To witness and to inspire

Archive for the category “Naija”

Numb Nigeria.

I was busy tweeting away yesterday the sixth of October when the astonishing news came through. As I read the story my heart literally melted. Three students had been beaten and burnt to death because they stolen a laptop and a phone in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. I have been warned that the pictures are so distressing they can make a grown man cry and as a result I have decided not to try and look for them, or investigate any further into the matter.

Now this was the second of such an incident in the same week, with both being equally as gruesome as the other. The earlier incident occurred in a place called Mubi, somewhere in the north of Nigeria. In the middle of the night, an impromptu roll call was made at the university grounds. As the names were called out, each student was taken away and shot by unknown gunmen, and this occurred for the next two hours. I cannot imagine the state of mind of their fellow students as the killing squad slowly murdered between 20-40 students (I’ve heard different numbers so I’m not exactly sure), uninterrupted! It is ironic that it is now rumoured that this was not a terrorist attack. No. It was due to a dispute over the student elections that had recently taken place at the university.

Meanwhile, the reaction of the general public must be noted. It seems the news of the Mubi killings took a while to filter down to most Nigerians as the public outcry is non-existent. Two days after the killings, a popular Nigerian “tweep” @toluogunlesi retweeted a tweet of someone asking “Pls wats dis #mubikillings thing?” The inquirer really had no idea what the incident was about. If a single student gets shot on a campus in America, the whole world knows about it. However, the rate at which the atrocities occur makes it hard for many to react. Before you can adequately mourn one disaster, another is thrown in your face. You become numb. A lot, once told the bad news, will just click their fingers across their heads and utter “tofiakwa”, thereby repelling the possibility of such an incident occurring to them or their relatives. Some are numb, some are cold-hearted. It is reported that the pictures of the students in Port Harcourt– taken while they were being tortured, and after they had been murdered- were released by fellow students who had managed to be passing by. There was even a power point presentation of the incident made.

But I had experienced something of the sort earlier this year. I was with quite a few students of a particular private university in Nigeria when the news came through that ‘Modou’ (or something like that), the thief that had been disturbing their campus for the past few months, had been beaten to death by some boys who had managed to catch him while he was about embarking on one of his escapades. I was actually shocked by how well this news was received. I remember clearly one of the girls shouting “Thank you Jesus!” I could not understand the psyche behind this and asked why they would celebrate as cold-blooded a murder as this? An argument began that got rather heated because they got angry at me for being unable to understand their reasoning. Were they meant to take him to the police who would bail him out soon after? But my question was why would death ever be the solution? Their conclusion was “Ayo you don’t know anything. This is Nigeria!” That day I realised that the very people I joke and laugh with had the capability to harbour what I consider very sinister thoughts. They did not view life as precious as I did.

Now I do not condemn any of them or even the boys who committed the murder. I practice what I preach (referring to my last blog). I guess we all are products of our environment, and maybe if I had experienced that environment long enough I might feel the same and celebrate along with them. But no, one or two of them actually felt bad that ‘Modou’ had died and thought his murder was wrong.

I asked my friend and uncle why things are the way they are and his response got me thinking in a whole different direction. He said “There is no single answer. Nigeria is at the precipice. If you care to know many die daily of starvation and other sundry system collapses.” In responding, I said seeking a solution might require fighting the system. He replied, “Yup. But we always find a way to side step the logical obvious. Life goes on. It is just a scary statistic. Better them than me.”

What he said reminded me of a poem I studied while I was doing my GCSE’s. It’s titled “Not My Business” by Niyi Osudare.

They picked Akanni up one morning
Beat him soft like clay
And stuffed him down the belly
Of a waiting jeep.

What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

They came one night
Booted the whole house awake
And dragged Danladi out,
Then off to a lengthy absence.

What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

Chinwe went to work one day
Only to find her job was gone:
No query, no warning, no probe –
Just one neat sack for a stainless record.

What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

And then one evening
As I sat down to eat my yam
A knock on the door froze my hungry hand.

The jeep was waiting on my bewildered lawn
Waiting, waiting in its usual silence.

The poet makes it clear that the oppressors thrive when their victims act only for themselves, which, if we really look at, has been the case for Nigeria since its conception. A state where military chiefs are appointed and the first question they are asked is which state in the nation they originate from? There has been talk of splitting the nation but for me this cannot work. There are millions of Nigerians who would be left stranded if such occurs. Where would you put the Delta woman married to a Yoruba man that gave birth to all her children in Kano? The logistics would make it very difficult and such a project will undoubtedly not end amicably. It would be a disaster.

In the poem “Niyi Osundare also criticizes the character in the poem for thinking only of food – or perhaps understands that, in a poor country, hunger is a powerful weapon of the tyrant.” How do you expect to educate a man and change his reasoning when he is constantly inflicted by hunger? A nation where: according to the national statistics agency the unemployment rate is above 40%; there are 40 million illiterates; 39% of students passed the secondary school exams, which was also the best result in 6 years… and the list goes on.

Maybe we need to fight the system. Maybe a new set of national heroes are needed. Maybe, but the land is green, it’s just that the grass is growing very slowly. Cutting the grass shorter makes it grow faster, right?


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