- - Wednesday, May 15, 2019

ISIS has largely been defeated in the Middle East. But the dream of establishing an Islamist caliphate is alive and well in West African nations such as Nigeria.

Tuesday, May 14, marked the second year that 16-year-old Leah Sharibu will have a birthday as a captive of the ISIS group knows as Boko Haram. Leah was one of 110 high-school girls kidnapped by a faction of Boko Haram on Feb. 19, 2018. Young Leah famously refused to renounce her Christian beliefs at gunpoint. Reportedly 104 of the girls were ransomed into freedom a month later, and five were reported as murdered in the attack.

Terrorism in Nigeria has taken a heavy toll, yet the Western media hardly takes notice, prompting some citizen journalists to raise awareness themselves with their cell phones and laptops. More than 800 people were murdered in the first four months of 2019 — including 100 killed in the month of April alone — according to Intersociety, a nonprofit organization in the region.


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“We feel that the whole world has forgotten us. No one in the West hears our cry,” says attorney Solomon Musa, the spokesman for victims in South Kaduna State, where Christians are the majority of the population. In the local governance area of Kaduna State’s Kajuru, for example, whole villages have been decimated by raids of gangs of machete-wielding fighters who burn houses and slash men, women and children before disappearing into the forests.

But video footage from citizen journalists has helped to spur coverage by mainstream media outlets in the United States, according to Douglas Burton, a free-lance reporter who has used video calls to cover breaking news in Nigeria. This simple digital tool provides current news about terror attacks to the outside world.



For example, Roman Catholic Priest Lawrence Ikeh in Adamawa State, Nigeria called Mr. Burton using the WhatsApp messenger service on March 18 to report an attack in the nearby town of Michika by several hundred Boko Haram terrorists. Fr. John Peter Wumbadi of Michika had just arrived at the rectory of Fr. Ikeh and gave Burton an eye-witness account of Boko Haram’s invasion of the town, which included a bank robbery and burning of residences. The call resulted in an investigative opinion piece for the Washington Examiner the next day.

A similar Internet phone call provided video of Boko Haram’s attack on Madagali, a town in Adamawa State. The video featured Fr. Innocent Sunu of Madagali, who at that very moment was sheltering under a tree with his congregation observing a gun battle between Nigerian army and the terrorists. That phone call yielded a report in Metro Voice News, a Kansas City news platform that now has a show interested in the Nigerian war.

Nigeria is not alone among West African nations battling Islamic terrorism. Religious-based violence appears to be threatening the security of a broad swath of nations in Africa’s Sahel region. Unlike Nigeria and some other nearby West African countries, Senegal is an outlier in the region. That may be attributed to the fact that Islam in Senegal, which is followed by 94 percent of the citizens, is marked by a tolerant form of Sufism. In March of 2017, lawyers and human rights campaigners launched an initiative for African whistleblowers in Senegal aimed at providing a secure means of exposing wrongdoing on the continent. The Paris-based effort, called the Platform for the Protection of Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF), gives whistle-blowers access to lawyers, secure submission of information and a hotline for potential informants, according to its founders.

Yet, where intolerance is claiming lives, and victims such as Leah Sharibu, awareness of the larger public is key. So we should all be thankful that those who previously had no voice are finding a way to raise awareness of the horrors being faced by the victims of terrorism in a place that most media seem to have forgotten.

• Matthew Daniels, chairman of Law and Human Rights at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, D.C. is the author of the forthcoming book, “Human Liberty 2.0.”

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