Vigilantes in the region where more than 270 schoolgirls were abducted may not be able to rescue them, but they’re the best line of defense so far against new kidnappings. Five days a week, Agafi Kunduli spends the dead of night manning a checkpoint at the edge of his neighborhood in Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria’s northern Borno state, along with a group of perhaps 15 part-time recruits and five uniformed members of the Volunteer Vigilance Youths’ Group. Armed with an axe or a machete, he stops incoming cars for questioning: Who are they? Where are they coming from? What brings them to this area? Anyone with an unsatisfactory answer is held until the Nigerian military can deal with them the next morning.
In northeastern Nigeria, where Boko Haram enjoys a stronghold, kills with impunity, and kidnapped more than 270 schoolgirls last month, young civilians have been taking protection and justice into their own hands. In June 2013, discontent with Nigeria’s official Joint Military Task Force (JTF) spawned an unofficial offshoot—widely dubbed the Civilian Joint Task Force—a loosely organized network of vigilantes facing down AK-47-wielding militants with axes, knives, and bows and arrows.
They’ve had, according to some accounts, remarkable success. On Tuesday morning a group of vigilante villagers from a town 150 miles from the capital reportedly fought off a major assault, killing 200 militants and arresting ten, with no villagers reported killed. Such claims are hard to confirm, but it may be true, as one local told the Associated Press, that “it is impossible” for Boko Haram to attack since the vigilante group was organized. “You protect your people, your property, your environment—or Boko Haram comes in,” says Kunduli, a 33-year-old Maiduguri native who works as a consultant and program developer for a non-governmental organization called 1 Game. In December 2012, Kunduli found himself the target of Boko Haram, when a complex of 12 shops owned by his family was burned down, presumably as retribution against him for working in education advocacy. For the past six months, Kunduli has been taking shifts as a volunteer guard, leaving after dark and arriving back home between 1 a.m. and 4 a.m. Kunduli says some of the Civilian JTF members—ranging in age from 15 to 35—go to school by day and guard their communities by night.
“Staying up late, it’s worth it,” he says. “Your brothers and sisters can go out in the morning and come back safely [and] the school cannot be bombed.” The Nigerian military’s response to Boko Haram has been a well-documented and widely criticized disaster of extra-judicial detention, torture, and killings, which has successfully eroded civilian faith in the protection offered.
“Everyone trusts the Civilian JTF more than the military,” Kunduli says.
In May 2013, a state of emergency was announced for the northern states, and the Nigerian government flooded them with troops to weed out militants. But critics say their efforts were indiscriminate. “They come in and don’t know who’s Boko Haram so they think everybody is one,” says Kunduli. “Boko Haram is harassing you, the military is harassing you. Everyone is harassing you.”
This abuse kicked the locals into action with impressive results. Vigilante brigades found that a sparse chain of command (each group has an appointed chairman and two or three assistants) allowed them to surpass the time-consuming relay of orders and permissions of a military operation. “The Civilian JTF says, ‘We will approach the enemy’—you cannot approach the enemy without being given a command in the military,” Kunduli says. “The hierarchy of command is entirely different and this is what made them effective.” The conflict is up close and personal for the paramilitary fighters. Everyone in Borno State, Kunduli says, has been affected by the insurgency. “Boko Haram incidents have touched you in one way or another,” he says.The government of Borno State has been a proponent of the Civilian JTF. For three months last year it conducted training sessions for batches of young fighters. The Borno Youth Empowerment Scheme was a short boot camp for thousands of youth, outfitting them with uniforms, and granting a small monthly stipend of around $100. But as the state’s deputy governor warned at a training ceremony, “It is only law enforcement agencies…who have the power to arrest or detain suspected criminals like Boko Haram sect members or robbers. The idea of the civilian JTF trying to take laws into their hands by acting alone is wrong. This must stop now.”
The Civilian JTF and the official military JTF started off in collaboration, but recently the Civilian JTF organization has begun to fracture into smaller, splinter groups of vigilantes. And the Nigerian military’s relationship with the paramilitary groups became strained after allegations that Boko Haram members had infiltrated their ranks (similar charges have been directed the other way as well). During the first October youth training, more than 30 insurgents reportedly were arrested after disguising themselves to infiltrate the Civilian JTF.
