Reporting The North East
Many years ago, as far back as 1391, there was a riot against a Jewish settlement in Spain. Sentiments were always negative towards the Jews because they were said to be shrewd dealers- that is the context historians gave us. After this riot, the Jewish settlers moved into Morocco and began dealing in carpet and textile with the Malian empire across the Sahara. They spread the news about West Africa to Portugal and Spain. These tales triggered the gold and slave trade between Portugal and West Africa in the 15th century. News always has an impact. It forms perceptions, shapes beliefs, builds stereotypes and causes people to label one another like the Europeans labeled the Jews. These labels, beliefs, perceptions, and stereotypes are formed by years and years of repetition. This is why the writer of this piece believes 50 words of fitting context to every story from the Northeast told by the media will go a long way to end militancy.
The type of news shelf stories from the Northeast sit on
It is usually all about the exclusives, the clicks, and the views. It has practically become less about the people, the families, and their lives. When the crux of the gist is just laid out, the listener is left to mould the news into whatever perception he or she chooses.
Between April of 2011 and June of 2017, Boko Haram used 244 suicide bombers in different locations of Yobe, Adamawa, and Borno. Thankfully, a logical reader is given some pieces of tools to shelving the report within this version of events: Girl dies as Army prevents suicide bomb attack in Adamawa – Pulse Nigeria. Right from the headline, the reporter makes it clear to the reader that lots of these girls are forced.
The other pieces of data synched into the report, helps the reader understand the hapless state of the girl child in the unending asymmetrical warfare.
Critical contexts for filing reports from the Northeast. When UNICEF released the statement on the Civilian Joint Tax Force freeing 1,727 child soldiers, what the writer of this piece did not know, was that the children were mainly used as non-combatants. This is an important context that was sliced out of all the reports this writer read.
A news story without context which is the ‘why,’ is a mere rumour- a floating piece of information that could help reinforce one’s most blindly formed belief if not given its true cubicle or any at all. It is the writer’s view that man’s most profound creeds are forged in the absence of photosynthesis. Journalism has the mandate to not just inform but help the reader think in the presence of sunlight. The well-reported news stories from the endangered Northeastern region the writer has read, are given a historical context. While this is good, the history itself was shaped by a chain of events which have not stopped occurring.
The Shrinking Lake Chad
There are an estimated 30 million mouths across four countries that depend on water from the Lake Chad Basin to farm, fish and earn a sane living devoid of arms. These 30 million pair of mouths are watching with sunken pairs of eyes as the water dries up and leaves them with its sandy bottom. The lake occupied 26,000 kilometers from the far west of Chad to Northeast of Nigeria, extending its reach to the Republics of Niger and Cameroon as well. By 2001, only 19 percent of that landmass was covered by the life carrying the water of the Lake Chad. How preternaturally coincidental is it then that less than a decade after 2001, the stretch of land the lake receded from, was replenished with carnage by a mob of persons swaggering beneath the banner of creating a caliphate- ‘the core of their belief formed over indoctrinating years of repetition.’ In a well-articulated article, Africa’s vanishing Lake Chad | Africa Renewal, Ahmed Salkida, speaks of the glory days of the Baga fish market. All the writer ever knew about Baga was- a town controlled by Boko Haram.
In a paper by Jadesola Babatola on the Challenges of Nigeria Borders and Frontier Security, she observed despite the fact that Nigeria has fewer neighbors with a shorter land border which should make it safer than Mauritania, Angola or South Africa, only four African countries namely: Democratic Republic of Congo, Central Africa Republic, Chad and Libya, with longer land borders and more neighbors are worse off than Nigeria. The country has at list 1,400 entry points according to the Nigeria Immigration Service, only 84 of these posts are official.
In Adamawa state alone, there are 83 illegal points of entry. This means that there are in one of the six northeastern states alone 83 non-official points for nomadic tribes across the Sahel in search of water for their cattle to troop into Nigeria and put pressure on water resources farther into the country and that is not all. Across the Sahel, down to Libya, there are active militia groups and bandits.
The countries of Chad, Niger, Cameroon, Mali and other countries along the Sahel, are in the Least Human Development category of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index. An estimated 350 million small and light weapons have found their way into the country since 2010. These are facts known to the media; they do not need to be written in 1,500-word articles, wait for reports from UN bodies or hold on for stories directly related to these happenings before they are told. They can be framed in any 400-word reports on the Northeast pretty well.
The Girl Child and Education in the Northeast
Another root holding up the branches of violence in the Northeast is the treatment of the girl child and the attack on an already insufficient educational system in this part of the country.
Any data that put the number of murdered teachers in the states ravaged by Boko Haram attacks at below 2,295 is false. A 2018 report by the United Nations Children Fund, “I Will Never Go Back to School”: The Impact of Attacks on Education for Nigerian Women and Girls – Summary – Nigeria | ReliefWeb, says a further estimate of 19,000 teachers are fortunate to have been displaced alone; another over 1,400 schools have been destroyed, looted or damaged; over 600,000 students are also numbered among the exiled. These ones are again thankful not to have been captured by the human trees of terror planted in the desolation created by an absence of good governance.
How these killing beings were cultivated
The climate of the terrain in focus is very supportive of the seamless marriage and divorce of girls while they are in secondary school. The environment out here gives any girl born as a child, the greatest aspiration of ‘mother to maybe 10 children for two husbands.’
If a plaque of honor is given out to countries where girls are married off early, then Nigeria is worthy of one- UNICEF says the country is second-runner up with 3,538,000 child brides as at 2017. If you met a lady between 20 and 49 years of age from Northeastern Nigeria, the tendency is that 7 out of ten would have been married before they turned 18. UNICEF puts the rate at 68 percent. The World body’s 2017 research labeled the instances where you find child brides to include; Nigeria’s poorest, rural households and the Hausa ethnic group. Most of these class of people are either in the Northeast or Northwest. The World Bank (where Nigeria runs for help in finding money to execute infrastructural development projects before the advent of China) says taking girls out of school and forcing them into motherhood costs Nigeria $7.6bn in lost earnings and productivity every year, according to a 2017 report, Nigeria – Child Marriage Around The World. Girls Not Brides.
It is the inability of these poor husbands and boxed wives to deal with their many children that sees their abandoned progeny turning to one of the 350 million small and light weapons littered around for survival. Sidi Ali Mohammed, a member of the Presidential Committee on the Northeast Initiative (PCNI), is quoted as saying, ‘Boko Haram Members Earn $3,000 Daily But Nigerian Soldiers Get N1,000’ | Sahara Reporters.
How Do We Contextualize All These?
The best of concepts that can be used to report the Northeast are historical. There is a need to make a correlation between the state of the North East and the issue of climate change as well as poor development indicators – all of which are offshoots of a dearth of good governance. With the coming on board of the North East Development Commission, polishing stories from this region with facts and voices that represent the aforementioned opinions would set the agenda and parameters on which the NEDC would operate.
This analysis does not speak of anything new but begs the media to frame these data into as much of their reports on the Northeast as possible, because the inferno in that terrain has enough brushwood in other parts of the country to cause a flame far worse than the 1666 great fire of London that destroyed the homes of 70,000 of the 80,000 residents of the medieval city.