A Year After Buni Yadi

As far as being patient and resilient are concerned, Nigerians are the toughest nuts around. We have been abused, battered, bruised and misused by the horrendous socio-economic policies of various governments and we’re still standing. Increase the pump price of petrol; we’ll grumble for a while but we’ll still pay. Ask us to pay for erratic/non-existent electricity; we’ll queue up at the various electricity distribution offices and still pay. Arbitrarily introduce new license plate numbers for vehicles and ram them down our throats; we’ll comply. Our landlords increase our rents at short notice; we’ll hustle our butts off (pardon my language) and make up for it. For those familiar with the afro beat music of Fela Anukulapo Kuti, the term “suffering & smiling” is the apt and simplest way to describe the plight of the common man in Nigeria. A friend of mine recently remarked that the definitions of the words “patient”, “hustle” and “resilient” should make special reference to Nigerians as those are areas at which we are very adept.

FGC college attack
FGC college attack

A proverb in my native language, Hausa says: “Mahakurchi, mawadachi”. Roughly this can be translated to mean “the patient one always benefits”. I guess it can be regarded as the Hausa equivalent of the saying “This too shall pass”. As a child and even till now, when I go through difficult times, my mother always makes reference to this proverb. Despite having known this proverb since childhood, I have always been at odds with it. Don’t get me wrong, I am an exceedingly patient individual and I’m all for turning the other cheek. However, I don’t believe being patient all the time is beneficial or easy. One of my points of divergence with the proverb stems from the fact that in most cases when one is patient in the face of difficulty, there is hardly any benefit. You sometimes just cut your losses, move on and hope at some point you can recover. Secondly, for how long can one continue to be patient and for what type of misfortunes or tragedies?

I can understand being patient with an increase in petroleum pump price, arbitrary introduction/imposition of new license plate numbers, paying for non-existent electricity and short notice increases in rent. Under normal circumstances, being patient in the face of other harsher difficulties, misfortunes and tragedies is an unrelentingly difficult task. In Nigeria, being patient in the face of harsh misfortunes and tragedies aside from its inherent difficulty can be highly depressing and frustrating. It can kill you silently.

On the 25th of February, 2014, 59 (Fifty Nine) young boys were gruesomely murdered in cold blood at the Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, Yobe State, Nigeria. During the attack, 24 buildings in the school were also burned down. Despite an absence of a claim of responsibility for the attack, it bore the usual marks of Boko Haram attacks. There was no strict investigation into the attack. It was swept under the large carpet of convenience reserved for violent crimes since the start of the insurgency.

On that day, flags did not fly at half-mast; there was no one minute silence from the government as is customary. In fact, the mostsignificant (for want of a better expression) recognition they got from the government or any of its functionaries was when the Special Adviser to the President on New Media, Reno Omokri was implicated in a scandal that erupted when he drafted an article under the pseudonym “Wendell Simlin”, where he wrongly accused the former CBN Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi of having a hand in the massacre as reprisal for his removal. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the wildfire manner in which the news of the horrible crime kept circulating on social media sites, it may have just slipped into the repository of forgotten national tragedies.

For the grief stricken parents of these children, how on earth can anyone look them in the eye and tell them to be patient with the tragedy that has befallen them, especially when the government, aside from its being derelict in its primary duty of securing the lives of these young boys, has literally added insult to injury by not according these individuals the usual honor bestowed upon citizens of a country who lose their lives in such terrible circumstances? How do you tell them this shall pass? There are no words to describe how hurt the parents of those poor boys are and how disgusted they must feel at a government that has let them down by continuously disregarding their sensitivities. At what point do they begin to be patient? Losing a child is bad enough but to be deemed not worthy of any words of kindness or recognition by your government is a feeling that cannot be imagined.

Yesterday I furiously flipped through news channels on TV and news sites on the internet to see if there would be any reference to the anniversary of the massacre. I was disappointed. Knowing my country very well and the attitude towards the lives of those deemed too insignificant to matter, I felt angry and gullible at my expectation that there would be any reference to the tragedy or a memorial ceremony to honor the victims. The highest recognition and honor accorded to these boys was by the #BringBackOurGirls group who held a special session where Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili and other members called the parents of the slain boys to offer words of support and sympathy. No word from the President or anyone in government.

That is how low the life of the common man has sunk in Nigeria. For your life or indeed your death to matter, you must belong to a particular class of individuals. This fact was well elucidated when the Vice President’s brother lost his life in a car crash. The weekly Federal Executive Council meeting was cancelled in his honor. As for the Buni Yadi boys, there was no such recognition. Honestly, this level of disregard for the life of the common Nigerian is what makes me feel convinced that George Orwell may have been referring to Nigeria when he wrote Animal Farm. He just did not know it at the time.

In November 2013, the roof of the Zolitude shopping center in Latvia collapsed and resulted in the deaths of 54 people and injuries to 41 others. This led to the resignation of the Latvian Prime Minister, Valdis Dombrovskis. Considering the remoteness of the cause or responsibility for the tragedy from the Prime Minister, Nigerians may be forgiven for thinking he was hasty in his decision to resign from office. Not so. His decision to resign is a portrayal of the importance responsible leaders place on the lives of all of their citizens. I wouldn’t expect the President to resign for the Buni Yadi massacre (as proper as that would have been) but at least some expression of contrition or sympathy would be much appreciated.

Earlier this month when the terrorist organisation, the Islamic State released a video in which a Jordanian air force pilot, Moaz al-Kasasbeh was burned to death, it prompted the King of Jordan to not only cut short his visit to the United States. King Abdullah, a trained pilot led airstrikes against Islamic State strongholds HIMSELF. That is real and inspiring leadership! Being there for your people when they need you the most, not detaching yourself from them during their time of need and visiting them only when elections are around the corner.

We as citizens cannot be absolved of our collective callousness towards the plight of each other as well. If the leadership is insensitive towards the plight of the common man, should the common man then be insensitive towards the plight of another in the same situation and social standing as he? Most people shrugged off the news of the massacre with the same level of complacency with which the Chibok abduction was greeted with.

That is how polarized and desensitized we have become towards the suffering of our fellow countrymen. Before we sympathize, we first identify with the affected individuals on the basis of religion, ethnicity, language, dialect, locality, and in some cases, political affiliations. Our ability to bond and grieve as one people has been decimated. We must realize that our shared identity as citizens of one country is the greatest engine of progress we can ever hope to have. Without this realization we’re no better than elementary school kids bickering over a seesaw in the playground.

To the parents of the slain young boys of Federal Government College, Buni Yadi, others that have lost loved ones to this insanity, the families of our slain soldiers and everyone around the world who has lost a loved one to acts of terror, no words are enough to convey sympathy for your loss. This will have to do for now: May God grant the souls of your dearly departed rest and may He ease your pain and bestow upon you the strength to bear the loss. The punishment of God is swift and will be visited upon those that have caused you such pain in this world and the next.

To the various individuals, charity and humanitarian organizations working tirelessly to provide internally displaced people with the much needed relief materials, may you receive bountiful rewards for your selfless generosity and expression of compassion towards the plight of others.

To the #BringBackOurGirls group all over the world who remind us every day to honor our common humanity, we are grateful to you for speaking up for those whose voices have been suppressed.