Nigeria’s Girls and the limits of Hashtag activism

Curated tweets and articles about the kidnapping of 234 Nigerian girls by Boko Haram

On April 14 234 teenaged Chibok girls were abducted from their boarding school by Boko Haram, a terrorist group in Northern Nigeria. Nigerians themselves seemed slow to take notice and the rest of the world even slower. But when CNN and co finally did so it was like overkill. Below is a collection of tweets, mainly from Nigerian writers chronicling and reacting to the mainstream media coverage of the abduction and the hashtag campaign that started in Nigeria and its diaspora.

As the #BringBackOurGirls campaign in Nigeria and its diaspora intensified mainstream media suddenly came on board with high profile personalities like Michelle Obama and others posing with placards that shouted #BringBackOurGirls. Predictably it wasn’t long before some bright spark started hijacking the hashtagged statement as evident in the two images below, of Michelle O and Andrew Holness, Jamaica’s Opposition Leader.
Andrew Holness, Leader of the Opposition, Jamaica
  1. Hmmm. When malaysian flight was missin a lot of Naija celebs were praying for them and sharing opinions. Missing girls… silence.
  2. Creating child soldiers. Possible explanation. Shudders.
  3. 200 girls are missing in Nigeria – so why doesn’t anybody care? | Anne Perkins  http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/23/200-girls-missing-nigeria-care-sewol-tragedy 
  4. How were BH able to transport 200 girls from one location to another in a state swarming with soldiers? #BringBackOurGirls
  5. Must read: A schoolgirl’s incredible story of escape from #BokoHaram mass kidnapping in #Nigeria  http://ow.ly/wbMq0  #BringBackOurGirls
  6. The world mobilized to find Malaysian Air Flight 370; can it not also do the same for 200 girls?  http://is.gd/C9bkqj  #BringBackOurGirls
  7. See my people 😀 “@abubakar47i: Our Mothers in the Kaduna procession today #BringBackOurGirls pic.twitter.com/VvubuK3Oqw
  8. What matters now is that those girls are rescued. Whether by negotiations or by military action
  9. @leidychichi The girls have been taken away from Nigerian soil. Protests are to get intl awareness and military support.
  10. 200 girls forced into slavery and you can just act like it is nothing? Haba!
  11. Photos: Waje, Seun Kuti, Other Celebs Hit The Streets Of Lagos For #BringBackOurGirls Campaign  http://nblo.gs/Wuto4 
  12. If you’re in or around #London on Friday, 9th of May, join us at the Nigeria House #BringBackOurGirls . 10am – 1pm pic.twitter.com/PBLwaqBiBp
  13. The protests in Nigeria are democratic. This American “help” will lead the opposite way: more militarism, less oversight, less democracy.
  14. 234 chibok girls. 45 Murdered Buni Yadi boys. 100 in Damaturu. So a select group of Niggas can get power and renew Billion $ oil licenses
  15. The operation started from 11pm till 5am. all these while, calls were put across to the JTF but no response. #Chibok234
  16. After the operations, the assailants allegedly loaded their victims in about 3 trailers, 4 busses & a number of trucks. #Chibok234
  17. Their movement was slow and in about 2 kilometers away, one of the vehicles developed fault & they took about an hour to fix it #Chibok234
  18. Our security man’s sister made her own escape when they got to their 1st destination. a village not far from #Chibok.
  19. They also said that #Chibok is a xtian dominated town and that most of the kidnap victims are xtians. #BringBackOurGirls
  20. The story will not be complete without a mention of Mr.Bitrus Madu. He lost 5 daughters, he is currently on admission. #BringBackOurGirls
  21. In Nigeria as part of team covering missing girls. Tweet me questions you want put to officials.#BringBackOurGirls pic.twitter.com/d0YE4Bm8pb
  22. Because everybody must be seen to “care.” No context, only sentiment. RT @chrisbrown: #BringBackOurGirls pic.twitter.com/ec0n8kwZeH
  23. I understand the impulse to “do something.” But Boko Haram is irreducibly complex. Makes Kony look like child’s play.  http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-27249097 
  24. These are difficult conversations to have because we’re good and we care. We don’t want to be interrupted during the fervor of our hashtags.
  25. Part of the horror was that the girls were ignored. An opposite problem now is CNN’s heavy sensationalist interest.  https://twitter.com/clancycnn/status/462621487694757889 
  26. Patience Jonathan: “Nigerian women, don’t demonstrate again. If you demonstrate and police do you anything, you are on your own.” #Surreal
  27. Fitfam for the mind. @elnathan urges you to “wake up and smell the moringa”…  http://elnathanjohn.blogspot.in/2014/05/jonathan-needs-moringa.html?m=0 
