Monday, 12 January 2015

For Baga


There was a terrorist attack in France a few days ago and a lot has been said about how Nigerians and the Western media have focused on this incident and paid little attention to what is happening in Baga. But I think we need to be honest with ourselves: a terrorist attack in France is news. A terrorist attack in North Eastern Nigeria is no longer news. When a Boko Haram attack breaks on my twitter timeline, I hurry past, rushing to the next banal tweet: a Nigerian comedian's latest gaffe, or an APC/PDP devotee waxing on the virtues of their chosen candidate, or more often downplaying their short comings. A speech delivered at a Presidential rally gets more airtime than a bomb blast because convincing speeches from our leaders are so rare, and explosions are so common.

Sometimes you want to make sure that you're still normal and it is not because you think white lives matter more that you immediately knew what the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag meant but you had to google #bringbackourgirls when that campaign was born. So you try empathy. Empathy is the fruit of an imagination and imagination is something that writers usually have in excess. So you picture yourself in Baga. 2,000 dead they said, though they never agree. When the 'they' is government, 2000 becomes 100. When it's an NGO, add at least one '0' to the government figure. They all say they are lying.

Fact of the matter remains, whether 2,000 or 200, there are a lot of dead bodies around Baga. But then this is not empathy, to walk through Baga like a journalist, taking photos of nameless corpses, stunned by it all but still one step removed, still composed enough to remember that my editor will want both a gruesome shot and a milder image, that I must find survivors to interview, that perhaps a translator must be arranged.

 And so I enter Baga again, and try to become someone born there, someone raised there, who went to the local school, when girls still felt safe going to school. And then these dead bodies are no longer dead bodies, they are my friends and teachers and pastors and imams and brothers and sisters and parents. And then I think it is time for me to jump off this careening empathy wagon because the image of a row of people I know, corpses, bent at unnatural angles, faces destroyed with bullets, is one that I do not want to dwell on. Just from this small exercise in empathy, my face is twitching and my eyes are watering.

So I can still cry for Nigeria. Of what use is that to the people of Baga? None perhaps but it is of some use to our country. The fact is we have put up a wall between ourselves and what Boko Haram is doing. How do you function otherwise? How do you have a job, and go to school, and make your deadlines if every time an attack happens, you bring your life to a standstill? And yet we are lost as a nation if we cannot mark the passing of 2,000 Nigerians. If their dying makes no clamour in us. Tears fix nothing, build nothing, repair nothing but we must still shed them so they can water our resolve, which has withered in these arid conditions. We cannot let Nigeria disintegrate on our watch. We must not. We will not.          

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