by Mazi Chiagozie Nwonwu
My constantly changing Twitter and Facebook timelines are announcing news of another attack in Kano as I write this.
It’s Easter Sunday and I am lying sprawled on the now child-battered centre rug that used to be my pride and joy. Coming from the kitchen is the sound of something sizzling in oil and the scent of spices. My wife is cooking a feast for the Easter Celebration. I do not call out to her to inform her of the latest bomb story. I actually stopped telling her about the bombings long ago. On her part, gone are those exclamations, which used to be her response to news of another mass killing. Ewuchim o! She used to exclaim—an expression that encompasses the pain and helplessness that mark such situations. These days, when she hears of another attack she just shakes her head sadly and say “eeyah”.
I used to post reaction to the news on my Facebook page, from where one of those combined social media apps takes it on to Twitter, and perhaps Linkedin, but I don’t do that anymore, at least not with the same conviction or purpose. Fewer and farther in between are those angry words directed at the perpetrators.
I also no longer see the propriety in wishing that the dead peacefully rest when those who took their lives remain free to kill again and again. Effectively, I am numb and I can easily say same for most of my compatriots. We no longer react as sane human beings world over would react to the violent premature deaths of scores of innocents.
I am ashamed that I am this way, even though I try to take solace in the fact that my state of mind is a side effect of how routine news of death by Boko Haram has become. This state of mind extends across the whole country.
Now and then, Boko Haram and its sister terror vessels take the horror metre up a notch, enough to make a nation largely acclimatised to their brand of evil shake off the numbness and take to social media pages to vent for a day or two, then we go back to the new normal. The new normal appears to be death by grenade or AK47 on a daily basis, and death by bomb once, twice or trice in a blood soaked week.
In my mind – though I need to dig to find it – there are still memories of a time when stories of road-side bombing, suicide bombing and killers who scream “Allahu Akbar” as they take the life of men, women and children created by that same God, was something we attributed to the Middle East and American movies. Though the Middle East continues to face that same problem, it has extended its reach to Nigeria. As it is, something that even the most pessimistic of us would not have envisioned, lives with us.
Truthfully, when the bombs came to Nigeria, they did not come via what many believe is the physical expression of the misinterpretation of a prophet’s teaching. They came through a bunch of gunmen who purported to fight for the ecologically damaged oil producing communities.
I recall I was in Bori Camp army barracks in Port Harcourt job hunting after my Youth Service in 2005 when a car bomb went off in the major road in the barrack. I can’t recall if that incident made the news then, but since that was before social media changed how news is distributed and accessed, I think not, especially since it happened in a military barrack.
That attack could possibly be MEND and its fellow travellers’ first use of bombs to drive home a point. Bomb culture MEND style soon became a staple of those so-called freedom fighters and they continued claiming responsibility until things came to a head when the Independence Day bombing was attributed to MEND.
The bomb detonator then moved to the Islamic militants who already, it appears, have an affiliation with bombs via their brothers in arms and ideology in the Middle East. Boko Haram, in whatever form, embraced suicide bombings with the same ferocity Islamic insurgents in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq did and brought us to where we are today.
Boko Haram and the question of reason
Unlike the Niger Delta gunmen, the Boko Haram guys appear—they’ve stated this as well—not to be driven by economic gain or social empowerment (I do not buy all that John Campbell-esque argument about marginalisation of the North and other similar bla bla blas). For Boko Haram and its affiliates, the call of Jihad seems to be the major motivation.
True, we must not forget, how the high handedness of the Nigerian Police played a big role in the morphing of a localised Islamic belief system into an insurgency that has now achieved international dimensions, but we must not lose sight of the horror that is Islamic fundamentalism and how it has become a reoccurring decimal in much of the Muslim world.
That said, this does not mean that poverty and unemployment are not catalysts here. A hungry youth with little to live for in the now is more easily sold to the idea of the immeasurable beauty of life in the hereafter and would more readily embrace a trip to that waiting paradise, especially when all he needs to do to get there is to kill some folks.