  28. Let us be clear, the government was never going to do anything about this; the girls were abducted the same day…  http://fb.me/2Geo64IIq 
  29. The thing with surrealism as a form of government is that the unexpected move is exactly what you must expect. You must adopt mirror logic.
  30. Delighted to welcome all the new Nigeria experts.
  31. Boko Haram Leader Shekau is meant to be under pressure from Nigerian military & he’s able to record a full 1 hour video? I am CONFUSED.
  32. @gbengasesan Top 10 countries spreading #BringBackOurGirls worldwide; Nigeria (33%), USA (28%), UK (14%) pic.twitter.com/UlEU77vxnL
  33. “May your house be on CNN.”—Bosnian curse
  34. And if international help is needed: why is Uncle America the default? What about ECOWAS? African Union? Other partnerships? UN? EU?
  35. Wow! I still can’t believe all this CNN action is about my country Nigeria; I thought I slept on a flight and woke up in Iraq!
  36. To use a Nigerianism, the traffic in some bits of Abuja tonight “does not have part two”. Translation? It is truly horrendous.
  37. Who did dis? *holdslaff* I said who did dis? *burst* ROTFLWTMB #diarisGodo! pic.twitter.com/geQRxkvqUm
  38. The story behind the story: Nigeria itself has been missing for years.
  39. @elnathan Sometimes I wonder if Nigeria is run by smart people who r purposely deceiving us, or by idiots who r really trying their best.
  40. To agree on sorrow, even in the absence of other agreements, is not nothing.
  41. @soniafaleiro @vikasbajaj Wearily deletes New Yorker app from his iPhone.
  42. Lots of armchair gossip by people hinting that they know who funds Boko Haram. The reality is that it is still a mystery
  43. The Chinese have also offered to help Nigeria #BringBackOurGirls . I never knew the Chinese for this though…
  44. History counts its skeletons in round numbers. A thousand and one remains a thousand, as though the one had never existed. —Szymborska
  45. Boko Haram killed more human beings yesterday than the total number of girls they kidnapped three weeks ago. Horrifying, and unhashtagable.
  46. For four years, Nigerians have tried to understand these homicidal monsters. Your new interest (thanks) simplifies nothing, solves nothing.
  47. Remember: #bringbackourgirls, a vital moment for Nigerian democracy, is not the same as #bringbackourgirls, a wave of global sentimentality.
  48. “‘We’ are not the ‘we’ that ‘we’ imagine ourselves to be.” This piece by @zeynep says so much so well:  https://medium.com/message/3c3ab5d1dc0e 
  49. Unlike some, I have no problem with the world adopting #BringBackOurGirls and the use of the word “our”. I think that is important.
  50. Now you have two sisters. RT @elnathan: I have one sister. I noticed that one of the Chibok girls has my sister’s exact name and last name.
  51. I am always worried when people in government also use #BringBackThegirls. YOU are the ones we are asking to bring them back!
  52. The girl in this viral photo from #bringbackourgirls is not Nigerian. And she wasn’t abducted.  http://wapo.st/1nvIcb0  pic.twitter.com/J8OL1lzAJn
  53. If energy does not shift hashtag into a larger political movement, next week there will be another loud sterile hashtag #bringbackourgirls
  54. 1. Spurious photos 2. White lady claims she started hashtag 3. Americans collect money in girls’ name #ff White Savior Industrial Complex
  55. There has been a long catalog of atrocities and betrayals; #bringbackourgirls contains, for Nigerians, very many grievances, not just one.
  56. BUT: I do think the domestic and international scrutiny are both putting a floodlight on Nigeria’s light-averse government.
  57. This perhaps is the international community’s role: serve as witness to what Nigerians must mostly do themselves, and amplify Nigerian work.
  58. @tejucole I am concerned about timing of concern from the west, It could be a ploy to make Nigeria like Iraq, there is oil after all
  59. Really all that remains is for Goodluck to take a selfie with #BringBackOurGirls on an A4 paper or crested on his bowler hat.
  60. I will sleep. And if I wake and see Mama Peace in a selfie with #BringBackOurGirls ashoebi I will not be shocked. This is afterall, Nigeria.
  61. @tejucole why throw cold water on genuine expressions of outrage and concern? Global indifference would be worse no?
  62. @Abu_Aaid: “@tejucole urges us to keep this at the back of our minds as we help #BringBackOurGirls. pic.twitter.com/MXE41Rc748#Fact

     

    So my sister came visiting. Her biggest annoyance in this whole matter is that Malala has intervened. “Nigeria is better than Pakistan!”

