This is a very painful piece to write. Since June 2011 when I returned home to Nigeria, I have had to ponder this question daily. What is the value of a Nigerian life?
Recent events in our beloved nation have left me in utter shock. What is the value of a Nigerian life? Let’s go through a timeline of the last 10 days.
- October 2 2012 – Federal Polytechnic in Mubi, Adamawa State. The actual figure is unclear. Official sources quote twenty-six (26), unofficial sources say over forty (40) students were slain in cold blood.
- October 5 2012 – Aluu community near University of Port Harcourt. Four (4) students were murdered in cold blood to the rapturous cheering of their fellow citizens.
- October 7 2012 – Yobe State. Reports say at least 30 Boko Haram insurgents were killed by the Joint Task Force (a division of the Nigerian Armed Forces)
- October 8 2012 – Maiduguri, Borno State. Another report of at least 40 dead. Six (6) soldiers and over thirty-five (35) killed in reprisals by the JTF.
- October 10 2012 – Berom, Plateau State. 16 killed in the early hours of the morning in a protracted conflict which has claimed the lives of a serving senator and a state lawmaker already this year.
That makes a total of at least a hundred (100) confirmed dead Nigerians within the first 10 days of October alone, not counting the scores who have died from child-birth, illness and disease due to the poor state of the nation’s healthcare system, or the dozens who have perished in the floods, and those who have died in motor accidents on the highways. What is the value of a Nigerian life?
With the exception of the University of Port Harcourt murders, the common denominator in all of the stories above is the absence of clear cut facts and figures. This has become a regular characteristic of information outlets in Nigeria in the aftermath of tragic events and disasters. What is the value of a Nigerian life?
This piece isn’t meant to address the root causes of the rampant deaths across the nation, that is a topic for another day (and perhaps another writer). It is the nationwide reaction to the atrocities that has left me with a bee in my bonnet. Now I know they say ‘different strokes for different folks’, but I can’t help wonder what kind of society grieves and condemns the barbaric killing of 4 students, and quickly forget that over 40 students were murdered in another institution just a few hours before that. What is the value of a Nigerian life?
Yes I know social media has been awash with images and videos of the 4 poor students who were brutally tortured then murdered and the outrage is a response to the visuals while the incident in Mubi, Adamawa State is merely reported without similar images and videos. I really must ask; has our society become so numb to our collective humanity that we only feel empathy and sorrow when we behold evil with our eyes?
What value do we as a nation, a society, a people, place on the life of one of our own? What is the value of the life of a Nigerian citizen?
The story of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier who was kidnapped by a wing of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, readily springs to mind. Shalit was kidnapped (I prefer captured) by Hamas militants after a battle on the 25th of June 2006. He was held captive for over 5 years and later released in a prisoner exchange on the 18th of October 2011. The prisoner exchange saw Israel set free 1,027 prisoners (mostly of Palestinian and Arab-Israeli origin) in exchange for one captured Israeli soldier. In the 5-year period of his incarceration, Israel got the American, Egyptian, Russian governments and a few other governments directly involved in negotiations to facilitate his release. That is an example of the price a country places on one of its citizens. One Israeli soldier for 1,027 prisoners.
I also recall when Scottish toddler, Madeleine McCann, disappeared while on holiday in Portugal with her parents and siblings in May 2007. British detectives arrived Portugal immediately, and for over 2 years the entire British and Portuguese media covered every move made in the investigations. Recently, 5 year-old April Jones went missing in Wales, and the entire British media and general public are united in the search for her, and the timely dissemination of information.
Let us put the Borno and Yobe killings aside, because the North Eastern geo-political zone of Nigeria is technically at war. But when students of a higher institution, in this case Federal Polytechnic Mubi, Adamawa State are murdered on campus, and almost two weeks later, there is no official statement, no one knows precisely how many students died, and the school is yet to publish a list of the murdered students. Soon the entire incident will be forgotten and we will resume our usual national collective amnesia to issues that do not directly affect us.
Many reasons have been adduced to the lack of public empathy to the mass killings in one section of the country, and the massive out-pour of grief and outrage to the barbaric public torture and killing of the Uniport students. Several views have been debated on twitter. Renowned bestselling author, Teju Cole (@tejucole), had this to say on twitter, “…’outrage’ in Nigeria (as elsewhere) is often tied to regional classification and class loyalties.” Another school of thought, this time from Mr Atom Lim (@Atomlim) and I’ll paraphrase, is that the reaction to the University of Port Harcourt student’s murders has nothing to do with class loyalties, but everything to do with the power of video and pictures.
I acknowledge that both arguments have their merits and flaws and I can illustrate that by simply using events of June 2012 across the country where a Dana Plane crash which claimed an estimated 200 lives received more press coverage, outcry and attention than the mini-war that ravaged Kaduna, Yobe and Plateau States during the same period, claiming over 1,500 lives and paralysing all social and economic activities in those states.
I can go on and on with many more examples, but still I ask, What is the value of a Nigerian life?
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