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Death on an empty stomach

By Hakeem Baba-Ahmad

“No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Thomas Hobbes, 1588 – 1679

THE bomb that went off early on Easter Sunday at the heart of the commercial section of the city of Kaduna left behind it more casualties than most other explosions witnessed since the seeming democratisation of the knowledge, skills and means to inflict massive violence on Nigerians, centred around the Boko Haram insurgency.

Not necessarily in the number of lives, limbs and livelihoods which it took.

There have been attacks and assaults in the past that registered more deaths and destruction than the Easter Sunday bomb. Not even in the force of its impact, because there were bombs that took down entire structures in the past.

And not in its aftermath, because it did not trigger massive clampdown by security forces and the consequent additional casualties, or sectarian riots. And, it did not go off in a church, and thus add to the list of other bombs which specifically targeted the Christian community while they worshipped.

But the Easter Sunday bomb took its own casualties in a rather unique way. One of such casualties is the perceived wisdom that Boko Haram bombs target Christians and their places of worship. To date, there is no conclusive evidence that a church in the vicinity was specifically targeted, although, as is to be expected, there are many claims that Christians were its intended target.

Another casualty is the pattern of the bombing campaign. No police or military facility was attacked; and no markets, government building or home of a security officer was attacked.

There are lots of speculations regarding the intentions of the bomber, and many theories around how the vehicle with the bomb exploded around a junction in a commercial area on Easter Sunday, at a period and place which was bound to have little traffic.

Nature of victims

But by far the biggest casualty was the nature of the victims of that Easter Sunday bomb. Most of those who died (and we still do not know what figure to accept) were the poor and those living on the margins of existence.

Most were also Muslims, young men and elderly women selling them food to put some energy in their bodies to enable them scrape enough to the next day. Many of the achaba riders who waited for food to be served, or were fortunate to have been served were honest young men who preferred the risky and irritating life of an achaba rider, to life of crime or destitution.

Many of them would have been refugees from clampdowns on taxi-motorcycles in many parts of the northeast, as reactions of security agencies and state governments to the activities of Boko Haram. Many would have completed secondary schools and may even have qualified for admission to higher institutions, but had no support to push them over and above those with privileges.

Some of the casualties of the Easter Sunday bombing may never be known. Their limbs were packed and carried in body bags along with those of many others. They died with dreams of better lives in a nation which shows no signs of creating opportunities for better lives.

They may have heard President Jonathan say a few weeks ago that the Boko Haram insurgency would be brought to an end by June this year. Like most Nigerians, they must have hoped that the President’s words were founded on the realities and facts on the ground. As people who spent their waking lives on the streets, they had been on the receiving end of the numerous restrictions, inconveniences and hardship which govern daily lives of citizens of Kaduna and other cities in the North.

They were familiar with the demand of pushing their motorcycles past checkpoints, and engaging with policemen when they break curfews after 9.pm. Most spend nights sleeping ten in a room, and scrape through lives which stress them between making enough to make “returns” to owners, or sending monies home to families and parents in Zamfara, Jigawa or Yobe.

Died waiting for food

Some of the casualties of the Easter bomb in Kaduna who died on empty stomachs may have been part of the fanatical following of General Muhammadu Buhari in the run-up to the 2011 elections, and who naively believed that change was possible and inevitable in their time.

They may have been part of the motorcycle riders who accosted the Vice President at the Al Mannar mosque in Unguwar Rimi on a Friday before the 2011 elections to tell him they won’t vote for the PDP. They may have been part of the crowd that rose up to protest the result of the 2011 elections, and who joined the subsidy removal protests a few months ago, along with fellow Nigerians.

Most of the casualties of the Easter Sunday bomb were Muslims. If the bomb which killed them was planted by fellow Muslims, they would have died in the hands of people who say they are fighting so that Nigerian Muslims will live as good Muslims. If they died from bombs planted by people who exploit the situation to weaken the Nigerian state or sustain the Boko Haram insurgency by other means, they would have been casualties of an undeclared war where the vast majority of casualties are law-abiding citizens.

Many people died on Easter Sunday in Kaduna on an empty stomach. It may take weeks for the relations of many of them to know that they have been blown to pieces while waiting to buy food. They will be statistics in a war which shows no sign of being won by either side.

The nation will not grieve over them, because they are just another set killed by bombs and bullets, and there may be many after them.

By far the biggest casualty of the Easter bomb in Kaduna is the hope that Boko Haram will recognise that its mode of operation and goals are not winning it support; that government will acknowledge that it is dealing with an enemy which requires multiple strategies to deal with; and that the poor who live with hunger, frustration and hopelessness may be spared more pain and privation.

 


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