In November 2018, over 100 Nigerian soldiers were gruesomely slaughtered at a town called Metele by a contingent of Boko Haram terrorists. That sad event influenced an article in which I argued that losing that many soldiers in one sitting should mark a turning point in existing attempts to exterminate the murderous gang. But Metele was brushed aside and almost four years later, Nigeria continues to face existential threats to its continued existence and a loss of faith by citizens that the people who should know, know what they should know.
On 28 March 2022, a train heading to Kaduna from Abuja was attacked by a band of terrorists inadequately titled “bandits”. Although some media reports claim the train had about 970 persons on board, this number is yet to be confirmed. All we know is that a number of persons were killed on the train and some others were kidnapped. The civilian casualties might have been more but the Nigerian Army showed up and an unannounced number of soldiers gave their lives in exchange for passengers.
While the violence was ongoing along the train tracks, another battle was raging on Twitter. To start with, pro-government propaganda accounts gleefully denied any suggestion that any train was under attack despite sustained incoming reports. Even when someone on the train tweeted that she had been shot and sought prayers, persons who believe patriotism means disregarding their humanity gathered to make fun of her like a pack of ravenous wolves taunting their prey. As Dr Chinelo’s life drained away, she must have wondered what she had done to deserve so much vitriolic bile from her compatriots. We can never tell what she thought just before she died, but we can be sure that whoever would mock a stranger at point of death is in urgent need of redemption.
There are several things to unpack about this incident. Before writing this, I had to pray for my heart to be flooded with love because incidents like this can easily make normal humans become as hateful as the vile persons they wish to despise, or become so cynical and despondent, and give up on anything good ever coming out from Nigeria. But we know that there is a lot of good in Nigeria. Neither a cacophony of hardened hearts nor official nonchalance or incompetence would define this nation.
While our favourite patriots would disagree, the security architecture in Nigeria is presently in disarray. Stating this fact does not make one an enemy of the President. For some years within the present administration, the road from Abuja to Kaduna has been leased by murderers, kidnappers, and thieves, thus forcing many persons to use the trains since air transport is too expensive for regular Nigerians. There are indications that the train attack occurred around the point of a prior attack. This makes one to wonder if the security agencies learned any lesson from past rehearsals by the terrorists, or are overwhelmed by the resources required to maltreat citizens and also monitor and suppress dissent.
Coming back to regular Nigerians, we seem to be expanding our capacity for bitterness. While we shame the witches and wizards who rejoiced that Dr Chinelo and others had been attacked, we have another group rejoicing that some victims are supporters of the President. While we may want to draw a link between cause and effect, I think our shared humanity should keep us from rejoicing at evil being suffered by someone else, because we could easily have been the ones on that train. We also need redemption and a purging of our hearts, so we do not remain in the seat of the scornful nor have an icebox where our hearts used to be.
There is yet another group of patriots who absolve the government of any responsibility whatsoever. These ones are adamant that all evils being suffered in Nigeria are due to “the opposition” trying to claim power at the 2023 elections. Apparently, the government has no way of checkmating “sabotage by the opposition”. One of such persons would go as far as suggesting that a government-controlled entity imported substandard petrol as part of a ploy by the opposition to discredit the government. I wonder if anything less potent than the famed blood of Jesus can even attempt to redeem such persons.
Like Metele in 2018, Nigeria is at the crossroads. This is a fork in history that would determine the future. If people do not believe that the government is in control, a society would tilt towards the Wild Wild West, becoming like Somalia where the government exists in name alone, while non-state actors effectively constitute a parallel government. And if we continue to water the seeds of bitterness, we would come to realise that the adage “united we stand” can neither be replaced by mis-defined patriotism nor propaganda. We need a country where people feel physically and emotionally safe to work with others as partners in progress. And to achieve this, we need a government that understands Henri Fayol’s charge that “with authority comes responsibility”. It is in this honourable discharge of responsibility that Nigeria would find redemption.
Cover Image Credit: Flickr/Marco Verch