Last week, three consecutive suicide bombs bearing the hallmarks of the extremist Islamist group Boko Haram killed 55 people in Yola, Kano, and Maiduguri in Nigeria. The brutal killings brought few condemnations or statements of solidarity with the victims. Coming on the heels of the horrendous November 13 Paris attacks which killed more than 130 people, the silence has been more deafening than usual.
The bombs came as the Global Terrorism Index listed Boko Haram as the deadliest terrorist group in the world. According to its report, Boko Haram was responsible for at least 6,644 deaths in 2014, an increase of 314 percent from 2013. Boko Haram pledges allegiance to the extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS) and uses its emblematic black flag, but operates largely independently.
Nigeria’s victims are all too quickly forgotten by the authorities. Although the numbers of injured usually exceed those killed – more than 80 people were grievously wounded in the Kano attack – experience from previous attacks suggests that they will receive little or no assistance.
Last month, I met 14-year-old Shehu (not his real name) in Potiskum, Yobe state. He was at his school assembly ground in November 2014 when a suicide bomber disguised as a student detonated a bomb. Twenty-six of Shehu’s fellow students were killed. His legs were shattered, and one was later amputated. He has not returned to school because of his family’s poverty; the authorities have ignored the family’s plea for a wheelchair. His heartbreaking words to me were: “not being in school is why people become Boko Haram. I do not want to become one.”
Neglect of victims of these attacks can only strengthen the insurgents and further alienate beleaguered civilians in northern Nigeria. In July 2015, hundreds of victims under the banner of Bomb Victims’ Association of Nigeria (BVAN) organized protests in Abuja to draw attention to their continued neglect. So far, they have been ignored.
Whether in Paris, Beirut, Istanbul, or Kano, survivors of terrorist attacks deserve support to rebuild their lives. The Nigerian authorities need to take responsibility for victims of attacks and hold the perpetrators to account. The federal government should fulfil without delay, the promise presented by its establishment in August 2014 of a Victims Support Fund, which raised more than 54 billion naira (about US$270 million) from both state and private contributors.
A young boy in Potiskum should not have to wait any longer for his wheelchair.