This March, two Civilian JTF members were killed by Nigerian soldiers in a fight over what to do with prisoners the vigilantes had caught. While praise has been heaped onto the vigilantes, criticism isn’t too far behind. Suspected militants arrested by vigilantes have been killed a number of times rather than turned over to law enforcement, and members of the Civilian JTF are accused of burning the house of a politician they suspected had Boko Haram ties.
Ironically, the emergence of the Civilian JTF may have inspired more killing of innocent civilians by Boko Haram as it exacted revenge against the resistance. In 2013, a captured Boko Haram fighter gave a rare interview to All Africa. “[O]ur original target was security operatives and politicians,” he said. “But since the formation of Civilian JTF who now reveal our identities and even arrest us, we decided to kill anyone that is from Maiduguri, because we believe every person in Maiduguri and some other towns of Borno State are members of Civilian JTF.”
A November Human Rights Watch report outlined these fears, calling the Civilian JTF, “a worrisome new dimension to the violence.” Civilian Joint Task Force members “inform security forces about presumed local Boko Haram activity,” it said, and “the Islamist group then retaliates against both the neighborhood vigilante group and the broader community.”
Kunduli says he hopes “this is the beginning of the end of Boko Haram,” after a recent surge in international media attention and military assistance after the kidnapping of more than 270 girls at a school in the town of Chibok. But powerful, unorganized militant groups may pose problems after this period of turmoil plays out, leaving behind a power vacuum. Other countries have struggled with independent groups that formed to protect civilians but later became untamable. In Colombia, vigilantes battling FARC became notorious for brutal civilian massacres.
Kunduli is well aware of the potential danger, he says, and quotes the Nigerian version of an old adage: “An idle mind is a devil’s workshop.”
Some of the schoolgirls kidnapped by Islamic militant group Boko Haram have been paraded on video.
The terror group said many of them had been converted to Islam while being held and all those on the footage are wearing headscarfs.
The group’s leader said that it will release them in exchange for militant prisoners being freed.
Scroll down for video
Chilling: The schoolgirls were paraded on video by Boko Haram
Captured: The video shows the girls wearing the full-length hijab and praying in an undisclosed rural location
Extremist group Boko Haram seized 276 girls who were taking exams at a school in Borno’s north-eastern village of Chibok on April 14
The flamboyant leader of the terror group addresses the camera, offering Nigerian authorities a deal
Abubakar Shekau said that the girls would never be released unless there is an exchange with prisoners
The girls recite Islamic prayers during the clip as they sit in a group in a wooded area
Ordeal: This girl, who was made to speak to the camera, appeared fearful
The Nigerian government has reportedly rejected this offer and has two army divisions hunting for the seized girls.
Some girls on the 17-minute-long video, which was obtained by news agency AFP, spoke to camera, and looked extremely nervous.
The girls recite Islamic prayers during the clip as they sit in a group in a wooded area.
After the girls appear the Boko Haram leader, AbubakarShekau, wearing military fatigues and holding an AK-47, addresses the camera. He appears confident and at one point laughs.
‘All I am saying is that if you want us to release the girls that we have kidnapped, those who have not accepted Islam will be treated as the Prophet (Mohammed) treated infidels and they will stay with us,’ he said, according to a translation of his words originally spoken in a Nigerian language.
‘We will not release them while you detain our brothers,’ he said, before naming a series of cities in Nigeria. It was not clear whether he was in the same location as the girls.
The video came through channels that have provided previous messages from Shekau, who speaks in the video in the Hausa language of northern Nigeria.
An unidentified armed man (right) films the captured schoolgirls, possibly being held somewhere in north-eastern Nigeria
Militant: The leader of Boko Haram, Abubakar Shekau, vows to sell the hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped in northern Nigeria for as little as £7 during a video message
The video, which shows around 130 of the girls, was aired after the governor of the Nigerian state from where they were kidnapped said that he knew where some of them are being held.
