By kidnapping nearly 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria, Boko Haram moved into the spotlight of international news. The year in review, by our Africa correspondents Adrian Kriesch and Jan-Philipp Scholz.
It was the event that would change everything: On April 14, 2014 the terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped almost 300 schoolgirls from the small town of Chibok, in northeastern Nigeria. Suddenly the entire world was looking at a region that had already been suffering under the terror of this Islamist group, now it was finally getting the attention it deserved.
Terror becomes breaking news
We had already filed several reports to Deutsche Welle on Boko Haram's gruesome terror long before April 14. On their specialty of setting upon and destroying entire villages under the cover of night. Seemingly devoid of reason or aim, they brutally slaughter residents, no matter if they are Muslim or Christian, young or old. Afterwards they plunder everything they can get their hands on and then burn what's left. It is a destructive brutality that leaves observers perplexed. We often traveled into the area to look for explanations to the inexplicable, to speak with the many victims of this violence. After April 14, and the group's subsequent release of a video showing the scared and helpless schoolgirls, the subject immediately became breaking news.
We headed for the northeast again, but this time together with almost all the big international news networks. We did not go to Chibok though, traveling to the region is simply too dangerous for journalists these days. Boko Haram controls entire tracts of land there. However, with the help of our Nigerian DW colleague Ibrahim Abubakar, we did manage to speak with a girl who had escaped captivity, as well as with her relatives.
'We no longer have hope'
Every journalist who regularly travels to crisis areas has to make sure that he or she doesn't grow indifferent - that the unbelievable, brutal, tragic stories of victims don't just deflect off them. But what the people of Chibok told us was simply unfathomable. They told us about teachers and soldiers who simply abandoned the young girls, of terrorists with a total contempt for human life. And of a government that deemed it unnecessary to inform victims' relatives of anything pertaining to the situation - let alone offer them any kind of help.
Eight months later, the thing that comes to mind most vividly is the hopelessness of one of the students' fathers: "The girls are now totally at the mercy of Boko Haram. If there was going to be a chance to get our daughters back, it would have had to come by now. We have nothing that can give us hope." Unfortunately his fears would be confirmed. When the government announced that they had signed a ceasefire with the terrorists, and that the girls would soon be free, even the most optimistic observers couldn't believe it - they had already heard far too many lies from the government. A few days later, Governor Godswill Akpabio cynically announced that journalists had "apparently misunderstood something" regarding the supposed release of the girls.
The fears of those in charge
So is hope of an improvement to the situation unjustified? Is the possibility of ending terror in Nigeria merely a pipe dream? Boko Haram has kidnapped hundreds of people since April, but these have not managed to make it to the top of the international network news cycle like the girls from Chibok did. Among the missing is a German teacher, of whom there is still no trace. In November alone, Boko Haram killed more than 700 people in Nigeria. Only Iraq has more terrorism victims.
Nevertheless, we should not give up hope that 2015 will be a better year for Nigeria, for we can see the first signs of a change in attitude in the Nigerian government. These are above all signs of a waning arrogance in the face of their own people and critical investigative journalists. This recently became evident to us in what would initially seem like a paradoxical situation: when we went to have our foreign correspondents' accreditation renewed, much more attention was paid to details and follow-up questions than was previously the case. An employee at the Ministry of Information confided in us that those in charge were "pretty scared by the massive amount of critical international reporting after the Chibok kidnapping." For the first time they felt the concentrated power of a critical public. We certainly won't stop letting them feel this power in the coming year.
Adrian Kriesch and Jan-Philipp Scholz have been reporting on West and Central Africa for Deutsche Welle from Lagos, Nigeria since September 1, 2014.