Sometimes when I want to write satire, things happen which make it impossible. Nigeria is living, breathing satire and all one needs to be filled with both laughter and incredulity is to read news coming out of Nigeria. Other times one is just too sad to use any humour as is the case with this article.
On June 25, a bomb was detonated in a shopping plaza a five minute ride away from where I live in Abuja. The windows and door rattled slightly and I didn’t realize that an event that ended the lives of at least 21 persons and permanently changed the lives of many others had just occurred. It made me think. Our first reaction when a bomb goes off or violence breaks out is to call our loved ones in the area and ask if they are ok, or if they knew anyone who died. When the answer is no, we end by saying a variant of ‘Thank God’. The frequency of the bombings and killings have numbed us and forcibly reduced the sphere of our worry to those we personally know. Tragedy fatigue has robbed us of normal responses to mass deaths: demanding answers, demanding accountability, demanding security.
My friend Abang Mercy missed the blast by only a few minutes and was visibly shaken when I met her later that day. Thank God for my life o, she said. As people around the country called me to find out if I was ok, I lost count of ‘Thank Gods’.
The failure of the Nigerian state has increased the significance of the Nigerian god. If there was a power tussle between a functional government or state and a supernatural wonder-working being, then that tussle has been resolved firmly in favour of the Nigerian god. That is why instead of demand accountability from humans who get rich pretending to run Nigeria, we ask the Nigerian god to take charge, to change things, to make things better, even to touch the heart of the leaders we elected into office.
I have a quarrel with this god though and wonder what one has to do to escape being slaughtered in the middle of the night by bandits, being blown to bits by suicide bombers and IEDs or dying because our hospitals have no decent emergency care. Are the persons who die senselessly because the people who should be doing their job aren’t, deserving of death? Should we be thanking god for taking their lives and sparing ours?
I have a bigger quarrel with Nigerians who have taken power away from those being paid to exercise it and dumped it in the arms of the Nigerian god whose desk is already full of requests for husbands, children, safe journeys, prosperity, dream cars, promotions, protection from village enemies, protection from wicked neighbours and mothers-in-law and holy ghost fire for general purposes which may or may not include consuming enemies by fire. I will explain why.
The same day the blast happened I was at a debate organised by the BBC which had the Nigerian Defence spokesperson, the Minister of Interior (who oversaw the deaths of young job seeking Nigerians), the Governors of Niger and Rivers and the Commissioner for Information of Borno State. The hall was also full of young entrepreneurs, professionals and activists. Accusations were traded and especially the Minister, Abba Moro, got booed more than once. In fact two persons directly accused Moro of the deaths of young people whose lives ended because of his woeful planning and negligence. The army was blamed for being ill equipped to fight the insurgency to the hearing of the Defence spokesperson. An outsider might have seen all of this and had hope for the future of Nigeria, thinking that perhaps young people were ready, finally, to take on their leaders. But just like actors in a show, the moment the debate was over, so was the anger and rage. Young people swarmed around the same people who had borne insults minutes earlier. The villains stood proudly to receive people bowing to greet them with smiles. Of course not everyone was part of this charade. At least a couple of people continued the confrontation, especially with Abba Moro who smelled like he must have fallen in a bucket of alcohol on his way to the event.
What is my point? For as long as we keep having two faces – one for when our corrupt leaders are not looking and another when we actually meet them – these men and women without consciences will keep raping us. Unless citizens can rise up and demand accountability and not cede their powers to the Nigerian god, nothing will change. Unless first we believe that we have the power and next, USE that power as citizens, we will keep making those calls after bomb blasts. And if it continues long enough, some day we will find ourselves saying not “Thank God”, but “O my God”.
The sooner we relieve the Nigerian god of duty, the better for us. The sooner we realise that as far as governance is concerned, we, the citizens are the only gods that our leaders need to fear, the better for our country.