Kashim Shettima, the Governor of Borno, said that he’d received reports of sightings of the girls and had passed on this information to the military.
Extremist group Boko Haram seized 276 girls who were taking exams at a school in Borno’s north-eastern village of Chibok on April 14. Some managed to escape, but around 200 remain missing.
Mr Shettima told the BBC: ‘We’ve got reports of them being sighted in some locations – which we have conveyed to the relevant military authorities, for them to cross-check, verify and get additional information on the accurate location of the daughters.’
His comments came as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, called for negotiations with the terrorist group over the fate of the missing girls.
The Archbishop, who has acted as a hostage negotiator in Nigeria on behalf of the Church in the past, said the girls were at ‘colossal’ risk.
‘They are in the hands of a very disparate group which is extremely irrational and difficult to deal with – and utterly merciless,’ he told BBC Radio Four’s The World This Weekend programme.
A map showing the recent Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria over the past month
Borno state Governor Kashim Shettima said that he’d received reports of sightings of schoolgirls kidnapped by extremist group Boko Haram
The Archbishop said he had negotiated in the past with a predecessor group of Boko Haram and suggested it might be ‘possible’ to strike a deal – although he warned it was ‘questionable’ who was in charge of the group.
Who are Boko Haram? Insight into the Nigerian terror group
Boko Haram was founded in 2002 by Mohammed Yusuf – but it didn’t gain worldwide notoriety until it began a violent insurgency in earnest in 2009.
Ultimately, the group wants Nigeria to become an Islamic state.
Since mid-2009 it has killed thousands and has destabilised swathes of the northeast of Nigeria, as well as neighbours Cameroon and Niger.
Its name means ‘Western education is forbidden’ – and it’s the country’s school system that in the main fuels its anger.
Security forces view the scene of a bomb explosion at St. Theresa Catholic Church at Madalla, Suleja, just outside Nigeria’s capital Abuja, on December 25, 2011 – which Boko Haram claimed responsibility for
But the group has murdered people –including Muslims – for merely speaking out against it.
Yusuf established an Islamic school and mosque, which proved popular with many poor Muslim families.
He was killed by Nigerian security forces in 2009, but rather than weaken the group, it re-emerged with increased ferocity under the leadership of Abubakar Shekau.
It has bombed churches, barracks and even the UN headquarters and ruthlessly gunned down those who criticise it, typically using gunmen on the back of motorbikes.
President Goodluck Jonathan became so alarmed at the chaos the group was spreading that in 2013 he declared a state of emergency in the areas where it was most active – Borno, Yobe and Adamawa.
The Nigerian military has been fairly ineffective against the heavily armed group.
A lack of investment in training, failure to maintain equipment and dwindling cooperation with Western forces has damaged Nigeria’s armed services, while in Boko Haram they face an increasingly well-armed, determined foe.
Ruthless: Abubakar Shekau (centre) took over leadership of Boko Haram in 2009 – and the group’s campaign then became even more ferocious
The militants know the military’s limitations. A police source said a fighter jet flew over the market town of Gamburu last Monday as a group of gunmen killed at least 125, but the killers didn’t flinch, knowing they could not be targeted while scattered in a densely populated area.
‘In a typical unit, Boko Haram has between 300 and 500 fighters. It’s not a guerrilla force that you can fight half heartedly,’ said Jacob Zenn, a Boko Haram expert at U.S. counter-terrorism institution CTC Sentinel. ‘It’s snowballing. It’s getting more weapons, more recruits, their power is increasing every day.’
On February 12 dozens of fighters loyal to Boko Haram attacked a remote military outpost in the Gwoza hills.
A security source with knowledge of the assault said they came in Hilux tracks with mounted machine guns and showered the camp with gunfire.
Boko Haram’s fighters had little cover and were easily picked off – 50 of them died against nine Nigerian troops – but they still managed to make off with the base’s entire armoury stockpile of 200 mortar bombs, 50 rocket-propelled grenades and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, the source said.
Their ability to dart over the border into Cameroon, whose own security forces have shown little appetite for taking them on, gives the militants an added advantage.
Ethnic and religious divisions within the military have also bred some collusion with Boko Haram, sources say.
