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The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Panel discusses life in the shadow of Boko Haram

Photo by Will Matsuda’15.
Photo by Will Matsuda'15.
Photo by Will Matsuda’15.

Last week the IGC Student Council held a panel event in Davis Court about Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist movement, as part of their speaker series entitled “Global Citizenship in the News.” The panelists shared how Boko Haram is affecting individuals and how the group has personally impacted them.

Boko Haram was founded in 2001, but became much more violent starting in 2009. The group aims to replace Nigeria’s current democratic government with an extremist theocracy.

Charnelle Etti ’15, a Macalester student from Cameroon, began the discussion with an overview of Boko Haram and the historical context of the issue.

“As a Cameroonian national living abroad, I was first introduced to the activities of Boko Haram in 2013, when militants in Cameroon’s far-north region kidnapped a French family,” Etti said.

Outside of other smaller acts like the kidnapping, the western world was largely familiarized with Boko Haram when they kidnapped 276 girls in Nigeria in 2014. This act quickly became a global phenomenon which sparked #BringBackOurGirls.

“The activities of Boko Haram may have disappeared from western media, but they remain a brutal reality for many Nigerians and, more recently, northern Cameroonians,” Etti said.

Today, Boko Haram targets security agencies, churches, schools, open markets, government informants, Christians, the UN and moderate Muslims who do not submit to their cause.

“As of January 2015, the group has taken complete control of and occupied around 15 local governments in northern Nigeria,” Etti said, highlighting the escalation of targeted attacks carried out by Boko Haram. “In 2014, Nigeria was estimated to have the most terrorism-related killings in the world that year.”

Dr. Bola Oyeledun, the CEO of the Centre for Integrated Health Programmes, a Nigerian non-governmental organization, joined the event via videochat from Abuja, Nigeria. Oyeledun’s medical work takes place in one of the regions most affected by these attacks: Gombe state, in the northern part of Nigeria.

“We work in several hospitals in three major towns. These towns have been under attack by Boko Haram,” said Oyeledun. “Some terrorists have infiltrated the hospitals and destroyed equipments and stolen drugs. But most importantly they affect the morale of the people who work in the community. Their state of mind is affected.”

Oyeledun explained that the regions where Boko Haram has been most brutal correlate with the regions that show endemic levels of poverty, illiteracy, poor health indicators and weak economic growth. These factors set the stage for Boko Haram. “It’s a vicious cycle,” said Oyeledun.

“Women and children bear most of the effect of the insurgencies,” said Oyeledun on how Boko Haram affected her work. “Women who are pregnant are likely to lose their children and the children need to be immunized, but they often cannot be located. They’re not there because they’re on the run. They are then more exposed to disease outbreaks.”

Martine Tchitchihe, a refugee from Northern Cameroon currently living in Minnesota, was all too familiar with the descriptions that both Oyeledun and Etti gave of the situation. When she was attacked and beaten by Boko Haram militants, she became another victim of the violence and brutality carried out by Boko Haram.

Tchitchihe shared her experience with the audience. She recalled, “I was coming back one day from school, and 30 or 40 men surrounded me and they beat me and they told me that it is a shame to see a girl like me who is 28 years old and single, hanging out with white people, who doesn’t want to be married and they basically told me to stop my studies.”

As one of the most educated women from her village, Tchitchihe prides herself on her education.

“The tradition wants that women stay quiet and I’m not like that,” she said. Even though the actions of Boko Haram have forced her from her home, the attack hasn’t stopped her from spreading education and empowering women. She is a French teacher and said that all she wants is to teach.

“I would love to get a PhD and go back to Cameroon to teach little girls and women,” said Tchitchihe.

When prompted to reflect on how the international community could counteract Boko Haram, a message for unified action was shared by all three speakers.

“Going forwards, as citizens of a global society, it is fundamental that we not only recognize the voices and stories of those affected by this brutal conflict but also strive to create innovative ways to help affected populations,” said Etti. “Most importantly, we must continue to express global outrage at the senseless killing of men, women and children.”

“This is the reality we are facing today and it affects everyone,” said Oyeledun. “We are all going to inadvertently feel crime if we don’t address this issue collectively … It is not just a Nigerian problem. It’s not a west African problem. Everyone has a role to play and we have to trust each other.”

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