Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Twisted National Conversation: The Boko Haram Saga

Stephen S. Enada


By Stephen S. Enada

June 16, 2014

In April, Nigeria woke up to Boko Haram’s shocking abduction of over 270 school girls in the quiet town of Chibok, in Borno State in northeastern Nigeria. The kidnapping has pricked global conscience and generated overwhelming protests with the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag campaign. The United States spearheaded the first phase of international support towards freeing the girls, and the United Kingdom, China, and France quickly followed in volunteering their technical and intelligence support to Nigeria to rescue the abducted girls. Sadly, our girls are still missing, and the search continues.

Boko Haram (which means “Western education is abomination”) came to attention in 2009 on the heels of several religious agitations, skirmishes, and killings dating to the1960s. It renewed the long-standing push for establishing an Islamic caliphate and Sharia law in Nigeria, an ideology promoted by its late leader Muhammad Yusuf who was killed extra-judicially by security forces in Nigeria in 2009. Boko Haram insurgency and other uprisings and riots by radical Muslim extremists in the past had led to over 30,000 deaths in Plateau, Kaduna, Abuja, Yobe, Zamfara, Adamawa, Nassarawa, and Kano States.

Comedian Will Rogers famously said, “All I know is what I read in the papers.” What the world knows about Boko Haram may not be far from what they read in the papers. But our national conversation in Nigeria has been colored with religious, ethnic, military, and media tones. It depends on who has the brush at a particular time that determines the painting.

Our national discourse has been controlled by a corrupt ruling class that has created religious fault lines, destroyed patriotism through ethnic tantrums, and created a judiciary that punishes the have-nots and protects the ruling class and their cronies. Balthasar Gracian, a Spanish-born Jesuit priest said, “Things are generally other than they seem, and ignorance that never looks beneath the rind becomes disabused when you show the kernel. Lies always come first, dragging fools along by their irreparable vulgarity. Truth always lags last, limping along on the arm of Time.”

Nigerian media has promoted a dramatic line of stories to form public opinion, producing a dangerous pattern in journalism and giving birth to partisan media. In the early days of the missing girls, the media colluded with the Nigerian military to tell the world that the girls had been rescued, only for that relief to be short-lived when the parents openly refuted the bogus claim. The international media refer to the missing girls as “Nigeria’s abducted girls” while the local media talks about “Chibok abducted girls.” This shows how most Nigerians interpret issues with an ethnic bias.

The babble of voices in the public domain about the whereabouts of the Chibok girls has deepened the agony of the parents. Conspiracy theories abound, shaping the national conversation. Since justice and rule of law take on ethnic or religious hues in Nigeria, the conversation about Boko Haram activities, terrorism financing, intelligence gathering, and military response to rescue the abducted girls gets lost in the accusations and counter claims.

Nigeria’s problem is aptly reflected in the problem of the abducted girls. Lack of patriotism and widespread corruption have affected all areas of national life and have negated our good intention to see the nation develop for the benefit of all its citizens. Corruption has affected the effectiveness of the Nigerian military, leaving it ill-equipped for the quick rescue operation that the situation demands. Because wounded soldiers are not properly treated and widows of soldiers who die in active service are neglected, the military men and women are not motivated to confront the Boko Haram.

Nigeria faces a real leadership deficit and our current corrupt leaders undermine and destroy our national integrity system. International pressure on the government may force it to unlearn the habit of misinforming both the local and international community. It may also end the usual practice of public office holders of taking advantage of national tragedy for personal gain.

In response to this overall leadership deficit and widespread corruption, I have personally been involved in efforts to promote integrity building within local communities. We identify representatives to collect data on the transparency, participation, and effectiveness of development projects in their communities. The goal is for the feedback to be directly integrated into a process that improves the integrity of public infrastructure and services in Nigeria. Efforts are also underway from some Christian denominations to develop biblical content that prepares Nigerian Christians to function intentionally from a biblical worldview, bringing the truth of God’s word to bear in all areas of public life. We hope and pray for real transformation in Nigeria’s national conversation.

- Stephen S. Enada is a convener of the National Conversation Project promoting religious freedom, free society, respect, responsibility, and rule of law in Nigeria. He is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Global Leadership from Fuller Theological Seminary. 

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”