Can a hashtag offer any help to abducted girls?
Parents of the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls are hoping for a miracle. So far, all they have is a hashtag.
More than three weeks after Islamic extremists abducted the girls, world outrage is galvanizing Twitter and other social-media networks. But observers question whether the burst of online interest will last and whether it can ever elevate the case from a trending topic to a mandate for action.
‘People are finally taking it seriously,’ said Fayokemi Ogunmola a Nigerian-born sophomore at the University of Rochester who leads her campus Pan-African Students Association. Ongumola had followed the story since it broke April 15 but only recently saw more interest among classmates using the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag and wearing head wraps or the green and white of the Nigerian flag.
Support: David Cameron and CNN’s Christiane Amanpour with the Twitter campaign’s hashtag
Michelle Obama shared this photo of herself along with the caption ‘Our prayers are with the missing Nigerian girls and their families’
‘It’s a nice thing to use social media to get it out. This is a step in the right direction,’ Ogunmola said. ‘But the point is to actually find the girls.’
Though details of the abductions have been public since they were carried out, the case was not widely followed until #BringBackOurGirls and other hashtags attracted a torrent of attention.
More than 2.1million tweets using #BringBackOurGirls have been posted, according to Topsy, a site that offers Twitter analytics. Interest was relatively low until last week, when celebrities including singer Chris Brown sent messages that were widely circulated.
Hilary Clinton was among those who tweeted in support of the campaign, which encourages military intervention to recover the girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram rebels on April 14
Amy Poehler (right) and Malala Yousafzai (left) tweeted their support for the Bring Back Our Girls campaign
More than 380,000 tweets carried the hashtag on Wednesday, including one from Michelle Obama, who has been retweeted more than 53,000 times.
The flurry of attention on Nigeria brings to mind a similar campaign two years ago that introduced many people to Joseph Kony, a guerrilla leader whose group has abducted many Ugandan children who then became sex slaves or fighters. A video about Kony went viral in 2012, but public attention waned, and the warlord remains at large.
G. Nelson Bass III, a professor who teaches politics and international relations at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said the #BringBackOurGirls campaign appears far closer to the Kony campaign than to the kind of social media activity that organized much of the Arab Spring movement.
In the former case, public awareness widened but never resulted in any particular action, unlike in the Middle East, where social media were used to coordinate protests.
Piers Morgan’s tweet about Boko Haram, in which he described the kidnapping of the schoolgirls as ‘disgusting’
‘At its current moment, I fear this campaign lacks the information to do much more than educate,’ he said.
The acclaimed Nigerian-American author Teju Cole, writing for The New Yorker, called the abductions Twitter’s ‘cause of the day.’ Writing on Twitter, he suggested the hashtag campaign was accomplishing little, saying: ‘For four years, Nigerians have tried to understand these homicidal monsters. Your new interest (thanks) simplifies nothing, solves nothing.’
Boko Haram, the Islamist extremist group responsible for the kidnappings, did not enter Google’s top search terms until last Monday.
Gordon Coonfield, a Villanova University professor who studies new media, said the story of the Nigerian girls is following a familiar arc, in which interest is ignited and then quickly dissipates.
The drama presents an opportunity to the masses to casually adopt the hashtag as their cause: ‘People can care so fiercely at this moment only on the condition that they can completely forget about it tomorrow,’ he said.
‘Social media won’t find them,’ he said, but it could fuel broader discussions on injustice and what led to the kidnappings. ‘This will happen only if we can sustain a network of attention longer than 140 characters.’
Nigerians attacked by militants fleeing the country as they cannot trust the army to protect them
Brutalized residents of a border town repeatedly attacked by Boko Haram, who last week killed more than 300 people, say they are moving across the border to Cameroon because they cannot trust Nigeria’s government and military to protect them.
Gamboru has been targeted by the group in four attacks in the past year. But the fury and destruction wrought by last Monday’s attack was unprecedented: more than 1,000 shops, dozens of homes and 314 trucks and cars bombed and burned out, said the chairman of the local Gamboru-Ngala government, Bukar Mustapha.
