In Nigeria, nobody speaks of terrible things. Where some unimaginable atrocity has been committed the news is often met with pursed lips, a double snap of the fingers and a swift motion over ones head to invoke a purge against evil. To speak of terror is to welcome it into one’s life.
A terrible thing happened in Nigeria on Independence Day. In the small town of Mubi in the North-east, 25 students were rounded up a few hours before midnight. Their names were called out one by one. This was no typical roll call, however. The owner of each name that was called was swiftly executed by unidentified gunmen. No group has yet claimed responsibility. However Mubi is situated in Adamawa state which has become volatile of recent, an unwilling hotbed for the radical group, Boko Haram.
The cold blooded massacre is one of the worst to hit an educational institution in Nigeria and yet nobody is really talking about it. It is not a hot topic at the workplace or on the streets. The public mood is palpably apathetic. Two full days later and the news is only just filtering through to many. Even where there is a flicker of interest, pursed lips, double finger click, arms raised. Next topic. Thank you very much. The federal government has responded typically which is to say that the old book of clichés has been dusted down for frantic recital. No stone unturned. Perpetrators brought to book. Remote and immediate causes will be investigated. The clichés are often peppered with words like probe and investigative and panel.
There is something sacred about learning institutions. When one thinks of the more infamous attacks on educational institutions – Dunblane, Columbine, Toulouse, Erfurt – it is shocking to see there is not a similar outpouring of grief in Nigeria over those who died in Monday’s attack.
The sad truth is that insecurity has now become a constant companion for many Nigerians. As a result there is no longer any shock value. Attacks segue seamlessly into more attacks at a pace that makes it impossible to distinguish, digest or mourn appropriately. Disbelief has made way for indifference as no one simply knows how to respond anymore. One week a church is hit, another a mosque. Today a newspaper headquarters is bombed tomorrow a petrol station is set ablaze. The pattern of violence is predictably indiscriminate.
The strategy to combat the rising insecurity – if indeed there is a strategy – is not a winning one. Eyewitnesses to the Mubi killings say the shooting lasted for almost two hours uninterrupted after which the killers casually disappeared into the night. The latest attack will once again question the imperative of a regional or state police force. The national police system is crumbling under the weight of increased responsibility. The argument, which is slowly gaining traction, is that a local police force would have a far greater appreciation of the terrain, natives and nuances of a particular place. The current practice of stationing police officers in completely unfamiliar surroundings puts them at an obvious disadvantage.
However even if a state police system becomes a reality, the long term solution to tackling insecurity must go beyond fighting fire with fire. There are more fundamental issues at play. The disparity that exists between Nigerians is greater now than it has ever been. There are no new interconnecting roads and bridges to re-connect cities and states. Strangers remain strangers. It will always be easier to maim or kill those that are unfamiliar to you. A greater push must…