Baga, Paris and Our Traumatized Sensibilities

Satelite image

Satellite image of the destruction in Baga.

The last few weeks have been traumatic. From the outrageous under-reported massacre in Baga, Northern Nigeria, where Boko Haram reportedly killed about 2,000 people, to the disturbing killings in Paris and the massive manhunt and hostage crisis that followed.

In the midst of these ordeals, I read a Facebook post by an enraged Nigerian  demanding that all his Muslim friends make known, on his Facebook wall, their stand on the Charlie Hedbo killings or face some ambiguous consequence. Needless to say, the comments that followed, mostly from non-Muslims, were hate-filled anti-Muslim rants.

The irony is that this person seems completely oblivious to the massacre of 2, 000 of his compatriots by the Boko Haram. Not even reports of corpses decaying in the open nor the resultant humanitarian crisis were strong enough to outrage him, and many other Nigerians, as much as the killings in Paris, which were, in their own right, horrific.

President Goodluck Jonathan, who in the midst of touring the country campaigning for re-election, found time to commiserate with the French, never took the trouble to acknowledge the killings in Baga, at least not yet.

He devoted time instead to criticize his main challenger’s cabinet composition when was a military Head of State in the 1980s and claiming there had been an assassination attempt on him four years ago by his kinsmen, who he was  incredibly quick to exonerate at the time of the October 1, 2010 bombing in Abuja. This acknowledgment of one terrorist attack and not the other, even if it is in his country, is not only baffling but telling.

Our sensibilities, delicate as they are, have been steadily assaulted by the constant news of brutish violence, not only in Baga and other parts of Nigeria, but in Paris, Baghdad, Bangui and elsewhere. We cower from this barrage by burying ourselves in the little bubbles of comfort  we have built for ourselves, from where we engage with the world through inane social media rants and follow them up with selfies that show us at our best. From these bubbles, we look to Paris, New York and Hollywood to escape our trauma-inducing reality.

When such outrage, that amounts to a quarter of what is happening in our backyard, happens in these places we let our minds escape to, and is given comprehensive coverage in the news, relegating the even more atrocious events in Nigeria to the news bar and brief news flashes, we are thoroughly incensed.

Even the local media has underreported the Baga massacre. For one, the North-East, where Boko Haram is holding sway, is a difficult region to report from due to the precarious security situation and destroyed communication installations, and the Nigerian Military has garnered a notoriously mud-spattered reputation for its information handling and dissemination.

After all, this is the same military that had erroneously claimed that all but a few of the abducted school girls of Chibok had been rescued. The girls remain in captivity over 9 months after. There was an even bigger gaffe when the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh pompously announced that a cease-fire deal had been reached with Boko Haram. The terrorists proved how ludicrous the claims were by overrunning his hometown 48 hours later, expanding further the “caliphate” of brutality they had carved out of swaths of North-east Nigeria.

The ceaseless stream of bad news from this region has resulted in a bad news overload and a mental shutdown so as to avoid it. So even though such news may make it to the front pages of local newspapers, many people would happily flip to the fashion or sport pages, because the capacity to process these gory news, accompanied by reports of thieving government officials ostentatiously flaunting stolen wealth and collapsing infrastructures, has suffered major damage.

We are as tired of the president’s inane “condemnation of these heinous crimes” as much as the president is of issuing such statements without the requisite commitment to bring the criminals to justice. The fiasco over the failed prosecution of Aminu Ogwuche over the Nyanya bombing that killed over a hundred people in April last year, the same day the Chibok Abductions occurred, is demonstrative. The case was thrown out by an Abuja court for, of all things in the world, “lack of diligent prosecution.”

So President Goodluck Jonathan carries on with business as usual, as if significant territories he had sworn to protect have not been lost to terrorists who kill hundreds daily, and goes to his campaign rallies whitewashed with the most spurious claims of assassination attempts, an improved economy and a fight against corruption that no one, save the president and his henchmen, can bear testimony to, marry off his niece with attendant profligacy, the same way he did his step-daughter at about the time of the Chibok abductions, and not even acknowledge the sad tragedy of the mass killings in Baga.

The reality is this: traumatized by decades of systematic and self-inflicted abuse, we have grown inured to shock, even if it breaks us more, and have consequently lost the capacity to be decisively outraged. We all need therapy.


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