I had set out to write something light this week, something zesty and hilarious, something about people getting whacked in the face for saying things that provoked someone to some spontaneous but relatively mild act of violence. Acts that depending on who you slap, like Bianca on Ebele or Will Smith on Chris Rock, might even be applauded.
But then Kaduna happened, with a stunning act of violence that makes these slaps pale in comparison. And then the Super Eagles happened, losing a crucial World Cup qualifier and being chased off the pitch by an angry mob of fans in rather bizarre scenes that have no place in this century.
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In essence, Nigeria happened.
These days, it would seem, that every day is a bad day to be Nigerian. The inexplicable and persistent fuel scarcity, the interminable power failures, the decades of misgovernance across dictatorships and political platforms. And of course, the growing, insatiable demon of insecurity.
Monday night’s attack on the Kaduna-Abuja train is not the first. There had been warning signs. In October, last year, I was on a train heading to Kaduna. A technical hitch and some 30 or so minutes delay meant that the train narrowly escaped the bomb planted on the track and the train making the journey from Kaduna ran into it. Fortunately, it did not derail. In the face of that attack, my train turned back.
Fortunately, no one died in that incident. And nothing like what happened on Monday night, with armed brigands, jumping on the train, Janjaweed style, shooting at unarmed passengers, happened.
To be forewarned, as the saying goes, is to be forearmed. That first IED attack on the train at that time should have been taken as a warning that the bandits’ new strategy is to derail trains and abduct people. It was not and seemed to have been quickly forgotten, as things tend to be in this country.
No one was arrested for it; the routes were not secured and no necessary contingency was put in place in the eventuality of another attack. And that other attack came. It was inevitable. A bomb on the track. A train derailed and then some marauding terrorists and kidnappers came on board, spraying passengers with bullets and herding some into their forest hideouts to later demand ransom.
The details make for painful reading. Seven dead. A large number missing. As of the time of writing, unverified reports say they may number up to 25.
Furious finger-pointing, as expected, has commenced. The failure of Nigeria to secure this small corridor between its capital and a major military fortress city—with the term fortress loosely deployed here—is scandalous. We have watched progressively as the audacity and derring-do of these turbaned bandits have staggered from one level to the next. These, after all, were the ragtag terrorists who developed the capacity to shoot down a fighter jet, abduct some 600 schoolboys from their hostel in the president’s backyard while the president was visiting his hometown and have governed, almost unilaterally, swathes of the country, sacking hundreds of thousands from their homes in Zamfara, Sokoto, Kebbi, Niger and Katsina states. I might have left out some more, but you get the picture. These are bandits who saunter in and out of agreements with the government, and I say this again at the risk of sounding like a broken record, because, well, these attacks have been persistent—under the watch of a government that came to power promising to tackle insecurity.
The worst thing about this train attack is not that it happened. Worse attacks have happened in fact with greater casualty figures. Remember the 200 or so massacred in Zamfara in January? Yes, most times they are rural dwellers and so those stories are often under reported or media fatigue shoves them onto page seven of the newspapers. We are so tired of these stories that there is not even a proper accounting of exactly how many people were killed in those attacks in Zamfara. The media, as a sad tradition, has always favoured what someone I know would call elitism. Except, if we are being honest, there is nothing elitist about travelling by train. It is more expensive, yes, but it is or has been up until now, the safest way to travel between Abuja and Kaduna. The shock is in the reality that this glass corridor of safety that the trains have given us in the last six years has been shattered.
This government must take responsibility for failing—and I use the word deliberately—to improve security in the country and by omission or commission has made Nigeria economically hostile, socially desiccated and safety-wise perfidious for most Nigerians. Nigeria has never been as frightening as it is now, not even in the days of the civil war. This combination of factors, the fear and the slow painful coma, not death, of hope has resulted in a mass exodus of young, talented, Nigerians from the country in a brain drain the likes of which we have only seen in the mid-1980s when this same president was in charge. The government has, in its arrogance and nonchalance, refused to address the brain drain as much as it has failed to convincingly address the security situation.
But if you think the government alone is responsible for this mess, that is where you are wrong.
On the train to Kaduna, Chinelo Nwando, a young dentist at St Gerard Hospital in Kakuri, Kaduna was a passenger. When the attack happened and she was shot, she reached for her phone and sent a tweet on her Twitter handle @nelo_x. “I’m in the train. I have been shot please pray for me.”
Yet, as she lay dying on the floor of that train, some young Nigerians responded to her tweet with derision and astonishingly stupid retorts. One “Abolore” tweeting on the handle @ysone2 had quote tweeted her with a stinging question: “Are you dead yet?”
Well, yes. She is now. And just, as it has been reported, as she had concluded plans to escape Nigeria and practice her trade elsewhere. This was only one of these dumb responses to her. There were many of them. And some people on Twitter have been screen-shooting and documenting the stupidity of this generation who mocked a victim of Nigeria as she lay dying, begging for prayers. When her death was confirmed, with photographic evidence, soon, photos of her bloodied corpse, blouse undone, a bullet hole in the belly, those photos were shared on social media with macabre glee as if to prove a point that she died, that Nigeria killed her and the other victims. The failure of these people to understand that they are desecrating the privacy of the deceased and her family is only a manifestation of their social illiteracy.
Yes, Nigeria, starting from the PDP’s 16 years of misrule and culminating in Buhari’s and his APC’s seven years of floundering should take the blame for her and the other victims’ deaths and abductions. But the government did not abuse her and desecrate her memories by plastering photos of her corpse on social media. Her generation did.
There is a reason Nigeria is the way it is today. Restructure the country all you want or balkanize it, change Buhari and his APC if you will; it will hardly change much. We are just a terrible people. That is where the change, if there will be any, needs to start.