came out at once they could end Boko Haram very quickly.

Thank goodness that 4 million Frenchmen and women came out to protest the violation of their laws and their security. That is how a free people show what is important, and preserve the institutions that assure their future.

The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.