Bodies still are being found a week later amid the mangled tin roofs that are all that remain of the marketplace and in the surrounding bush where people tried to flee the killers, he told visiting Borno state Governor Kashim Shettima on Sunday.
Women sit at Gamboru central market in northeastern Nigeria on Monday, burnt by suspected Boko Haram insurgents during the May 5 attack
The extremists also bombed the only bridge linking northeastern Borno to neighboring Chad and Cameroon, leaving a mess of concrete and twisted girders that now allows only light traffic. Lines of trucks ferrying goods are stuck on either side of the bridge.
Residents said they warned the military beforehand that they saw suspicious camps in nearby scrubland and suspected fighters of the Boko Haram terrorist network were preparing to attack. They suggested some soldiers are colluding with the extremists – not the first time such allegations have been made.
‘We have more reasons now to believe a possible conspiracy may not be ruled out in the last attack, because the troops earlier stationed in the town were withdrawn a few hours before the gunmen laid siege,’ a spokesman for the residents, Modu Bulama told an Associated Press reporter.
Bulama said the departing soldiers said they were being re-deployed along roads leading to Lake Chad to search for the 276 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram – but he did not believe that.
National and international outrage at the Nigerian government and military’s failure to rescue the girls abducted four weeks ago forced President Goodluck Jonathan to accept offers of help from the United States, Britain, France and China. On Sunday, he accepted an offer from Israel to send a team of counter-terrorist experts.
A soldier and other government officials inspect the bridge that was bombed by Boko Haram in Gambaru
Jonathan said on Sunday he was ‘very optimistic’ that the girls will be rescued with the international help.
But experts warn it will be difficult since the area they are in is vast. Reports last week indicated some had been forced to marry their abductors and others may have been carried across borders into Chad and Cameroon.
In Gamboru, Governor Shettima tried to reassure residents with promises that victims would get financial help and that his government would rebuild the market and compensate traders for burned goods.
The fury and destruction wrought by last Monday’s attack was unprecedented, with more than 1,000 shops, dozens of homes and 314 trucks and cars bombed and burned out in Gamboru
‘We, the entire community, have long concluded arrangements to leave Nigeria for Cameroon, where we believe our lives may be well protected and safe’, said trader Zannah Yerima. He said three of his brothers were killed in last week’s attack.
Resident spokesman Bulama said: ‘The latest incident proved that the federal government and its security forces have failed to protect our lives and properties. Now that the level of killings and destruction inflicted on us reached its peak, the only alternative for us is to take our entire families and seek permanent refuge in Cameroon.’
Thousands have been killed in the five-year-old Islamic uprising.
CNN anchor Isha Sesay will be live from Abuja on CNN International, Monday to Thursday at 5pm, 7pm, 8.30pm and 9pm CET.
(CNN) — He is the face of terror. A ruthless leader with a twisted ideology. And the sadistic architect of a campaign of mayhem and misery.
And yet, very little is known about Abubakar Shekau, the leader of Boko Haram.
He operates in the shadows, leaving his underlings to orchestrate his repulsive mandates. He resurfaces every once in a while in videotaped messages to mock the impotence of the Nigerian military. And he uses his faith to recruit the impressionable and the disenfranchised to his cause.
He’s a religious scholar
Shekau was born in Shekau village that borders Niger. He studied under a cleric and then attended Borno State College of Legal and Islamic Studies for higher studies on Islam.
That’s why he’s also known as ‘Darul Tawheed,’ which translates to an expert in monotheism, or the oneness of Allah.
He’s a polyglot
He speaks several languages fluently: Hausa, Fulani, Kanuri and Arabic. But English isn’t one of them. After all, he heads a group that rejects all things Western.
Even his age is unknown — estimates range between 38 and 49.
The U.S. State Department has Shekau’s year of birth listed as 1965, 1969 and 1975.
He’s a loner
Analysts describe Shekau as a loner and a master of disguise. He does not speak directly with members, opting to communicate through a few select confidants.
He uses many aliases: Abu Bakr Skikwa, Imam Abu Bakr Shiku and Abu Muhammad Abu Bakr Bin Muhammad Al Shakwi Al Muslimi Bishku among them.
