In the light of the kidnapping of over 200 young women by militant group Boko Haram from a school in northern Nigeria in mid-April, the Stanford Students in Support of the Nigerian People hosted an informative event last week to address the tragedy.
The event aimed to not only provide a space for students to show support of the Nigerian people, but to also bring the Stanford community up to speed with what has been happening in the region affected by Boko Haram. A panel – including Associate Professor of African History Sean Hanretta, second-year graduate student Nisrin Elamin and Musila Munuve ’17 – introduced the history of Nigeria as well as a the international coverage of the story.
The panelists encouraged students to be careful about gauging the information that the media was presenting, especially social media campaigns like #bringbackourgirls, which have been particularly controversial.
“As a social media campaign begun by Nigerians in Nigeria, [#bringbackourgirls] did indeed provide a way to draw the attention of many outside the country, particularly in the United States, to the tragedy,” Hanretta said. “Yet it also quickly became appropriated by U.S. media figures for their own distinct purposes. This shows clearly some of the possible limits of this kind of activism.”
Uchechukwuka Monu, a Ph.D. student who helped organize of the event, echoed Hanretta’s warning.
“The social media campaign #bringbackourgirls has brought back awareness and it has brought the international community to their feet,” Monu said. “But at lot of times I feel like we have to be aware of what [the campaign] is asking of the government and see what Nigerian people want. When we support a campaign like that, we need to check what these activists are doing on the ground. “
The debriefing was followed by stories from three Nigerian students. Second-year MBA student Ope Aladekomo, Kemi Lijadu ’16, and Muzzammil Shittu ’17 discussed their personal perspectives on the series of events in their home country.
“For me, I can just imagine myself in that situation,” Aladekomo said. “The young women are probably people just like me 10 years ago. I was also in a secondary government school, lived in a dorm house like them…it’s depressing to hear about how it happened and wonder why [no one did] anything until international press picked it up.”
Students later held a quick candle-lit vigil and photo campaign in solidarity of the Nigerian people.
Ultimately, the student organizers hope the Stanford community grows more wary of the international media coverage of recent events, and that students take the opportunity to become more knowledgeable about the crisis.
“We need to make sure we harness the energy of the response to the kidnapping in the best way possible,” Shittu said. “We should make sure that all of the girls are returned to their families and also work towards finding solutions to the myriad mix of problems that the kidnapping brought to light. People smuggling, women’s education and chronic insecurity are long-established facts in much of northern Nigeria and the Sahel region of West Africa in general. Effort needs to be directed at the long-term resolution of these problems.”
Contact Catherine Zaw at czaw13 ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.