Boko Haram and two sides of a bad coin


Jake Dinsmore and Laura Bradshaw are students at The King’s College in New York City. They wrote this essay for Eng 412: Persuasive Writing & Speaking.  Nigeria is a nation plagued with counterfeits, like the fish product in California rolls or Hershey’s so-called chocolate. As the pseudo-Islamic group Boko Haram terrorizes the country, Nigerian security is responding to the threat with imitation-justice.

In PBS’s Frontline documentary, Hunting Boko Haram, journalist Evan Williams provides a compelling new angle on the atrocities occurring in Nigeria by zeroing in on the human rights violations committed by Nigerian security and local militia. Here are three reasons why his story is so persuasive.

First, Williams strengthens his argument against the brutality of Nigerian security by acknowledging the atrocities of Boko Haram. Williams could have easily undermined his credibility by painting Boko Haram as the misunderstood underdogs, bullied and persecuted by the Nigerian government. Instead, the Frontline documentary recognizes the militant Islamic group for who they are: bona fide terrorists.

In a recent lecture at The King’s College, Nigerian editor and CEO of The Guardian, Emeka Izeze told students that no fewer than 5,000 people have been killed by Boko Haram, and more than 1 million people have been internally displaced in Nigeria. Boko Haram’s goal is to set up an Islamic state that Izeze calls a “counterfeit” of Islamic principles.

No reasonable person would dispute the incredible guilt of Boko Haram. Though Frontline knew it must acknowledge Boko Haram’s role in the crisis, it also sought to point out that there is more to the story.

The second reason the film is so persuasive is that it says something new about the issue; Frontline highlighted the illicit response of the Nigerian militia. Their response entails rounding up young men, beating them until they confess that they are a part of Boko Haram and even killing them if they resist. The documentary portrays the Nigerian army as almost as guilty of terror as Boko Haram.

The third reason is that Williams and his team use personal stories to strengthen their evidence. Frontline didn’t write an article with charts and graphs and statistics about the brutality of Nigerian security. They told us stories about real people who were suffering because of it. Most of the footage in the documentary came from cell phone cameras of people witnessing the brutality present in Nigeria firsthand. The footage is gruesome and difficult to watch.

Yet in his lecture, Izeze attempted to narrow in on the root issue of the situation at hand. Terrorist groups such as Boko Haram, ISIL and al-Shabaab all believe their actions have been ordained by Allah. If kidnapped or confronted by one of the groups, an individual is given two choices: convert or die. “It is up to Muslims to find what went wrong with their religion, because it has not always been this way,” Izeze said.

In a Q and A session, one member of the audience referenced Hunting Boko Haram and asked Izeze what he thought of the Nigerian government’s response to the terrorist group. His answer was clear: there is no way the Nigerian army is as harmful as a group like Boko Haram. Izeze argued that their response is due to a lack of preparedness, not a desire to match the violence and terror inflicted by Boko Haram.

Either way you look at it, Nigeria is a nation plagued by phony replicas of justice and Islamic religion. While Izeze’s lecture serves as a reminder that no one in Nigeria is as guilty as Boko Haram, Frontline’s documentary provides a unique angle on the issue and drives its point home with striking personal stories. There are always two sides to a story, but it’s rare that both sides are so repulsive.