What’s Really Going On In Baga? Trying to separate fact, fiction & rumor about recent attacks in Northern Nigeria
Government efforts to co-opt journalists in Nigeria has been an ongoing problem for decades, but in light of a looming election in February and recent deadly attacks on villages in the Northern half of the country, communication from President Goodluck Jonathan‘s administration is practically non-existent, said the editor of Nigeria’s leading investigative newspaper on Sunday.
“Communication from the Nigerian government has been so flawed, that rumor has become the staple in reporting on this crisis,” said Dapo Olorunyomi, managing editor of The Premium Times of Nigeria. “The government didn’t even bother to say anything about this until it had become a major national scandal.”
Over the past week, there have been sparse reports of 2,000 people massacred in Nigeria: “Hundreds of bodies, too many to count,” reads one story in the January 10th edition of The Guardian. Nigerian government officials deny this, saying only 150 people have been killed in the attacks. “In the end, what does it matter? Whether it’s 2,000 or 150, one is too many,” said Olorunyomi, who is also founder of the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Reporting.
Olorunyomi spoke with All Digitocracy by phone about how journalists are trying to report on his country’s most current crisis, with little to no response from government officials. Part of the problem, Olorunyomi said, is that government officials are often suspicious of journalists. There’s a great deal of distrust between the government and news media, he added.
Journalists face difficulties in getting to the truth about the exact number of deaths for several reasons, Olorunyomi said. They include the government’s unwillingness to cooperate with news media, having to navigate difficult and remote terrain, and the fact that insurgents now control 50 to 60 percent of the the Northern Nigerian states where they operate.
The Nigerian government officials who insist that only 150 people have been killed are the same people who, in October, stated that President Jonathan had reached a ceasefire agreement with the militants, only to have the defense chief’s own home village fall under attack and control of Boko Haram a few short weeks later, Olorunyomi said. This is also the same government that has been unable to rescue more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped in April, he added. Government officials are consumed with the upcoming election, Olorunyomi said, so most information flowing from the administration is within that context, but the public is more interested in what’s happening with Boko Haram.
While the girls’ kidnappings are no longer foremost in the news, they still appear in the headlines from time to time largely due to the work of #BringBackOurGirls movement for keeping it there, Olorunyomi said. “Over Christmas we had several stories about some of the parents having to go through Christmas without their children,” he added.
Olorunyomi spoke with All Digitocracy in May about the missing girls and the difficulties journalists were experiencing in getting information from the government about the kidnappings. In wake of the latest attacks, that much has not changed, he said.
Right now the main headlines are about the deadly massacre in Baga, a fishing settlement on the shores of Lake Chad in Nigeria’s northeast Borno State.
“(Government officials) have really not offered credible, sensible information that’s convincing and more importantly information that helps to mobilize against this threat that they are facing,” Olorunyomi said.
Journalists are relying on reports from human rights activists, instead.
Images, some fake and some real, have now gone viral in the vacuum created by the government’s silence. While reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have been particularly enlightening, Olorunyomi said.
“The images popping up on social media are showing a very different story than what the government is telling,” Olorunyomi said.
With elections pending, Boko Haram has stepped up its attacks in efforts to drive President Jonathan from office. But that’s too much of a simplistic view, says Olorunyomi. “This is an insurgency that is probably six or seven years old now,” the editor said. “This is part of a pattern, and part of the jihadists’ overall agenda.”
Listen to the entire conversation about the growing threat, not just in Nigeria, but the whole of the West African region, with Dapo Olorunyomi, managing editor of The Premium Times of Nigeria: