Personally the abduction of the helpless girls in Government Girls Secondary School, Chibok, Borno State struck a chord with me on many levels. I've got two sisters, a daughter, about a dozen nieces and more female cousins than I can count with all my fingers and toes combined. I'd give my life for any one and all of them.
It is highly impossible to imagine what the parents and siblings of those poor girls must be going through right now. The uncertainty, the dead silence and the heart breaking vacuum of not knowing where their daughters are, what they're going through or what their fate is. It’s a feeling words cannot describe. It’s a feeling worse than death.
I watched an interview with a mother of one of the abductees who said it would be preferable for her to have buried her daughter than not know where she is or what she is going through. She has echoed the feelings and thoughts of most of the parents, as I'm sure what they crave for is some sense of closure amid the hullabaloo currently trailing the abduction saga.
At times like these the expectation would be that people would all come together to criticize the government for its inept response and show support and sympathy for the parents and indeed the entire nation for this tragedy that has befallen us all. However, as Nigerians are a people unlike any other, any expectation of uniting or showing sympathy was quickly dashed within hours of the abduction taking place as most people began casting vituperations and exacerbating the pain suffered by these parents.
And then the ethnic spitting wars began as some individuals claimed there was no abduction at all, that it was an elaborate ruse cooked up by the North to bring the government's name into disrepute. With all due respect to the government, it had already brought its name into disrepute by its own words when it falsely claimed to have rescued majority of the girls a day after the abduction.
The politicians weren't left out of the fray as those aligned with the ruling party accused the opposition of staging the abduction as a ploy to embarrass the ruling party. Honestly, aside from the Hollywood movie cliché of staging an elaborate heist, I fail to see how anyone can perfectly plan and execute the crime of abduction on such a large scale just to smear a political opponent.
Based on a survey by social media tracking site “Socialbakers,” Nigeria is the third country in Africa with the most Facebook users, with roughly 5.8 million people having access to the social networking site. It's therefore not surprising that all the social networking sites were abuzz with various commentaries and updates of the abduction story.
In fact the #bringbackourgirls protest started on Twitter before it spilled out onto streets across the world. Within a few days of the protest starting on Twitter, the hashtag #bringbackourgirls had been retweeted a million times. There was a massive outpouring of messages of encouragement and support for both the girls and their parents, as well as condemnation of the heinous crime from all over the world.
In equal measure as well, there were abrasive, harsh and rude comments by some individuals who made jokes and attempted to poke holes in the abduction saga by accusing the parents of being part of a wide conspiracy. Wow! Some of the accusations reeked of sheer callousness and stupidity. A Facebook user said he didn't believe anyone was abducted because none of the girls had sent tweets or Facebook posts seeking for help, neither did they seem to have Facebook and Twitter accounts. Imagine the nerve!
First of all, not everyone is privileged to possess smartphones and as far as I know, secondary school students aren't allowed to have mobile phones in school. Secondly, if I was a gunman abducting an individual, wouldn't I be very stupid to let the abductee still retain possession of his/her phone? Come on! Abduction isn't something one learns in a school but if it was and there was a course titled "Abduction 101," I'm pretty sure the first thing a potential terrorist would be taught would be to dispossess his victim(s) of all forms of communication during and after committing the crime of abduction.
Considering the fact that not everyone on social media thinks logically or expresses himself/herself intelligently, I wouldn't have been bothered so much by the unfeeling comments being made. However, some of these comments were made by individuals who should know better, individuals who are seemingly intelligent. That is what makes it personally disturbing for me.
A friend I was chatting with said he didn't believe the abduction had taken place; it's all being blown out of proportion by northerners. So I asked him a simple question: If there was no abduction, what girls did the army claim it had rescued a day after the abductions? 24 hours later I'm yet to receive his response.
This is what we've reduced ourselves to. A society that cares based on ethnic and religious sentiments. We've become a society that defines right and wrong based on sentiments. Today in Nigeria, your guilt or innocence in the court of public opinion is not so dependent on the offence in question or on what is morally right or wrong, but on where you come from and what faith you profess to. I don't know what or who is responsible for us becoming slaves to such baseless reasoning. One thing I know is we all wouldn't want our children to grow up like this, having to judge and be judged based on ethnicity and religion. God knows we're having a difficult time navigating the choppy waters of ethnic and religious sentiments as it is.
Mother Theresa once said "the tragedy of the world is that we have forgotten that we all belong to each other". Sadly, that is the tragedy that has befallen us as a nation. We have become so polarized and indifferent to each other's feelings. When a bomb goes off in Maiduguri or Yobe, people in faraway Port Harcourt and Owerri shrug it off because the feeling is it’s a northern problem. When school children are slaughtered in their school in Yobe, it's far removed from us so we carry on as if it’s nothing. When hundreds of parents lose their daughters it's easy to spew harsh words and cruel jokes. We forget that the world is a small place and it gets smaller day by day, thanks to commerce and technology. By our uncaring attitude we failed to realize what was happening; terrorism knows no boundaries or borders. If a bomb could go off in Nyanya, then it could happen anywhere. If school girls could be abducted in Chibok, school girls anywhere could be abducted.
One thing is clear to me though. This lifestyle of bigotry needs to stop somewhere. Our elders sadly, don't seem interested in correcting us from such erring ways as for some of them, these sentiments upon which our society is currently based serve their interests. It would seem they are allergic to change. I believe all hope is not lost for us, the younger generation. We owe it to ourselves and to our children to change, to do better, to be better than our elders. We cannot remain trapped in this vicious cycle that has robbed us of the progress we all so deserve.
As humans, we are all connected one way or another. It doesn't matter where an abduction of school girls takes place or whose daughters are abducted. We know how it would feel as we all have loved ones we would never want to lose in such circumstances. Making jokes about such matters is in very bad taste and totally contradicts our greatest asset; our collective humanity.
By Usman Shamaki
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The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters