What’s going on in Nigeria?

It has been three weeks since approximately 230, sixteen to eighteen-year-old girls were kidnapped and abducted from their school in the tiny city of Chibok, in the northern Nigerian state of Borno.  Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram, whose name loosely translates to ‘western education is sinful,’ is said to be responsible for plucking these innocent girls out of their schools and reportedly transporting them across country lines for sex slavery and other unthinkable and nefarious purposes.

As a first-generation American of Nigerian descent, when I first learned of this event, I didn’t see western or global media outlets reporting on it.  Instead, I learned about it from my Nigerian social media connects.  The interesting thing about receiving a story via social media, is that inside of thirty seconds, you can not only be informed of key facts, but simultaneously be informed of numerous potent points of view on what has taken place.  For many, these opinions frequently become part of the story — it’s spirit so to speak.

In this case, alongside crucial details of the abductions, I consistently observed troubling social media and non-journalistic opinions attached to the story.

One internet poster I ran across stated as a matter of fact that abductions are the norm in Nigerian culture and particularly in Nigerian Muslim culture.  They went on to explain that for this reason, this event was no big deal.  Another cited this same reasoning as their response to another post that wondered why a tragically sunken ferry in S. Korea received wall to wall international news coverage, but 230 girls abducted into reported sex slavery in Nigeria barely received a mention (I note that as of yesterday approximately three weeks after the event, major news outlets outside of the African continent are beginning to follow social media cues to report these abductions).

Another social media mention I read — this one just two days ago on twitter — mentioned that the individual writing the comment had decided to cancel an upcoming work visit to Lagos (a huge metropolitan city over one thousand miles away from the small farming town of Chibok) because the abductions showed that Nigeria is an unstable country to visit.  By this reasoning, perhaps I should have considered moving out of the United States in May 2013 after learning of the four brilliant young ladies held captive for ten years by the unstable coward abductor Ariel Castro.  This is a man who seemed to have at least one nefarious motive in common with the Boko Haram captors of Nigeria’s 230 girls.  Then again, Cleveland, Ohio is over 2300 miles away from Los Angeles — thus rendering my concerns potentially absurd.  To add insult to injury, this same comment writer mentioned that going to Lagos could very well land them a case of Ebola.  This is another unfounded ‘fact.’ (Though Ebola has been found in other countries, the multiple stories of Ebola being present in Nigeria are myths). (Update: Ebola has since graced, and since been swiftly eliminated from Nigeria).

Misconceptions and misunderstandings like these about Nigeria are the very reason that I write posts like this. Yes, Nigeria does, in fact have challenges and issues, but in cases like this, perception and uninformed assumptions do matter.  They throw the spotlight off of what is important and what is urgent — finding these missing girls, and returning them home safely.  They throw the spotlight off of the humanity and the understandable pain of mothers and fathers yearning for their children’s safe return.  Ultimately, this misconceptions separate us precisely we when we should be uniting.  These Nigerian girls are rightful members of humanity.  Let’s raise our voices together to #BringBackOurGirls.

How you can help:

Retweet this story.  Share it on Facebook.  Spread the mission to #BringBackOurGirls and put the pressure on the abductors to return them safely.

Sign the White House petition for the US Government to join the mission to #BringBackOurGirls