A newspaper carries the news of a range of killings in Benue State. It is the fourth of such incident reports in a week. While on the front page, it is tucked somewhere at the bottom corner existing between a sports report on the UEFA Champions League and a journalist’s piece on political party defections.
Underneath it is a picture of two burned houses, standing side by side, charred shadows of the resting places they once were. Correspondingly, on Twitter, an account belonging to a popular journalist releases a series of tweets about the death of 85 Nigerians in Zamfara. The majority of the death toll are women and children, primarily, I assume, because they are less equipped for the quick and hurried escape required to avoid massacres of this nature.
This tweet is also accompanied by pictures. Gory images that come without warning about graphic content. Dispersed limbs, blood, white bones, all mixed in a rubble of mud and grass and somewhere in the midst of all this, a baby’s face peeks out. It is in an ironic state of seeming peace and untouched by the violence that has brought its owner death. This post, despite the unreal popularity of its owner, has 6 likes and 15 retweets.
The tap of grief in this country has since slowed to a trickle
In Zadie Smith’s short story, The Embassy of Cambodia, there is a scene where the main character, an African girl named Fatou, confronts a male friend of hers with two contrasting stories of death. The first is one she witnessed while working as a hotel attendant in Ghana. Early morning on a beach beside the hotel, she wakes up to find nine dead bodies of little children washed up on the shore. Victims of an overestimation of their swimming skills.
There are just a few people around and what follows are a few shaking of heads and comments about the children being with God now. A year later, she is in Rome and witnesses the aftermath of an accident involving a fifteen year old boy on a bike. He dies on the spot and what strikes Fatou is the grief that follows this scene.
Wailing and heartfelt crying from the surrounding crowd full of people who were complete strangers to the dead boy. The next day, his death makes front page. In response to this story, Fatou’s friend responds “a tap runs fast the first time you switch it on”.
The tap of grief in this country has since slowed to a trickle. At least until the death becomes personal and strikes a person you loved. There was a time when a stranger’s death shocked Nigerians. Especially when it came in the most gruesome manner – the kind involving machetes and bombs. Times when an Igbo man in Onitsha felt the hollowness at the pit of his stomach at the news of someone dying in Borno.
The sad thing though is I cannot remember such a time. Nigeria’s history has always been filled with death like these and insufficient ostrich-imitating reactions. Maybe, the situation is more depressing now because of the availability of quick-time reporting. A variety of media tools that ensure that people are flooded with more bad news than they can muster anger for.
Nigerians are yet to realize the danger of being too comfortable with avoidable tragedy. The fact that this reaction transcends just death and is visible in every area of both the public and private sector is more scary. The standard of what is permissible for this society continues to plummet to new lows. Leaders know this.
They know that if you perpetuate incompetence for long enough, with sufficient audacity, one day the people will weary of complaining and begin to question their demands on leadership.They will wonder if maybe they are not asking for too much and if they deserve as much as they thought they did from a society this broken.
Indeed for necessary change to happen, people must have a bottomless source of anger. They must find every death a completely fresh affront on their existence. An unforgivable sin that must not happen again.
Speak Culture is a First Culture series tackling violence and oppression across genders and societies perpetrated either by individuals or governments. To contribute, send your within 1000 word piece as an attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “SPEAK CULTURE.” To read others, click here.