Of Adichie, Coco Yams, the Caine Prize and Literary Tiffs…

Chimamanda-Adichie-670x665

Nigerian writers had their feathers ruffled by what the acclaimed author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said in a July 14 interview with Aaron Bady whose twitter handle is @zunguzungu. The literary kas kas has produced a series of archly comical tweets, blogposts and ripostes that inspire awe in latent Nigerian literary talent. Here’s the offending snippet from the IV.

AB: I would love to ask you about the Caine Prize. I find it interesting that so many Nigerians are on the short list this year—that it’s four Nigerians out of five . . .

CA: Umm, why is that a problem? Watch it.

AB: Well, none of them are you!

CA: Elnathan was one of my boys in my workshop. But what’s all this over-privileging of the Caine Prize, anyway? I don’t want to talk about the Caine Prize, really. I suppose it’s a good thing, but for me it’s not the arbiter of the best fiction in Africa. It’s never been. I know that Chinelo is on the short list, too. But I haven’t even read the stories—I’m just not very interested. I don’t go the Caine Prize to look for the best in African fiction.

AB: Where do you go?

CA: I go to my mailbox, where my workshop people send me their stories. I could give you a list of ten—mostly in Nigeria—writers who I think are very good. They’re not on the Caine Prize short list.

And in case you don’t know, Aaron Bady is a very influential blogger, tweeter and scholar of African literature. Here’s a bit about him from an Atlantic Monthly article some time back:

“When historians look back at WikiLeaks and how the world’s pundits tried to make sense of what was happening, they’ll see a familiar list of sources: Foreign Policy’s Evgeny Morozov, The Guardian’s John Noughton, The New York Times’ David Carr, several people from the Berkman Center for the Internet and Society, and various long-time digital leaders like Geert Lovink and Larry Sanger.

“But among that list you’d also find Aaron Bady and his blog zunguzungu.wordpress.com. His probing analysis of Julian Assange’s personal philosophy and possible motivations became an oft-cited piece of the global conversation about what WikiLeaks might mean. Before Bady’s November 29 post, Julian Assange and the Computer Conspiracy; “To destroy this invisible government”, only a few hundred people a day found their way Bady’s blog. In the days afterward, tens of thousands of people swarmed to the site — and Bady ended up linked by some of the most influential media outlets on the planet.”

The first response came from Elnathan John, shortlisted for the Caine Prize, and referred to by Adichie as “…one of my boys…” In a tongue-in-cheek yet hard-hitting blogpost called THE CONSEQUENCES OF LOVING NGOZI he gently takes her on.

It is the Americans you blame as you struggle to craft a response to Ngozi that sounds neither bitter nor desperate; ‘something funny’ your friend said, so people would be left with no doubt about your maturity and sense of humour. You blame the Americans for organizing that workshop and putting you on the guest list where you first met Ngozi. This is what the Americans have often been guilty of: causing wars through third parties and standing back, claiming ignorance of roots and beginnings. They made you meet Ngozi. They made you love Ngozi.

His blog bio gives a more elaborate sense of the budding writer:

You wan know who I be?

My Photo

Abuja, Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Nigeria
Elnathan is a writer who trained as a lawyer. Although he is routinely called a journalist, he rejects this title, preferring instead to be called a writer. His works have appeared in ZAM Magazine International, Otis Nebula, Per Contra, and Evergreen Review in addition to numerous Nigerian publications and newspapers. He writes a column for Sunday Trust. He has not won anything. The South African government recently truncated his plans to attend the prestigious Caine Prize Writing workshop to which he was invited. He holds no grudges. In 2008 he hastily self-published an embarrassing collection of short stories which has since gone out of print. He hopes to never repeat that mistake. He has just completed work on a new collection of short stories and is working on a novel. Nobody seems to want to publish his new collection of short stories. This puzzles him. He really loves those stories. Elnathan is touchy about his skin and man boobs and isn’t bold enough to grow hair. One of his new goals is getting to a weight below his current 100kg that will not warrant totally changing his wardrobe. He hopes to start a family comprising a partner, no kids and two hairy pets

For more go to my Storify