A couple of months ago, the BBC accidentally got a real expert to discuss Boko Haram on the Today programme.
Unlike the comical Steve Emerson, the Boko Haram guy did seem to know what he was talking about. He outlined the widely-discussed idea that Boko Haram has been co-opted by elements in Nigeria’s government to serve their own political ends.
It’s an impressively murky situation. Some accuse ‘separatist’ politicians in Boko Haram’s northern Nigerian stamping grounds of backing the terrorists as a way of pressuring the main government. Others accuse southern politicians, high up in the national government, of funding Boko Haram to discredit the notherners while strengthening their own ambitions though fear.
Meanwhile the Western politicians and media (increasingly two sides of the same coin) can’t get past Boko Haram’s Islamist roots, so they funnel moral and financial support to the very elements in Nigerian politics who are allegedly secretly using Boko Haram for their own ends.
None of this narrative sits comfortably with the BBC’s default framing for content involving Islamic extremist groups, which is that ‘we’ are their ultimate target. Muddying the waters with messy details is to be avoided – especially when the details tend to show that a situation isn’t about ‘us’ except to the extent that our Governments are unwittingly (or otherwise) channelling support to one set of bad guys who wear combat fatigues via another set of bad guys who wear expensive suits.
Which is why the BBC’s main news platforms rarely give airtime to informed sources who are close to the action. Whether the topic is HS2, the NHS or terror groups, the Beeb almost invariably aims for its default framing device of two high-level talking heads – either political, corporate, or one of each. They ritually state their more-or-less opposing viewpoints before getting down to the usual arguments about who’s best at delivering growth, healthcare or security.
Imagine the BBC getting a lower-middle grade officer from a health service trust into the studio to describe the mounting monthly payments to Private Finance Initiative companies – some of which receive millions of pounds from taxpayers but don’t even have an address or web site. Ask them how they might do it less expensively. But that would imply that the pundits and politicians don’t know best. That our job as voters is to do more than accept the narrow ‘choices’ they present us with (often so narrow as to be no choice at all) and pick a ‘winner’.
That’s the myth of progress in action. ‘Make the right choice and we’ll deliver more progress, more quickly. Make the wrong one and the Tories/Labour/Lib Dems/UKip/the Greens will hold you back’.
As the Nigeria guy patiently explained, sometimes no one wins. It’s unlikely that Boko Haram and the other militias will go quietly into the good night once the politicians who think they control these groups’ loyalty have achieved their own goals.
They’ll become fully-fledged quasi-criminal, quasi-jihadist, quasi-political armies, funded and protected by members of the corrupt elites whose UK counterparts so often turn up on our TV and radio for the ritual ding-dongs that cover up for lack of action to tackle the grievances that give rise to discontent in the first place.