By Matt Holzapfel
While most people have heard of the Nigeria-based terrorist group Boko Haram, what they don’t know is how much the group’s actions have affected Nigeria and the people that live there. Women are kidnapped, children are dropping out of school, and the country’s economy is in extremely poor condition. If all these things are happening, why is no one talking about it?
The Elon Politics Forum presented the Boko Haram Panel Wednesday night in the McBride Gathering Space inside Elon’s Numen Lumen Pavilion. The panel discussed a variety of topics regarding the terrorist organization Boko Haram and their impacts on the African nations of Nigeria, Chad, and Niger. The Panel was made up of four members of the Elon community: Elon Student Mohammad Musah, who spent eight months working in Nigeria as a journalist with a Nigerian news company, Elon student and Elon African Society treasurer David Olatidoye, Elon Professor of Religious Studies Dr. Ariela Marcus-Sells, and Elon student Bridget Smith who is a Political Science major.
The four panelists were given five questions throughout the forum, each relating to either Boko Haram or how Boko Haram has affected Nigeria recently.
Question One: Why aren’t international terrorist organizations like Boko Haram being covered by the news media?
“It’s a really good question as to why we’re not reporting it,” said Musah. “You would talk to somebody in Laos about the attacks and they wouldn’t even care.” The point that the panelists made was that since Boko Haram only carries out attacks and makes threats against African nations, there seems to be a general lack of interest in the Western world. This lack of interest is especially emphasized when compared to terrorist organizations such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda who have made threats against the United States and their allies, as well as carried out attacks in some of these countries.
Question Two: What can the regional governments and the UN do to promote female equality and women’s rights in the region?
The problem here lies in Boko Haram’s understanding and use of Sharia Law. “Boko Haram’s understanding of Sharia Law is very rare,” said Dr. Marcus-Sells. “Many of the people in Boko Haram dropped out of school at a very young age.” Boko Haram has decided to define Sharia Law in different ways than the rest of the world who employs it. Because of these misinterpretations, women have been known to be mistreated and abused by members of the organization. “I think it’s essential to teach people that Islam isn’t a religion that hates women and targets women,” adds Mohammad Musah.
Question Three: What measures should the domestic governments of these affected areas take to prevent the spread of a radical religious group like Boko Haram in the future?
“This has to be an international effort,” said Marcus-Sells, an expert on religious studies.
“Nigeria can’t do this alone.” Nigeria is a relatively poor nation that cannot solely rely on their own government to bail them out and protect its citizens from terrorists. Groups like UNICEF as well as other, wealthier nations are being asked to step in and help out in Nigeria’s time of dire need. “A lot of it comes down to dissatisfaction wit the Nigerian government,” added Bridget Smith. “That’s why so many people join groups like Boko Haram.”
Question Four: In what way can increasing the literacy rates in these prospective nations help the current situation?
Nigeria has a literacy rate of 59.6%, while Chad is at 40.2% and Niger sits at 19%. All three of these rates are way below the global average. Part of the reason for this is the lack of emphasis that is put on attending and completing school in these countries, in fact, it is almost seen as a waste of time and money for kids to attend schools in many places. “An over-educated person with no job who doesn’t want to work on the farm” is what you get when you send you kids to school according to Dr. Marcus-Sells. Another problem is the lack of money circulating in Nigeria, “if you’re not connected to power,” says Musah, “you’re not gonna touch money.”
Question Five and Q/A Session: What ways can we as citizens help the people that have been persecuted by Boko Haram?
The panelists stressed the importance of sharing any news that you see regarding African nations and their ongoing problems with terror. “It’s about spreading awareness,” said David Olatidoye. “Just letting people know what’s going on in Africa and showing people that it’s important.” Mohammad Musah also stressed the importance of keeping a positive mindset when thinking about the terror-ridden nations, “there are plenty of good things going on in Africa.” We just need to make sure to focus on the good news that comes out of Africa too, not just the bad.
For more information on the Boko Haram Panel, you can go to https://elon.collegiatelink.net/organization/ElonPoliticsForum/calendar/details/1241362. To learn how you can host event for your organization in Numen Lumen Pavilion, check out http://www.elon.edu/e-web/students/religious_life/spaces.xhtml.