I don’t think I’ve ever been so behind on this blog as I have been this time, going for nearly two months without posting anything. Forgive me. I have been overwhelmed by several other writing projects and much too much travel. I’ll try to catch up on links to a few of my pieces in Weekly Trust in the next few days, but I thought that last post should be followed by the column that came right after it.
To read the hard copy, click on this link to be taken to a flickr page where you can read it online. Otherwise, scroll below the photo and read the text as copied below (I’ve made a few small edits and added links for this blog).
In a crisis such as we had last week, one comes out of it shell-shocked, horrified by the acts of inhumanity human beings are capable of. How can a human being cut another human being’s throat, send them hurtling into flames? What reason is there behind the destruction of property, the burning of churches, and mosques, the killing of youth corpers, the massacre of villagers? The killing of youth corpers in Bauchi has understandably led to rage around the country. Facebook pages have been created in their honour and linked back in particular to the page of Ukeoma Ikechukwu, whose last status update as was how he was nearly killed forresisting election malpractice was tragically prescient. The murder of these young people on the cusp of their lives is horrifying and must be appropriately responded to by reforms to a system which too often leaves corpers insufficiently protected. Yet, I am also appalled by the irrational mob-mentality, the backlash of hatred I’ve seen on the internet, directed not just against the murderers of the youth corpers but against the entire ambiguous region of the north, lashing out often as much against other victims of violence as against the perpetrators of it. As I wrote this article, I got into a surreal and sickening online argument with someone passionately calling for innocent people from the north to be murdered in retaliation for the deaths of her fellow youth corpers.
Much of this rhetoric comes from people who have never been further north than Abuja and who stereotype an entire region the way Africa is stereotyped by ignorant outsiders, but some of it is furthered by those who have lived briefly in the “north” and have had traumatic experiences. One woman, who schooled in Jos, recounted how her own neighbors turned against her in a crisis and would have, she presumed, killed her “had not a good Samaritan intervened.” What is glaring to me in this story is that she focuses on the betrayal and treachery of those who attacked her to denounce the entire “north”, while mentioning the acts of the “good Samaritan” as only a postscript. While this is certainly an understandable response to a terrible experience, it is also only one side of the story. In “The Danger of A Single Story,” author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has spoken of how the insistence on “only negative stories” creates “stereotypes. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
In these times of crisis, it is the horrifying stories that make the headlines, the betrayal, the treachery, the youth corpers murdered, the children trampled by mobs, the places of worship burned. Far less heard are the stories of ordinary human beings behaving with decency, treating their neighbors as they themselves would want to be treated, yet I argue that these people are far more numerous than the extremists and rogues who pillage and kill. It is not that there are not many stories of violence, abuse, and injustice against minorities in the north, for there are, and they must be addressed, but it is that these experiences are only a small part of the larger story. Adichie asserts that “I’ve always felt that it is impossible to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.”
Last week I told the story of Pastor Habila Sunday, who was defended in Kano by a Muslim man who told his attacker “before you kill him, you’ll have to kill me.” An article in NEXT of 24 April, recounts the story of Adamu Bologi, a Muslim librarian in Minna, who risked his life multiple times to help several Christian families to safety. There are many other stories of this sort, less heard because they are less dramatic, but which illustrate people acting out true neighborliness. Last week, I thought I had lost a close friend of mine–a Christian–to the violence in Kano. I called her dozens of times but both of her phones were switched off for days. When I finally heard from her, she recounted a harrowing story. As the tension mounted that Monday, April 18, her manager at work suggested she leave her car in the office. He thought she would be safer if he gave her a ride home. However, around Unguwa Uku, they ran into a roadblock of burning tires manned by rioters. “There was no way we could pass, so we slowed down.” Hoodlums began beating the car and breaking the glass of the windows. One of them reached through the window and snatched her handbag which held her phones and her keys. “When they saw me with my hair open, they said, ‘She’s a pagan, bring her out.’” Her manager protested “I’m a Muslim, I’m a Muslim,” but as he saw that these thugs, who appeared drugged up and high, wanted to injure her anyway, he accelerated and sped through the block, driving through fire, to get to the other side. Seeing that it would be too risky to continue on to her house, he dropped her at a police station. She eventually was able to call a friend, who came with her husband a few hours later to take her home with them. She stayed with this Muslim family for another week until she felt safe enough to go to her own home.
Another young man, Suleiman Garba Sule who teaches part time at a school while waiting for NYSC to place him, told me how when the news of the violence in Kaduna and Kano reached them, two Christian members of the staff, originally from Kaduna, were terrified. Their Muslim colleagues advised that they stay on the school premises until the roads became safe, and they ended up staying overnight in the school management house, until Suleiman called and told them it would be safe to leave. Dangiwa Onisemus wrote me that his aunties and cousins were protected by the “Muslim community in Malali technical school, Kaduna. Even as I speak, the Christian faithfuls are still staying there…. The Muslim community stood firm to see that the Christians are not touched.”
My friend, Dr. K. Korb in Jos wrote me of a family friend, a Fulani Muslim, who had only recently finished building his house on a plot of land that happened to be in a majority Christian neighborhood. “During the post-election violence, the Christian youths came to attack his brand new home. His Christian neighbors, including a number of youths and old men, confronted the angry crowd. Pointing in the direction of his own home, a Christian neighbor told the youths, “See over there? That is my house. If you are going to burn down this house, you must burn my house down first.” The angry youths relented and moved on.” Our friend “was thankful … but he feared for his family’s safety so he moved them back into his brother’s house in the Muslim part of town. Shortly thereafter, the Muslim youths came to attack the house next to our friend’s brother that happened to belong to a Christian. Our friend and his brother quickly moved the Christian family into the brother’s house to protect them. Once the family was safely inside, our friend and his brother confronted the angry crowd and told the youths that they would not burn down that Christian house. The angry youths relented and moved on.”
These stories do not all contain great heroic feats, just accounts of human decency, of neighborliness and friendship that show how interconnected communities actually are. These are the stories that are not often heard but which are the most common in times of crisis. And it is these stories that are the most helpful in pursuing justice, for it is only when we see those who are different from us as our neighbors and our brothers that we will be able to work together to change corrupt systems which perpetuate such violence.