He was an unruly No. 2
Boko Haram was founded by Mohammed Yusuf, a charismatic, well-educated cleric who drove a Mercedes as part of his push for a pure Islamic state in Nigeria. He wasn’t too effective as a leader and had a hard time keeping his second-in-command in check. Shekau was more radical and had grander designs.
… And merciless as No. 1
Mohammed Yusuf was killed in a security crackdown in 2009, along with about 700 of his followers. That left Shekau in charge. He vowed to strike back, and his group has spared no one: government workers, police officers, journalists, villagers, students and churchgoers. Human Rights Watch estimates that in the past five years, more than 3,000 people have been killed.
He’s come back from the dead
The Nigerian military has touted Shekau’s death several times, only to retract its claim after he appeared alive and vibrant in propaganda videos.
They almost got him in September 2012 when they raided his home, where he had snuck in for his six-day-old baby’s naming ceremony, according to the International Crisis Group. He managed to get away with a gunshot wound to the leg; his wife and three children were taken by the military.
He uses Islam to recruit and radicalize
The northeast, where Boko Haram has been most active, is economically depressed and among the least educated regions in Nigeria. Shekau has done a good job of convincing residents that the powers in Abuja are corrupt and a better system of government would be a strict enforcement of Islamic Sharia law across Nigeria. And his promise, coupled with a weapon and a license to plunder, has been enticing to hundreds of young men.
… and the government’s response isn’t helping
The central government’s heavy-handed and frequently untargeted anti-terrorism campaign has just helped create more members to sustain Boko Haram. The country’s own Human Rights Commission last year accused the military of arbitrary killings, torture and rape in its campaign against the group. This makes for fertile territory for Boko Haram.
Place of Birth: Yobe, Nigeria
Languages: Arabic, Hausa, Fulani, Kanuri
Aliases: Abu Bakr Skikwa, Imam Abu Bakr Shiku, Abu Muhammad Abu Bakr Bin Muhammad Al Shakwi Al Muslimi Bishku, Abubakar Shakkau
From the U.S. State Department’s Rewards for Justice
He’s exporting his brand of terror
There’s no firm evidence as yet that Boko Haram has ambitions beyond Nigeria. But its campaign of terror has spilled into remote parts of Cameroon and it appears to have informal links with militant Islamist groups in Mali and Niger.
He’s madegood on his brutal threat
It was in May 2013 that Shekau first announced in a video that Boko Haram would start kidnapping girls. The kidnappings, he said, were retaliation for Nigerian security forces nabbing the wives and children of group members.
The most horrifying instance was last month’s abduction of 276 girls from a girl’s school.
“I abducted your girls,” he taunted with a chilling smile in a new video that surfaced this week. “There is a market for selling humans. Allah says I should sell. He commands me to sell.”
There’s a $7 million bounty on his head
Shekau has been on the radar of U.S. officials since he came to power in 2009. Last June, the United States put a bounty on him, offering a reward of up to $7 million for information leading to his location.
… But that’s yet to yield results
Here’s why, says CNN’s Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour: “(African warlord) Joseph Kony’s had a bounty for years and years. Even with the ‘Stop Kony’ video that went viral, nothing has happened to get Joseph Kony — even though it’s about the only thing in Africa that the United States has committed some forces and some intelligence to.
“Osama bin Laden was not given up because of the $25 million bounty. And who knows whether this will be the case.”
Unilag UTME target
Are you preparing to gain undergraduate admission into the University of Lagos for the 2014/2015 academic session? The table below shows the cut-off marks for the various courses offered in Unilag and what you should aim for in your University Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) this year.
|SN||FACULTY||COURSE||2013/2014 MERIT CUT-OFF (%)||What you need in your UTME|
|History & Strategic Studies||58.63||245|
|Guidance and Counselling||53.75||225|
|Islamic Studies Education||47.13||200|
|Home Economics Education||47.50||200|
|Metallurgical & Materials||54.50||228|
|Petroleum & Gas||70.25||291|
|Surveying & Geoinfomatics||58.63||245|
|Urban Regional Planning||53.25||223|
|Medical Laboratory Science||67.75||281|
The table above shows the score to aim for in your UTME if you are hoping to gain admission into Unilag.
