Besides the obvious harm, in the form of the immediate and constant threat to life, that the Boko Haram insurgency continues to pose for those of us who are unfortunate enough to be caught up in or around crisis prone areas, the prolonged state of insecurity in the land is destroying our humanity. It is often said that whenever people do bad things, those things test your faith in humanity; that faith is tested even more when people continue to commit those bad things in a coordinated and sustained fashion. To paraphrase the words I picked from an in-flight magazine I read recently, almost on a daily basis nowadays, Nigerians – both the old and the young among us – are constantly being exposed to gory scenes of extreme violence that are “almost surreal in their severity, as well as being almost normal in their everydayness”.
These range from those arising from the fallout of the ongoing insurgency campaign in parts of the North East; violence as a result of the perennial religious, ethnic and communal clashes in some North Central states, as well as in Kaduna and, more recently, Taraba states; the systematic mass killings and wanton destruction of life and property under the guise of the more recent phenomenon of cattle rustling in parts of the North Central and North West; violence arising from armed robbery, kidnapping and ritual murder cases in the South West and South East, and; violence as a result of the jungle justice being visited upon kidnap and ritual murder suspects by angry mobs in parts of the South West and Kwara State, among many others.
The inherent danger in all of this, which may not be very obvious to many of us at the moment, is the fact that we are slowly but gradually being stripped of our respective natural human instincts of empathy; so much so, that these horrific acts will inexorably become normal, tolerable, or, worse still, even acceptable to us at some point. One would hate to even contemplate how nasty, brutish and short life would become under such a Hobbesian state of nature, where everyone is at war against everyone else. This is because even those directly responsible for the ongoing needless carnage, and several others who may insidiously be stoking it from behind the scenes, will eventually come to regret living in the kind of society they would have helped create for themselves and the (un)fortunate ones among us that would have survived long enough to witness it!
It is thus very helpful, at this point, for all of us – the perpetrators, innocent victims and security agencies alike, who are saddled with the primary responsibility of quelling it, – to constantly remind ourselves of the inherent message contained in a popular refrain that says, “be careful what you wish for, because it just might come true!”. It is simply in our own enlightened self-interest to ensure that we keep doing so; and, as sad as the April 14 kidnap of hundreds of schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno state is, it may well be the major turning point in this insurgency.
One cannot but wonder aloud how precisely we got to this sorry pass; a situation in which people now deliberately choose to react to issues on the basis of whether or not they have any direct bearing on them at the personal or communal level. Nowhere is this more self-evident than on the social media, where issues that should ordinarily concern us all as human beings and as compatriots, are no longer dispassionately analysed and debated purely on the basis of what is right or wrong. It is now very common to see fellow Nigerians, including, sadly, products of Federal Government Colleges, taking delight in needlessly insulting and tearing one another apart, as they often view issues through the narrow prism of ethnic and/or religious affiliations, thereby making a complete mockery of the noble idea behind the entire concept of unity schools.
Things are now so bad, to the extent that once something does not affect us or our community directly, some of us even go to the bizarre extent of publicly gloating over a misfortune that may befall another community. In essence, any nation building and nationalism research fellow in search of clear examples on how NOT to build a nation need not go any further than a social media site frequented by Nigerians to obtain tonnes of them! But the pertinent question we must all ask ourselves is: where on earth is the common humanity that we all share? Each and every one of us must have at one time or another come across the age-old mantra that says, what affects one affects all. When and how did things get this bad? Whatever happened to the popular creed about being our brother’s keeper?
In his very famous and provocative post-war period poem, the German theologian, Martin Niemoller (1892 – 1984), had copiously addressed the cowardice and possible complicity of the German intellectuals and members of the clergy, following the Nazi’s rise to power and the subsequent purging of their chosen target, group after group, when he wrote: First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a socialist/Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a trade unionist/Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew/Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.
The import of Niemoller’s highly instructive poem must never be lost on us. This is because any lingering notion in the minds of some of us that the ongoing insurgency campaign is a localised affair, having been ‘successfully contained’ in a particular section of the country (as if to suggest that Nigerians living in those places are not entitled to live their lives in peace!), would have quickly evaporated with the apparent expansion of the theatre of violence to other areas hitherto considered safe. Moreover, with the present high rate of mobility among the nation’s population, it does not really matter who you are or where you come from; all that is required for any of us to fall victim to these precipitate acts of violence – be they on account of the insurgency, armed robbery, kidnap (whether for ransom or for ritual purposes), ethnic, communal or religious crises – is simply for one to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Not even those in high places appear to be safe anymore, as many of them have equally fallen prey to the antics of the kidnappers, who appear to be targeting their parents, siblings, spouses and children for handsome ransom pay-offs. Violence, it would seem, no longer discriminates.
We must, therefore, endeavour to put all our differences aside and take advantage of our collective resentment against Boko Haram to work together to end the ongoing madness,
Abdullahi Usman via firstname.lastname@example.org