Why it doesn’t feel safe here anymore

Nehru Odeh

By Nehru Odeh

It has never been this bad. We have never felt this sense of creeping insecurity, this sense of fear and dread, this sense of gloom and doom. We have never felt this sense of hopelessness,  this sense of meaninglessness that we are feeling now. The national skies are dark and gloomy and the atmosphere seems poisoned and thick with uncertainty. Indeed, we can neither breathe nor see through this miasma of hopelessness and fear.             .

Just take a look at the papers or run your eyes over news feed on social media. What catches and holds your attention on a daily basis are killings, kidnappings, bandits taking over communities and adopting citizens for ransom, terrorists seizing towns and villages, herdsmen taking over our roads and farms, raping our women and killing our men. Words such as kidnappers, bandits, terrorists, hoodlums and herdsmen are now familiar tropes for insecurity in our country.

The situation is gory. Things have gotten out of hand.  Women are raped in the presence of their husbands. Girls are abused and raped in the full glare of their parents. Young boys too are abused in the presence of their parents. And even men are sodomized right in front of their wives. Students are adopted and left to rot in the hands of their kidnappers. And those who are not lucky are killed and either their mutilated bodies shown or are filmed while being executed.

Does this sound surreal and unreal? Does this look like a story forged out of the theatre of the absurd? Does this read like a gothic story or a tale spun by Edgar Allan Poe? Did I hear you say things are not this bad? Did I hear you hear say this is an exaggeration? Then pray you don’t fall into the hands of bandits, herdsmen and kidnappers that are running riot all over the place. Pray you don’t find yourself in a kidnapper’s den, your life hanging in the balance. Pray you are not adopted and killed, whether a ransom is paid or not.

Put yourself in the place of parents whose children have been adopted and killed. Put yourself in the place of Leah Sharibu’s parents, whose seventeen-year- old daughter was kidnapped and has given birth to two children in captivity. And it seems nothing can be done about it. How more horrific and bizarre can things get?  How more despondent can we be? Nigeria indeed has failed Leah Sharibu and many other Nigerians still in captivity.

It feels we are in a state of helplessness. It feels as though we are in a cul-de sac, in a Kafkaesque world, where uncertainty stares everyone in the face and no one is sure of tomorrow. The situation has become so dire that one cannot but question the essence of government, the primary responsibility of which is the security and welfare of the citizens.

Nobody feels safe anymore. Death lurks around the corner, masked as a kidnapper, bandit, herdsmen, rapist, armed robber etc. Death knocks on our doors with brazen confidence and audacity, asking for our lives and valuables. And our lives are measured by the amount of ransom we can squeeze out of our pockets. Sometimes ransoms are not even enough. Lives are taken whether ransom is paid or not.

The situation has become so terrifying and blood-curdling so much so that everybody is a potential victim.  Everybody, no matter the religion you profess, the language you speak or the amount of money you have, is not sure of tomorrow because our today  has been taken away from us.

Now, Nigerians are afraid to move from one town or city to the other because of the risk it entails. Even the rich are not left out of this mess, even though they have other alternatives of escape that the poor can’t afford. So rather than travel by road they prefer to do so by air or rail, depending on what suits them or their destination. But the poor do not have such luxuries. They do not have alternatives.  They still scrounge a living, already resigned to fate.

But the question is: How did we get to this point of all against all?  How did we get to this point of total anarchy? The answers are not far-fetched though legion. First is the failure of leadership, as foremost African novelist Chinua Achebe rightly pointed out in his book, The Trouble with Nigeria. The failure of Nigeria’s past leaders to forge a nation out of the myriad ethnicities is a major factor.  More than 60 years after the country got her independence, the country is still crawling and Nigerians identify with their respective ethnic groups rather with than the country.  This failure on the part of our leaders is also connected to their inability to provide leadership and good governance, to show good example and their propensity to indulge in corrupt practices.

However, it is not only about the leadership question alone. The followers as well as social institutions such as the family, school, religious centres etc. are also to blame. Every society gets the kind of leader it deserves, just as every leader gets the kind of society they envisage. So both leaders and the followers play invaluable roles in producing the kind of citizens and society they deserve.

Still, the fact that we are in a war situation is very glaring. This is the time for our president to show that he is not only in charge but also in control of the situation. But from the look of things, he seems not to be in control. This is the time for him to provide leadership and give everyone not only a sense of justice and fairness but also security and welfare.

No doubt, the problems bedevilling this country are myriad, but this is the time for him to worm himself into the hearts of Nigerians and proved that not only is he capable of handling the situation but also that he is a leader of Nigerians, but not for a certain ethnic group. While it is a good development that he has asked for external support to fight terrorism, the truth is, that is not enough. It is tantamount to putting the cart before the horse.

The problems Nigerians face are fundamental. And the only way to deal with them is to go down to the root causes of those problems, no matter whether they are social, political and economic. Getting external support to fight terrorism is a welcome development, but if those factors that make terrorism, banditry, kidnapping etc.  possible and provide fertile grounds for them are not tackled, we are bound to go back to square one or as Michel Foucault, the French Post-structuralist would say be doomed historically to history, to the patient reconstruction of discourses upon discourses.

– Nehru Odeh, journalist and writer, is the author of The Patience of an Embattled Storyteller, a book that foresaw the adoption, rape and murder of females by terrorists in Nigeria. He writes for TheNEWS.