Posted by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
On the margins of my happy childhood, there was a shadow: the Biafran war. I was born seven years after it ended, and did not experience any material deprivations—I had a bicycle, dolls, books—but my family was scarred by it. In 1967, after massacres in northern Nigeria that targeted southeastern Igbo people, the southeast seceded and formed an independent nation called Biafra. Nigeria went to war to prevent the secession. By the time that Biafra was defeated, in 1970, at least a million people were dead, including my grandfathers—proud, titled Igbo men who were buried in the unmarked graves of refugee camps. My parents lost other relatives, and everything they owned. A generation was robbed of its innocence. The war was the seminal event in Nigeria’s modern history, but I learned little about it in school. “Biafra” was wrapped in mystery. At home, my parents spoke of it rarely and obliquely; I heard many stories about my grandfathers’ wisdom and humor, but few stories about how they had died.
I became haunted by history. I spent years researching and writing “Half of a Yellow Sun,” a novel about human relationships during the war, centered on a young, privileged woman and her professor lover. It was a deeply personal project based on interviews with family members who were generous enough to mine their pain, yet I knew that it would, for many Nigerians of my generation, be as much history as literature. In 2006, my publisher and I were braced for the Nigerian publication, unsure of how it would be received. We were pleasantly surprised: “Half of a Yellow Sun” became one of the best-selling Nigerian novels published in the past fifty years. It cut across different ethnic groups, started conversations, served as a catalyst for previously untold stories. I was heartened to hear from readers whose families had survived Biafra and those whose families had been on the Nigerian side.
But the Biafran war is still wrapped in a formal silence. There are no major memorials, and it is hardly taught in schools. This week, Nigerian government censors delayed the release of the film adaptation of “Half of a Yellow Sun” because, according to them, it might incite violence in the country; at issue in particular is a scene based on a historically documented massacre at a northern Nigerian airport. It is now up to the State Security Service to make a decision. The distributors, keen to release the film before it is engulfed in piracy, are hoping that the final arbiters of Nigerian security will approve its release. I find this absurd—security operatives, uniformed and alert, gathered in a room watching a romantic film—but the censors’ action is more disappointing than surprising, because it is part of a larger Nigerian political culture that is steeped in denial, in looking away.
Partly the result of an unexamined past and partly of the trauma of years of military dictatorship, a sustained and often unnecessary sense of secrecy is the norm in Nigerian public life. We talk often of the “sensitivity” of issues as a justification for a lack of transparency. Conspiracy theories thrive. Soldiers are hostile to video cameras in public. Officials who were yesterday known as thieves are widely celebrated today. It is not unusual to hear Nigerians speak of “moving forward,” as though it might be possible merely to wish away the unpleasant past.
The censors’ action is a knee-jerk political response, yet there is a sense in which it is not entirely unreasonable. Nigeria is on edge, with upcoming elections that will be fiercely contested, religion and ethnicity increasingly politicized, and Boko Haram committing mass murders and abductions. In a political culture already averse to openness, this might seem a particularly appropriate time for censorship.
But we cannot hide from our history. Many of Nigeria’s present problems are, arguably, consequences of an ahistorical culture. As a child, I sometimes found rusted bullets in our garden, reminders of how recent the war had been. My parents are still unable to talk in detail about certain war experiences. The past is present, and we are better off acknowledging it and, hopefully, learning from it.
It is sadly easy, in light of the censors’ action, to overlook the aesthetic success of the film. Its real triumph is not in its politics but in its art. The war is the background to the complicated romance of characters played by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton, both of whom give the most complex performances of their careers. As a flawed professor, Ejiofor is finally freed from the nobility that was central, and limiting, to his past major roles. Here, his range is breathtaking. Newton brings a nuanced blend of strength and vulnerability to a character for whom she eschews the vanity of a beautiful movie star. On the screen, their chemistry breathes. Cinema, Susan Sontag once wrote, began in wonder, the wonder that reality can be transcribed with such immediacy. Director Biyi Bandele’s eye is awash with magic, but also with a kind of nostalgia, a muted love, a looking back at a country to which this film is both a love letter and a rebuke.