Still, as Abdulmutalab and other upper class insurgents have shown, this is not as accurate a depiction of fundamentalists as many of us would want to believe. Fanatical religiosity is not a disease peculiar to the poor, neither is the desire for a place in heaven. However, it is the responsibility of government, or those in control of what many call our collective commonwealth, to see that any one that can be saved from the grip of the sort of fanaticism that Boko Haram and like-minded groups represent is saved. If providing access to qualitative education, employment and an all round good life is the key to achieving this, then it behoves on the government to explore this path. If you think not, then you had better remember what they say about idle minds.
The above may sound very much like an affirmation of the Campbell theory of Northern Nigeria Insurgency, but it is only a take on a probable solution. We may do the usual finger pointing about how the north has had more than their fair share of power, but since that will only lead to further finger pointing, I would rather go on.
But permit me to ask if any of the former or present leaders from the north has had a child, brother, wife, sister, mother and father killed in this insurgency? I will also like to ask if any of them are sending their kids to the schools or hospitals in the north? Same question may be asked about the leaders in the south?
Time to stop the finger pointing and deal with this
Boko Haram insurgency is a very complex one. It is probably the most complex of its type in the world. I see the Boko Haram story as consisting of different elements that together amount to a very deadly mix. So we have religion, ethnicity, poverty, illiteracy, politics and some other things finding expression in it one way or the other. And I doubt if we can tackle any one of them in isolation.
Boko Haram and its associate insurgents are a very difficult case, but it is not an impossible task. It can be done, but those who have a stake in the solution must come together to do the needed. Finger pointing is the order of the day and the fallacy of this method of fighting an insurgency, or anything for that matter, can be better addressed by an analogy.
In late 90s, prophetess Helen Nkume was making some serious waves as a gospel singer in the South East. With a knack for danceable beats and barrelful of wise saying, Prophetess Nkume was one of the better-known Gospel musicians expressing themselves in Igbo language then. One of her songs predicted woe for the enemy pointing accusing fingers at her. According to Ms. Nkume, the enemy should be aware that while he/she is pointing at her, four fingers in that same hand (It is actually three fingers, I checked) would be pointing back at the pointer. There is a lesson in this, a lesson for our political and religious class who insist on laying the blame elsewhere instead of admitting to themselves that they are at fault.
If the lesson is learnt by all—read political, cultural and religious leaders across the country—there would be better understanding and cohesion in the push to make the country safer. The situation where everyone is chasing shadows should not be allowed to continue. While we may never agree on what Boko Haram is or what they are really fighting for (even the self identified leader of the group seems to be clueless in this regard), we surely must all agree that the group and its copycats are destroying the social and economic fabric of an integral part of this country. We must also agree that the actions of Boko Haram is inflicting on us a mindset that sees the deadly carnage they wrought as normal—a deadly psychological no no if you ask me.
Instead of everyone reverting to type when the bombs go off: The government spokesmen mouthing the usual no-stones-unturned mantra or a not so well reversed version of it, my fellow Igbos talking about plans against our race, the people of the West fronting and declaring “Dem no born Boko Haram well to bomb here”, and the people of the North wringing their hands, accusing the government of being responsible or not doing enough, after all what is good for the Niger Delta bandits should equally be good for the Boko Haram bandits.
Instead of all that, Nigerians should learn that talk and finger pointing solves nothing if it does not stop the senseless killings. Don’t count on it sha.
So, I was talking about my wife’s cooking
I chew on a piece of chicken as I write, wondering if as a result of the fresh attack in Kano, somebody’s son or daughter would never know the taste of food ever again. I shake my head, but the image of mangled bodies once implanted refuse to go away.
I look at Twitter for a bit and am not surprised that an update on the bombing is sandwiched between a tweet from a celebrity musician about her difficulty in choosing between brown and white rice and another from someone directing people to visit a site and download the latest Nigerian club banger.
So in effect we continue to party while the bombs go off. We act as if everything is ok. We may be numb to it all, but like Naeto C said “things are not the same”.