John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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American “Quality” Press and Nigeria

by John Campbell
April 15, 2014

Crowd gather at the scene of a bomb blast at a bus terminal in Nyayan, Abuja April 14, 2014. (Courtesy Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde) Crowd gather at the scene of a bomb blast at a bus terminal in Nyayan, Abuja April 14, 2014. (Courtesy Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde)

On April 15, arguably the most influential of the American print press carried the story of the horrific April 14 bombings in Abuja. The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post among others all had stories or photographs on their front pages.

Nevertheless, the biggest story in all three continued to be Ukraine. Yet, as African hands know, Nigeria’s population–at an estimated 177 million–is far larger than that of the Russian Federation. In addition to Abuja, the Nigerian press is credibly reporting that some 200 people in the far northeast were killed last week, including students on their way to take their high school exams. From what I have seen, that story has received no American coverage. Neither has the report that suspected Boko Haram members stormed a secondary school and abducted over 100 female students studying for their exams earlier this week.

It takes horrific violence in the capital city, Abuja, to generate U.S. coverage on Nigeria. In the U.S. as in southern Nigeria, the carnage receives little to no attention–no matter how great it is–so long as it is far away in the northeast. The “Giant of Africa” and until recently Washington’s most important strategic partner in Africa and a major source of imported oil and gas, Nigeria is largely ignored by the U.S. media, beyond occasionally boosterish articles on the business pages that focus on the Lagos-Ibadan corridor and the country’s oil patch.

While the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are honorable exceptions and have previously broken stories of gross human rights violations by the government security forces U.S. media inattention to Nigeria seems short-sighted and unwise.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Bruce Uba

    Thanks for highlighting this perplexing media practice. The editors don’t consider Nigeria issues of significance or they just don’t want people to know about it or what? They will not make money telling the world what’s going on with a fair and consistent criteria? Are they just uninterested, may be even loathing of this country? Nigeria is a significant African Country, the media didn’t create that and cannot change it!

  • Posted by Onnie Duvall

    It is not just Nigeria, but all of Africa outside of Egypt, Libya and South Africa with occasional reports from Kenya and Somalia. This should be expected since history courses in the US for the most part ignore modern Africa. I am afraid most people cannot accurately place Africa on the map. It seems the US mainstream media, for the most part, has the attitude that if they ignore Africa it will just go away.

  • Posted by Jim Sanders

    Media shortcomings are frequently grist for criticism. And so it pays to follow individual reporters, especially when they go off on their own. Such a one is Katherine Boo. Her 2012 book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, is about a Mumbai “undercity.” Yet many of the dynamics she uncovers apply equally well to Nigeria.

    She writes, for example, that: “What was unfolding in Mumbai was unfolding elsewhere, too. In the age of global market capitalism, hopes and grievances were narrowly conceived, which blunted a sense of common predicament. Poor people didn’t unite; they competed ferociously amongst themselves for gains as slender as they were provisional. And this undercity strife created only the faintest ripple in the fabric of society at large. The gates of the rich, occasionally rattled, remained unbreached. The politicians held forth on the middle class. The poor took down one another, and the world’s great, unequal cities soldiered on in relative peace.”

    But that “relative peace” doesn’t last indefinitely. Eventually, the “national game of make-believe,” according to which poverty and disease are being addressed, democracy consolidated, and corruption and exploitation checked, comes to an end. That seems to be what is happening in Nigeria today.

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