#BringBackOurGirls: keyboard activism and celebrity power

12:43:00 AM BB 0 Comments

The #BringBackOurGirls campaign reminds me in many ways how Nigeria is no longer home the way it once was. Northern Nigeria is predominantly Muslim, and being raised in a Christian home in Bauchi, Northern Nigeria, was a life-shaping experience. I was born in the early hours of a morning curfew during a religious conflict. I grew up in the midst of sometimes radical Islam. Religious conflicts became a very uncomfortable norm. Every few months, there would be rumours of a religious attack on Bauchi’s Christian population and my family would have to spend the night in the safety of a military complex. I was raised in an environment where I mostly had to cover my head in public in order to show respect to the religious beliefs of the Muslim population. At an early age, I learnt the importance of going beyond tolerance and respect, but understanding the importance of diversity in many forms. Unfortunately, since I left Nigeria, these religious conflicts have gone from the occasional church raid to bombings and kidnappings.
I got accustomed to the feeling of helplessness. That intense feeling when you are surrounded by craziness and there is nothing you can do about it. I remember this incident quite vividly: a local university student got killed for leading and being the voice of the Christian organization in school. His body was dumped close to my high school and two of my friends witnessed that horrific sight on their way to school. There are some situations where it is okay to feel helpless. Is the recent kidnapping of 300 Nigerian school girls one of those situations?

I have reflected on the power of social media, specifically keyboard activists. Are they doing more harm than good? Thinking of keyboard activism in the context of Nigeria reminds me of how far my country has come. I think of how the keyboard activists in Nigeria brought this story to worldwide attention leading Western media to pick it up weeks after the incident happened. However, I feel uncomfortable because many of these keyboard activists in the U.S. and around the world are directly or indirectly calling for military intervention in Nigeria. This intense discomfort also stems from the fact that the U.S. military is expanding its role in Africa. This raises the question of how such keyboard activism can undermine the democratic process in Nigeria. Although I openly admit that my country’s democratic process needs a lot of work.

I cannot analyze keyboard activism without thinking of celebrity power. Celebrities looking stern holding a white board with the words #BringBackOurGirls written on it. Is this celebrity attention really helping? Yes and no. Yes, because it has made the social media campaign cool. It is now the popular thing to do. This has resonated in Nigeria, and has united Nigerians in Nigeria and beyond. Allow me to be simplistic here, but Nigerians are standing together and acknowledging that the Boko Haram issue is not one that is situated along ethnic and religious lines. This is a Nigerian issue. But I have to ask: when have street rallies and protests ever been effective in Nigeria. Especially when dealing with the complex area that is Northern Nigeria?

Nigerians living in many parts of Northern Nigeria continue to endure the menace that is Boko Haram daily. A kidnapping of this nature has never happened in Nigeria and we can analyze it in many ways. Boko Haram hates western education and girls which is why 300 were kidnapped from school. What about the dozens of boys who have been killed as well. Whatever lens we choose to understand the nature of their attacks, the bottom line is that 300 girls got kidnapped. This is terrible and the attacks need to stop. In addition, we need to critically examine this issue so we do not characterize it in the monolithic discourse that typically defines Africa. There is more to Nigeria than Boko Haram. I want the #BringBackOurGirls campaign to call for more accountability and transparency within the Nigerian democratic process. Outside that democratic process, feeling helpless in this situation is okay.


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