It has been 450 days since 200 school girls were abducted from the town of Chibok in Northern Nigeria. It is just shy of 14 months since the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, stood in front of a camera with a placard and announced her “outrage” with a hashtag. It cannot be doubted that she, and many others, meant well. But since very few countries and very few issues that are of genuinely significant import to the international community are acted upon in this way, it forces the question: why does Nigeria and other countries like it continue to be greeted with such of a lack of seriousness both by outsiders and by its own citizens?
Taken by the terrorist group operating mainly in the north of the country, the girls have now come to symbolise much more than their disappearance for many Nigerians – a government and police and military infrastructure ultimately incapable of carrying out the most important part of their jobs in keeping the interior safe. But they symbolise something else; and that is the underlying sense of triviality with which Nigeria, and countries like Nigeria, seem to be viewed by the western portion of the outside world.
This is partially our own fault. Too often, even we do not seem to take ourselves seriously. We are now under a second government for who securing the country’s interior remains a significant challenge with President Buhari vowing yet again to combat the terrorist insurgency. The town of Chibok now has the privilege of supposedly claiming the intermittent attention of two consecutive Nigerian presidents.
Where most cosmopolitan “citizens of the world” can sit back in their libertarian disdain for the state knowing that when something serious happens somewhere in the world some government is taking care of it. With Nigeria, they can never be so sure.
But the action that is taken to foreign policy issues, on which the rest of the world genuinely seeks to make an impact does not often extend to countries like Nigeria. The flurry of international conferences, of treaty and agreement signing, of envoy hopping, and of money spent, rarely comes our way. Instead, we get a clipboard, a sad face, makeup and lighting, and a hashtag.
To be sure, there are many who would rebut that even if Nigeria was taken seriously enough to command that kind of activity from the international community, this is a toothless community whose agreements are worth less than the paper they are written on. Often true.
But symbolism is the grandeur of political life. And the fact that Michelle Obama, or any of the celebrities who have mistaken their worldly fame for power, do not represent the foreign policy issues that are of serious concern to their governments in the same manner they do our concerns suggests that there are many countries which these people do not think are engaged in a game of “playing country.” For these countries, sad faces parading on what are essentially staged adverts just will not do. Imagine: #Israel and Palestine Play Nice, or #Iran Please don’t go Nuclear, or indeed more recently, #Greece, Just Sign the Deal.
But Nigeria is, apparently, not one of the countries for whom real action is reserved.
I suppose we must first impress on ourselves that we are indeed a real and serious country whose problems will not be solved by good lighting and a placard. The rest of the world may still continue to treat us like an amusing skit on a puppet show; but by then, it won’t matter to us so dearly.