“500 killed in a fresh crisis in Jos“ on Monday. “20 shot dead by unknown gunmen in Postikum“ on Tuesday. “10 killed in a Boko Haram attack“ on Wednesday. “20 killed in a Boko Haram attack“ on Thursday. “30 killed in a Boko Haram attack“ on Friday. “40 killed in a Boko Haram attack“ on Saturday. “Bomb goes off in church during service, 50 reported killed, many injured” on Sunday. As the more perceptive Nigerian journalists now know, these are the clichés that no longer attract readers no matter the best efforts of sensation-minded editors. These have been the headlines of Nigerian newspapers with which the psyches of thinking Nigerians are constantly harassed, so their empathies are bumbed and diminished, day in, day out.
Our silence over the killings across northern Nigeria is a defeat, not merely of our empathies, but of wisdom, and commonsense. Wisdom to intervene, wisdom to understand the forces that turn this region into an abattoir; also very correctly, it is the mask of our fear! Fear that activism, which has no financial rewards, will only put us on the way of danger. And the people who call themselves our elders, whereas all they do is misbehaving in the name of regional advocacy, seem more interested in self-serving campaigns for emergence of a northerner as president come 2015. These are the same elders who watched as the region, having lost its conscience to years of denied and misused privileges, collapsed into this inherited mess. Our silence is out of fear and defeat. Our misplaced empathy, however, is an anticipated outcome in psychology. This is a discovery that shocked me this week.
Our reactions to the explosions in Boston, far-far away America, are lessons not only in hypocrisy but wrong prioritisation of empathies. The Nigerians who claimed, or so I concluded, that their emotions have been emptied on the many deaths in the land were indeed just in agreement with a certain unwritten law that says the value of a Nigerian’s life, because of its predictable end, is not any different from that of a cow in an abattoir. The world is still a plantation, where our minds and brains are still in chains of inferiority complex. This perhaps explains the mental slavery we unwittingly exhibit in our rush to glorify the West and identify with their miseries while our own entire lives are spent ignoring events that are equally grief-worthy. But, just when you challenge and remind fellow countrymen to respect our perpetually grieving selves, you hear: “I’m a full-blooded human being with feelings first before being a Nigerian; basic human feelings dictate empathy.” You’re at a loss. You do not really know how to spell, and be understood, that a corpse in Borno is just as one in Boston.
Fellow Nigerian, you are not a sympathiser, you are a statistic of the bereaved whose misery and hopelessness deserve a “take heart” from the Americans as well. I do not ask you not to exhibit the universality of your emotions—which I trust may earn you a relocation to America without a visa—I just want to remind you that you and the grieving Americans are in the same state and, deplorably, the Americans do not really give a hoot about your tragedies. That, however, does not ask for reciprocity. It just asks for sober reflections, for which you may reach a simple epiphany: Your silence over the deaths in your land means you have given up in its return to sanity, and do not forget the probability of your death in a bomber’s crafts is as high as any other Nigerians’.
We are just like the innocent prisoners in Condemned Prisoners section awaiting the hangman, while the Americans close down their borders for you, and your empathy. You see, I always love America. Its government knows the true definition of empathy—“Understanding and entering into citizens’ feelings”. Citizens! And that is the love that exalts its people and their interests. A genuine government ought to be operated thus, it ought to recognise and pacify the grief of its people and guarantee the security of their properties, home and overseas, before anything else. This love is the reason America protects its own even where it stands to damage others’ territory. This is the reason for the drones it sends to the Middle East, knowing well that machines have no sense and emotions and, yes, they kill many innocent people, because empathy is actually solidarity with your own first. Don’t get me wrong, fellow countryman, I’m only trying to show you that your country should come first in the geography of your emotions, and that is why your sympathy is needed here first. You’re the bereaved, dammit!
I always tell my friends that Nigeria is still a mess because its people are not angry enough. We accept every tragedy that befalls us as an act of God, and even try to acculturate the things that cause us pains; like the quest for secessions, when what we need is uniting against the political thieves who cut across every ethnic group and region. We are not angry until the day we divest ourselves of these sentiments that reduce a national calamity that occurs in a region to those of the people it happens to only, people who are themselves victims of our flawed social, religious and political structures. Boko Haram, which is the biggest monster that feeds on us now, is the evil that happens when the people tasked with leading do not pay mind to the curricula of our religious studies and to the sociology and welfare of the common man. This ideologically hollow insurgency gets out of hand because of our defeatist mentality; we watch as the society loses its pulse because it is, as we assume, none of our business. “What is good for the Hausa is not good for the Igbo!” That is not the American spirit, which is what, if I get you right, attracts your “universal” empathy. May God save us from us.
Blueprint Newspapers (19/04/2013)
@gimbakakanda (On Twitter)