There hasn’t been as much press coverage for you, Nigeria. Almost no one mentioned your name at the Golden Globe Awards or on social media, in the lead stories or soapbox editorials for newspapers or around our dinner tables. If we’re charitable, we could say that it’s because this is an unspeakable moment, perhaps, too terrible to flippantly hashtag or speak aloud. Or perhaps it’s simply that we cannot bear your pain and loss, that we feel overwhelmed and powerless. Or even more horrifically, perhaps we simply don’t value your lives the way that God values you, you feel far away from us, beyond our compassion. God forgive us.
Young girls kidnapped by the Boko Haram sent among you as a suicide bombers – one a child of ten years old – to detonate their young selves in your midst, then your bodies strewn across a market, your dead lined up in the streets, and the grief of a nation caught in terror over and over and over again.
Then I heard of a town in the northeast, once home to 10,000 souls, now desolate and quiet. One report says 150 dead, another says 2,000 dead, but a witness said, “It has all been burnt down. We have been burnt down.” There was no time to bury the dead after the attacks: everyone who could run had to run to survive and so the streets smell of the rotting ones.
Refugees trying to swim across the lake to Chad, drowning in the attempt. And still it goes on, unchecked. More than a million people displaced by relentless and increasing violence.
I made the mistake of clicking on Images for my Google search a few days ago and my stomach heaved at the inhumanity casually loading on my screen.
We know that you are beautiful and strong – rich in wisdom and literature, artists and brilliant thinkers and leaders. You are the nation of Chinua Achebe and Chimanada Ngozi Adichie, Ayodele Awojobi, Genevieve Nnaji, Funmi Iyanda, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. We see the danger of the single story and we won’t reduce you to this one story.
But right now, in these days, the world is heaving with pain and you are an epicentre of sorrow.
I write letters to international leaders for all the good it will do. I read the stories in the news, I make myself pay attention. I write prayers for your girls. And I feel powerless, useless, broken-hearted.
What use are letters of empty words pleading for action, for help, when what we want to do is lay down in the grass and keen wordlessly? What will be the legacy of these years, I wonder, what seeds are being planted in your sad young people of the north east?
So I need to say it once at least, here, again for all the good it will do:
We mourn your dead, each soul, they are not uncounted to God, each one mattered. We mourn your injured and devastated. We mourn your homes and your jobs, your work and your art. We mourn your right to life. We see what this is doing to your beautiful land and legacy, to your families and your culture, and we mourn with you. We mourn for the damage to your bodies and your souls, your communities and your minds. We mourn for your daughters and your sons, your old women and your old men.
We repent of how we ignore you, of how we turn a blind eye to your suffering and your brilliance, of how the nations of the world continue to look on with only empty words and threats, of how our compassion has yet to turn to action. Your massacres, your sufferings, are forgotten, it seems.
I can’t do much but I’m doing this: I’m paying attention, I’m doing what I can from my small corner to advocate for you and hold your name up, and there is one small candle burning in my house for you, reminding me to pray for justice, to remember you.