I don’t even know where to begin. Nigerians are a lot of things, and amongst those things I believe that people who know our history, our politics, our government, our culture, etc. would describe us as a resilient people. Through colonization and after it, dictatorship government upon dictatorship government, corruption, ethnic divisions, religious divisions, the plight of the poor, the marginalized and the have-nots, that there somehow manages to be a Nigeria is some sort of miracle. That Nigerians are not a people with a broken spirit, but rather a formidable one, is nothing short of a miracle.
Now I often do not write about Nigerian current events or the political climate for several reasons. The most important one being that as someone whose father had to take his family into exile because of his political resistance through his writing, I feel that it would be an insult to him, to pretend that I am adequately educated on Nigerian politics. Then there is the problem of Western journalism which does the country and the world a disservice with their often condescending perspectives and lack of understanding of Africans and African countries and cultures.
And then there are my own personal frustrations with the country, that I often feel too tempered with emotion to articulate properly, as someone whose Nigerian-ness is sometimes more entrenched in an imagined community of Nigerian diaspora, than in actual fact. But it is these very emotions that have compelled me to write about the country today in a way I haven’t before. Because the kidnapping over 200 girls in what is supposed to be Africa’s biggest economy, most populous country, and a global leader in Black and African diaspora, is a heartbreaking shame.
I cannot imagine what the parents and family and relatives of those children must be going through; I cannot even pretend to imagine. But what I do know is that between the president and the military and the politicians, there has been a lackluster response to this incident that drains the energy out of me every time I stop to think about it. And I have to ask as I’m sure all Nigerians are asking, as the global community has started to ask: Where is the sense of urgency? Where are the government condemnations? What is your strategy? And most importantly, where are our girls?
Now the kidnapping of these girls might have been the straw to break the camel’s back but the reality of the Nigerian government is that they have so far done very little to stop Boko Haram, the Islamic jihadist terrorist group that has plagued the country since 2002, who are believed to have committed the kidnapping. Boko Haram, which loosely translates as “Western education is forbidden” in Hausa, has terrorized the mostly Muslim north, particularly targeting Christians, and brought fear to Christians and Muslims alike in that part of the country. The mostly Christian south is almost a different country altogether – some people think it should be. But for now, there is one Nigeria. And one Nigeria that while generally inspires little faith in government, even to fulfill their basic obligations and responsibilities of serving the people, has really outdone itself with its pathetic, almost criminal inaction in safeguarding the life and safety of its citizens, especially it’s most innocent citizens.
It is a tragedy that Boko Haram has managed to gain as much strength as it has for the last twelve years; it is a tragedy that such a group even exists. And there will be plenty of political writers and observers who will point out poverty and lack of schooling and religion and all the rest which will surely make great academic papers, I’m certain. But as an African and a Nigerian who knows that poverty doesn’t mean one is without morals, education is more than just schooling, and religion can be used as a mask to divide rather than unite, I know that Boko Haram, at its heart, are made-up of evil do-ers and enemies of progress who create fear because they are the worst kinds of cowards themselves. But still, the greatest tragedy is that a government would allow such a group to carry on for so long, while remaining so indifferent, to the potential harm of the people who have to live with this plight.
For me, the Nigerian government is indefensible. It is a failure as the democracy it pretends to be, and source of shame to its citizens and all people in the Nigerian diaspora. I have always been proud to be a Nigerian because of our formidable spirit – despite everything the country has been through at the hands of others, or has brought upon itself. But today is the day I finally hang my head in shame; today, I am sorry to be a Nigerian. And until those girls are brought back home, until the cowards have been brought to justice, until Nigerian leaders have the conviction and courage to serve their people who may not be united by choice, but are united all the same, my pride will not be restored.