Information is a weapon in Nigeria
It has been described as the deadliest massacre in Boko Haram’s violent history, the attack on a fisher village in north-eastern Nigeria in early 2015. But that is precisely how the parties of the conflict want us to think. Intentional exaggeration is a part of the war, NAI researcher Mats Utas says.
Last weekend, Amnesty International published reports that 2 000 civilians had been murdered near the village Baga close to Lake Chad. There had been an attack, but there were no independent information on its scale. Later, other sources estimated the number of deaths at around 150.
"It is of course serious, but the picture is different now compared to the massive massacre we were talking about earlier. I had expected this turn", social anthropologist Mats Utas, who has researched about West Africa for almost 20 years, says.
"There are no journalists or NGOs in the area so we know very little about what is happening. The local population is of course in great need of help so they are exaggerating the numbers. Boko Haram, for its part, is pushing up the numbers to show their strength in negotiations with the Nigerian government. Finally, the army turns to exaggerations to increase its support."
Children bombers part of the propaganda
Utas believes that one easily gets too a extreme picture a of the Nigerian violence. It is a serious situation but not worse than in war zones in general, he says. He is concerned about Boko Haram successfully playing with the feelings of the international community, as in the case with the kidnapped school girls. This year, there have been reports about children being used as suicide bombers.
“They are skilled spin doctors. Boko Haram knew they would get attention by exploiting children. This is a media game. The more we notice ten year-old suicide bombers, the more children will be killed in order for the group to get a better position at the negotiating table.”
“Reports from northern Nigeria have to be seen as potential propaganda from all parties of the conflict. This is high-level information warfare”, Mats Utas says.