Protesters gathered in Westminster on Sunday to raise awareness of the atrocities committed in Nigeria by terrorist organisation Boko Haram. Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike came together under one banner: #NigerianLivesMatter.
Boko Haram first came to widespread international attention last year, when they kidnapped 276 school girls from Chibok, Borno, sparking the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls on Twitter. Prior to this, the group had carried out bombings, prison breaks and the massacre of what is estimated to be close to 200 civilians in the village of Baga. The same village was the site of a four-day massacre of 2,000 by the terrorist group earlier this month.
Unfolding on the days leading up to and including the day of the Charlie Hebdo attack, the massacre received relatively little media attention. This drew criticism from those who felt that 2,000 Nigerian deaths warranted more of an outcry.
The rally drew a crowd of hundreds to a patch of pavement opposite the Nigerian High Commission. "I saw the event and coverage through my girlfriend's Facebook,"explained a protester named Keji. "Outside of Nigerian circles there has been little discussion about the killings," another told me. A lot of passersby didn't seem to know what the protest was all about, reinforcing its point.
Speaking before the event, organiser Akinola Davies Jnr expressed his desire to empower the Nigerian community. "This is an opportunity for those in the diaspora to mourn the dead, to show solidarity to those in the affected areas and lastly to galvanise people – to show that mobilising is important in civil issues and that people getting together is a form of power," he said.
"Change" was a buzzword among the speakers. The young crowd served as a symbol for the pressure mounting on the Nigerian government to be more accountable, to stand up to Boko Haram. When given the opportunity to hold the megaphone, one young girl announced, "We are not our parents".
There was strong focus on the upcoming elections, with young voters seen as the key to lasting change. Dr Titilola Banjoko, a diaspora expert, urged everyone to use their freedom as British citizens to influence the elections in February by talking to relatives in Nigeria.
Organiser Bwalya Newton said that they were not looking for comparison with the attacks in Paris. "We stand with the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attacks," she said. "It's more the time frame – when it happened at the time everyone concentrated on that one event, and swept the other one under the carpet."
Stop The War campaigner Andrew Murray took to the loud speaker and addressed what for many there seemed to be the elephant in the room, saying the unequal coverage was "racist". A cheer went up, with many continuing to shout in agreement when Murray stated that the British government were only interested in oil and not human life.
For older people on the protest, the rally seemed to be about community. Iyabode Animashaun, a mother who was positioned at the front of the crowd, explained, "I have children... we have to look after each other, look after a new generation ... there's an African saying – 'a child belongs to whole village' – and that's what we should be thinking about."
This communal sentiment was shared by invited speaker Bisi Alimi, who clutched a Nigerian flag in his hand, as he led the crowd in chanting "solidarity forever". Other chants heard throughout the day – "Nigerian lives matter / We are with you Baga!"; "Up, up Niger / Down, down Terro!" – shared this sentiment.
The group dispersed in the early afternoon after Akinola and a surprise participant, the grime MC Skepta, gave thanks to the attendees and called a minute's silence. For many, the event had provided an opportunity to turn a hashtag into an actual street protest. While the organisers were able to pass a letter to those at the High Commission, demanding action be taken against Boko Haram, the mentality of the crowd was captured by Alimi: "This isn't about government, they won't listen. We want the media, we want a voice."
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