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Published: Thursday June 12, 2014 MYT 1:30:02 PM
Updated: Thursday June 12, 2014 MYT 1:31:41 PM

Nigerian media chase politics in Boko Haram coverage

LAGOS/ABUJA (Reuters) - A year ago, the daily editorial conference at Nigeria's Guardian newspaper might have paused to consider where on the inside pages to place a story about the latest Boko Haram attack.

These days there is no need to think. Major raids by the Islamist insurgents go front and centre in the paper - and then further, generating comment pieces looking at every angle through the prism of Nigerian politics.

As with the global press, coverage has increased as attacks have increased in recent months. "It is breaking news all the time," said Martins Oloja, the tabloid's editor. "We know that before we go to bed there will almost definitely be a strike."

But Nigerian newspapers differ from the almost exclusively human interest reporting of their global counterparts in the lengths they will go to make links between attacks in the remote northeast and national politics - all against the background of looming elections.

"We thought it (the Boko Haram insurgency) was a flash in the pan ... But it has become a very bad ulcer," said Oloja.

"This insurgency is political. It is tied to the 2015 presidential election. People are imputing motives. This wasn’t like that a year ago," he added.

Once the revolt was largely a matter for the authorities of the northeast. But the fighters have stepped up the violence in recent months, launching attacks in the central city of Jos and in Abuja, the capital.

The government's decision to declare states of emergency and launch a military offensive in May last year has meant national agencies face harsh scrutiny - particularly after their failure to rescue more than 200 schoolgirls abducted in April.

The police's decision to ban public protests over the girls in the capital last week, and then apparently reverse that decision, generated a three-column editorial asking if the police chief should "be allowed to function in a democracy".

PRIDE DAMAGED

Ahead of the election, the revolt has become tangled in Nigeria's geographic and political fault line, between the mainly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south - and between the ruling People's Democratic Party and the opposition coalition the All Progressive Congress.

The PDP, which runs the country, and the APC, which runs the regional bodies in the northeast, have traded blame in print and on TV over the mishandling of the revolt.

President Goodluck Jonathan has delayed announcing his candidacy for the next election until after the girls are found, unnamed sources say in one report. Northern army officers have been court-martialed on charges of secretly backing the rebels, say others, despite military denials.

Wednesday's Guardian - a paper seen as largely non-partisan - ran a front page editorial demanding the president visit the site of the kidnapping and make bolder statements. "Why is it that whenever history furnishes our President with an opportunity to roar, he whimpers," it asked.

The relentless insurgency, covered with CNN-like intensity on stations such as Channels TV, has had an inevitable impact on viewers, even on the coastal commercial capital of Lagos, where many had felt insulated from the northeast.

Gallop polls repeatedly put Nigerians at or near the top of the world's countries ordered according to optimism. But even in Lagos' glitzy Intercontinental Hotel, the impact of Boko Haram can be found.

"It's really damaged our pride to find ourselves in this situation," oil company official O.B. Nyong said.

"We believed our military could do a lot but it seems not. Ten years ago nobody would believe you could have suicide bombers in Nigeria," he added. "Now look at us."

The government has been prickly about the surge in negative coverage, keen to focus on positives such as Nigeria's recent crowning as Africa's largest economy and its hosting of the World Economic Forum in May.

That event barely got a mention amid a wave of stories on the girls.

Even when there hasn't been an attack, a panel on the front page of The Daily Trust newspaper counts up the days since the mass adduction. Every front page on The Nation is marked with a bold question mark over the words 'Where Are the Chibok Girls'.

"We are optimistic people but the events of the past three years have been bleak. I'm depressed," said Abdallah Bello, a civil servant in Maiduguri, the city where Boko Haram originated.

"The feeling that things must get better is no longer there. There's no pride in being a happy people anymore. The killing has gone on for too long."

(Additional reporting by Lanre Ola in Maiduguri; Writing by Andrew Heavens; Editing by Giles Elgood)

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