By Prof. Terhemba Shija
Why do I have this feeling that our country has left me behind? I honestly feel that I cannot catch the drift of what we used to know as basic human values and the acquisition of insensitivity as the new normal.
I first noticed this in April of 2014 after the kidnap of hundreds of Chibok girls in Borno state. It was indeed a national tragedy both in the failure of intelligence and kinetics. The world of many Nigerian households came to a shattering halt while many others became rudely aware of the reality of shortness of breath and the ubiquitous throes of death. However, it was treated with levity. It took the then President Jonathan over one year to visit the community and parents of the lost angels.
Of course, the entire nation and the international community were outraged by the dastardry act of the Boko Haram. However we did not feel the verve of the peoples’ representatives, the parliamentarians demanding for strict accountability from government, nor did Jonathan himself think it wise to take responsibility for the debacle. As a democratically elected president of Nigeria he failed even to do the obvious, to empathise with the poor victims by at least visiting Borno state until twelve months afterwards.
By the time President Buhari came on board, it seemed Nigeria’s last executive antennae of perceiving humanity was effectively obliterated. It was indeed Senator Akpabio who only recently yelled on the floor of Senate sarcastically that the poor should be allowed to breathe. Nigeria’s state of insecurity had worsened, just as much as its levels of poverty and deprivation. Many more deadly conflicts had developed all over the three geopolitical regions of the North.
Death was demystified. It was no longer news that dozens or hundreds of Nigerians especially helpless villagers died everyday. Kidnappers, politicians and businessmen gambled with the lives of people and the soul the nation. Martyrdom was forced on innocent teenagers like Leah Sharibu and Deborah Samuel while a new clan of conmen emerged as billionaire negotiators on the corridors of Abuja.
Mass massacres by bandits, ethnic cleansing by marauding herdsmen and mass burials of decapitated villagers became so regular that the news mill lost track of the sanctity of human life. Chibok, Kankara, Dapchi, Mafara, Zamfara and so on became buzzwords in the rhetoric of kidnapping business and the meaninglessness accompanying their reiteration.
However, now we have a new government, a new president, and possibly a renewed hope. Do we honestly know the state of affairs in the fight against insecurity in Nigeria? I hear that the new helmsmen in the military are doing their best to control insurgency in the North East, banditry attacks and kidnappings in the North West and herdsmen’s massacre of farmers in the North central.
Could this be true? Are the poor really allowed to breathe in their miserable poverty-stricken environment? In Benue, killings and displacement of innocent villagers are continuing unabated. There’s no awe associated with reports of such massacres. Many more poor people are finding it difficult to breathe on account of poor feeding and high cost of drugs so they are dying in droves.
How else could this mass depletion of the population be considered newsworthy, when it appears death is so familiar and that those in authority have grown insensitive to tragedy? Do the lives of citizens still matter any more? Just imagine that the mass killing of 90 hapless Nigerians through an accidental bomb discharge by the military is not devastating enough to touch the psyche of politicians. The chairman of the National Assembly, Senate President Akpabio and socalled architect of let the poor breathe campaign, feels comfortable gathering all our country’s 100 senators a few days afterwards at a stadium to lavishly celebrate his birthday. No sympathy, no empathy, no compassion, no solidarity and no pity.
Do our leaders still have a sense of humanity left in them after such a long haul of savagery in Nigeria? Was Senator Akpabio really serious with his remarks about the breathlessness of the poor in Nigeria?
Prof. Terhemba Shija is a Nigerian academic, poet, novelist, critic and a politician. He contributed this piece from Abuja.