Nigerians are sophisticated consumers of culture and, had the censorship board not politicized the film by delaying its release, I suspect that few people would have objected to it at all.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s most recent novel, “Americanah,” won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.
CDFIPB hereby informs all candidates who applied to positions in Nigeria Immigration Service that recruitment examinations are scheduled to hold on Saturday, March 15, 2014 at 7am prompt in your preferred examination state. Due to the state of emergency declared in 3 states of the country,
- Borno applicants should go to Gombe state
- Yobe applicants should go to Bauchi
- Adamawa candidates will write their exams in Taraba
Please, bring along your acknowledgement slip, ID card, writing materials and clothing suitable for physical exercise. To confirm the examination venue in your state, please contact the State Command of Nigeria Immigration Service. Thank you.
|1||ABIA||IBEKU HIGH SCHOOL, UMUAHIA|
|2||ADAMAWA||TRADE FAIR COMPLEX, JALINGO|
|3||AKWA IBOM||COMMUNITY COMMERCIAL SCHOOL, UYO|
|4||ANAMBRA||NNAMDI AZIKIWE UNIVERSITY, AKWA|
|5||BAUCHI||TAFAWA BELWA STADIUM, BAUCHI|
|6||BAYELSA||SAMSON SIASIA STADIUM, YENAGOA|
|7||BENUE||APER AKU SQUARE, MAKURDI.|
|8||BORNO||ABUBAKAR UMAR STADIUM, GOMBE|
|9||CROSS RIVER||FEDERAL GOVERNMENT GIRLS’ COLLEGE, CALABAR|
|10||DELTA||EVENT CENTRE, ASABA|
|11||EBONYI||ABAKILIKI STADIUM, ABAKILIKI|
|12||EDO||SAMUEL OGBEMUDI STADIUM, BENIN CITY|
|13||EKITI||OLUKAYODE STADIUM, ADO-EKITI|
|14||ENUGU||NNAMDI AZIKIWE STADIUM|
|15||FCT||NATIONAL STADIUM, ABUJA|
|16||GOMBE||ABUBAKAR UMAR STADIUM, GOMBE|
|18||JIGAWA||GOVERNMENT COMMERCIAL SECONDARY SCHOOL, DUSE|
|19||KADUNA||MURTALA MOHAMMED SQUARE, KADUNA|
|20||KANO||SANI ABACHA INDOOR STADIUM, KANO|
|21||KATSINA||FEDERAL COLLEGE OF EDUCATION, KATSINA|
|22||KEBBI||HALLIRU ABDU STADIUM, BIRIN KEBBI|
|23||KOGI||TOWNSHIP STADIUM, LOKOJA|
|24||KWARA||UNILORIN SPORTS STADIUM, ILORIN|
|25||LAGOS||NATIONAL STADIUM, SURULERE|
|26||NASARAWA||COLLEGE OF AGRICULTURE, LAFIA|
|27||NIGER||GOVERNMENT DAY GIRLS SEC. SCH, MINNA|
|28||OGUN||MUDA LAWAL STADIUM, ABEOKUTA|
|29||ONDO||NIGERIA ARMY BARRACKS, AKURE|
|30||OSUN||ST.CHARLES TECHNICAL COLLEGE, OSOGBO|
|31||OYO||LIBERTY STADIUM, IBADAN|
|32||PLATEAU||COMMAND COLLEGE, ZAIRA ROAD, JOS|
|33||RIVERS||LIBERATION STADIUM, PORT HARCOURT|
|34||SOKOTO||IMMIGRATION COMMAND & STAFF COLLEGE, SOKOTO|
|35||TARABA||TOWNSHIP STADIUM, JALINGO|
|36||YOBE||TAFAWA BALEWA STADIUM, BAUCHI|
|37||ZAMFARA||SAMBO GOVT. DAY SEC. SCHOOL, TUDUN WADA, GUSAU|