Former World Bank vice president Obiageli Ezekwesili, and a former Nigerian cabinet member, is one of the leaders of the #BringBackOurGirls movement. Photo: Getty
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Why is there such a culture of misinformation surrounding the case of Nigeria’s kidnapped girls?

The tragedy of the two hundred girls kidnapped in Nigeria won’t be as high-profile a story as individual western kidnap victims – and the Nigerian authorities aren’t helping.

Two hundred or more girls have been kidnapped in Nigeria. In most countries, even where the government demonstrates contempt for the electorate, the authorities would be going into overdrive, making all the right noises, mobilising every conceivable resource – leaving no stone unturned might be the mantra. It’s the type of tragedy that, handled well, might even secure another term in power.

The Nigerian government appears, in contrast, unmotivated by such petty concerns as appeasing the electorate. There is national fury at the ineptitude of the authorities’ response to the recent kidnapping. Despite an increase in the budget for such purposes, there remains an absence of any coherent strategy to tackle security in the country. In the face of Boko Haram’s escalating five-year extremist uprising, this is extremely worrying for Nigerian citizens.

A culture of misinformation surrounds the case. Nigerian commentators are appalled that nobody even seems able to agree on the number of girls that are missing, with figures from between 100-234 flying around. It is hard to get a sense of the facts.

The day after the abduction, the military claimed to have rescued the majority of the girls. It later transpired that they had done no such thing, but that 40 girls had – without any support from the authorities – managed to escape. Rumours are now starting to emerge that the girls may have been smuggled into Cameroon and sold for less than £10 each into forced marriages with militants.

Even in the west, we know that black lives are not valued, and black female lives even less so. We saw this in the stark contrast between media coverage of the racist murders of Renisha McBride and Trayvon Martin last year. The subsequent outrage at this, where it existed, seemed to be concentrated among black women, and to take place online, outside the traditional halls of power.

Similarly the reaction to the Nigerian tragedy is happening largely on Twitter, and seems to be concentrated among Nigerians, other Africans, and members of the African diaspora. Nigerians are demanding that the government, and the world, take the issue seriously.

The trending hashtag, #BringBackOurGirls, is advocating for government action and an international response now. While many of the tweets focus specifically on this case, others are taking it as a metaphor for the wider state of play. The case is symptomatic of what is happening in the country generally, and demonstrates the apathy that Nigerian leaders have towards ordinary Nigerian people.

Yesterday, approximately a thousand protesters marched to present a letter to the National Assembly in the nation’s capital Abuja. A speaker from the House of Representatives appeared, in the rain – a significant gesture in a country whose leaders are famed for their dismissive attitude to the hoi polloi – to address those gathered. However, while this may be “polite”, it remains inadequate in the absence of any meaningful action.

While the UK and global news media are waking up to the story now, the response has been slow, and relatively insignificant in comparison to what we might have expected had these events unfolded elsewhere.

The lack of interest shown by Nigerian politicians might be read in the same way that the limited coverage in the western media, and the absence of an international response, can be understood. The intersection between race, gender, and class has created a perfect storm of inaction. The Nigerian elite exhibits a similar attitude to the poor as that shown by the west towards black and brown lives.

While for a privileged few, involvement in the Nigerian state comes with all the trappings of power, for most, Nigeria remains an illusory façade of a nation, failing to provide any of the structural mechanisms, safety, or support networks, which the citizens of a functioning state might expect to enjoy.

The victims here are not rich, western or white, they are not from Kent, or even Korea, but from Chibok in north-eastern Nigeria. We have become almost immune to stories of death and violence from such parts of the world. Despite the horror that so many are missing, the fact that there are over two hundred almost desensitises us further to what is happening.

These girls are nameless, faceless victims. Their tragedy will not be humanised in the way that the high-profile stories of individual, western, kidnap victims are. Paul Gilroy advances the term “infrahuman”, to describe those bodies marked by race, whose alterity condemns them to worthlessness.

The lives of a nameless mass of infrahumans are not worth that of one European individual. The barbarity of the temperate zones in which the infrahuman resides, condemn them to short, brutal, lives. Such media representation of the infrahuman allows us to ignore the histories of the former colonies, and the role of Europe in the production of overseas theatres of violence.

Thus reconfigured, the structural problems that plague the British invention that is Nigeria are claimed to be the natural order of things, testimony of the barbarity and ineptitude of its people. But Nigerians have had enough. Perhaps this will be a tipping point, sparking real change in the country.

Nigeria has so much potential, if only this could be harnessed, and allowed to develop. I remain suspicious of outside, particularly western, intervention, in Africa. To succeed, Nigerian transformation must be indigenous, and start at grassroots level. If nothing else, the response of ordinary Nigerians to these painful events shows us the capacity that exists within the country for the masses to mobilise, and, crucially, make their voices heard.

Sign the petition asking the world not to forget the kidnapped girls here. Emma Dabiri tweets as @TheDiasporaDiva

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Could Labour lose the Oldham by-election?

Sources warn defeat is not unthinkable but the party's ground campaign believe they will hold on. 

As shadow cabinet members argue in public over Labour's position on Syria and John McDonnell defends his Mao moment, it has been easy to forget that the party next week faces its first election test since Jeremy Corbyn became leader. On paper, Oldham West and Royton should be a straightforward win. Michael Meacher, whose death last month triggered the by-election, held the seat with a majority of 14,738 just seven months ago. The party opted for an early pre-Christmas poll, giving second-placed Ukip less time to gain momentum, and selected the respected Oldham council leader Jim McMahon as its candidate. 

But in recent weeks Labour sources have become ever more anxious. Shadow cabinet members returning from campaigning report that Corbyn has gone down "very badly" with voters, with his original comments on shoot-to-kill particularly toxic. Most MPs expect the party's majority to lie within the 1,000-2,000 range. But one insider told me that the party's majority would likely fall into the hundreds ("I'd be thrilled with 2,000) and warned that defeat was far from unthinkable. The fear is that low turnout and defections to Ukip could allow the Farageists to sneak a win. MPs are further troubled by the likelihood that the contest will take place on the same day as the Syria vote (Thursday), which will badly divide Labour. 

The party's ground campaign, however, "aren't in panic mode", I'm told, with data showing them on course to hold the seat with a sharply reduced majority. As Tim noted in his recent report from the seat, unlike Heywood and Middleton, where Ukip finished just 617 votes behind Labour in a 2014 by-election, Oldham has a significant Asian population (accounting for 26.5 per cent of the total), which is largely hostile to Ukip and likely to remain loyal to Labour. 

Expectations are now so low that a win alone will be celebrated. But expect Corbyn's opponents to point out that working class Ukip voters were among the groups the Labour leader was supposed to attract. They are likely to credit McMahon with the victory and argue that the party held the seat in spite of Corbyn, rather than because of him. Ukip have sought to turn the contest into a referendum on the Labour leader's patriotism but McMahon replied: "My grandfather served in the army, my father and my partner’s fathers were in the Territorial Army. I raised money to restore my local cenotaph. On 18 December I will be going with pride to London to collect my OBE from the Queen and bring it back to Oldham as a local boy done good. If they want to pick a fight on patriotism, bring it on."  "If we had any other candidate we'd have been in enormous trouble," one shadow minister concluded. 

Of Corbyn, who cancelled a visit to the seat today, one source said: "I don't think Jeremy himself spends any time thinking about it, he doesn't think that electoral outcomes at this stage touch him somehow."  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.