By Tabia Princewill 
s a former student of the Sorbonne University in Paris, who also lived not too far from the location which was savagely attacked a few days ago by extremists hiding behind the false cover of religion to strike fear in the hearts of the world, I am deeply traumatised and affected by the attacks. One of the fallen also happens to be a fellow alumnus of the London School of Economics, an institution whose motto, “know the causes of things”, has deeply influenced and guided my thought process.

There has been some criticism of Nigerian handling of the affair on social media. Many rushed to proclaim their solidarity with the French yet conveniently ignore the losses endured by the Nigerian army, the civilian casualties (both Muslim and Christian), all victims of Boko Haram whose attacks seem to have become, in the eyes of many Nigerians, just another part of life in this country. A disturbance we pray not to encounter, nothing more.

I have heard some say it is more difficult to sympathise with the North because of the paucity of information available and that urban dwelling Nigerians cannot identify with the suffering of rural Nigerians. I am disgusted by the childishness behind this view but more so by what it reveals: Nigerians simply follow trends. We’ve had the originality or capacity for introspection sucked out of us.

The global view we try to adopt by endorsing #PrayForParis is just another way of showing, as Pat Utomi says of people who attend schools, gain certificates, but have neither the skills nor critical thinking to show for it, that many in this country are nothing more than certified illiterates. What separates Man from animals? Empathy, compassion, sympathy for the trials of others even when those concerned do not look like us or their woes do not immediately or directly affect us. We ape all that the West does, cry for its losses yet we are completely, ironically, desensitised to damages and bereavements closer to home. Boko Haram’s victims number in the tens of thousands yet we care more about a hundred or so foreign deaths. Needless to say, I’m unimpressed by our brand of “hash-tag activism”.

To be quite honest, I don’t believe the dead, the bereaved, the long suffering masses of any country whether African or Western should compete for the short attention spans, short lived status updates, tweets or well-meaning but profoundly misguided and confused prayers of our social media using elites who don’t know who they are, what their purpose is or why they should truly care about any of this.

While we pray and wail, ordinary people in France have begun organised resistance to fear and tyranny. We organise little more than forms of entertainment, deadening our minds and senses to the stark realities that surround us. Why should the West care about our pain if we, who are the cause of much of our own misfortune, do not care about each other, our fellow citizens?

This brings me to my real focus: Why do we hate Nigeria? I can bet everyone reading this is loudly proclaiming their patriotism and love for this country, even if many of our daily actions do not reflect this. The short answer would probably be because most people secretly feel Nigeria does nothing for them: after all, we provide our own healthcare, water, electricity, security. As the state is divested of its functions all that is left is on paper, “for show” attachment or commitment to Nigeria. Those who travel have no respect for their passport: being a Nigerian doesn’t open doors. Many resent Nigeria, deep down, the same way one would despise an uncaring parent who never sought to provide for the home. But I have one message for those who feel this way, no matter how understandable given the selfishness and greed of decades of misrule and mismanagement: there is no Nigeria without Nigerians, only we can make or undo this country. We should then ask: what does it mean to be Nigerian?

We know next to nothing about our own country. Many of us do not know or understand the culture or heritage of neighbouring ethnicities, let alone understand their identity beyond clichés. The roads are so bad one can’t comfortably visit many parts of Nigeria and insecurity feeds into the paranoid, hateful psyche some have embraced.

Paris is commonly called “the city of love”, some point to its cultural significance as a way to explain why Nigerians in particular, who flock to Paris to sight-see, would be so affected by the attacks. In this case, we must begin to change the narrative about Nigeria. I look to our new Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, to do this. Beyond banal, clichéd celebration of our culture and trite efforts to re-brand Nigeria to the international community, as was done in the past, we must first of all get Nigerians to believe in themselves and their country. If we don’t believe in Nigeria, why should others believe in us?

We must build awareness of the good within Nigeria without plunging into denial about the bad: ostriches don’t make great nation builders. We must also engage with and encourage those who do good, reward and celebrate them for doing so to fight the perception that only evil-doing pays. In fact, government should go a step further by creating a nation of social entrepreneurs, people whose community spirit and can-do attitude fight the typically Nigerian “you can’t” mantra. I hope that Lai Mohammed’s legacy will be to enable the use of communication for social change. If we are bound by fear to navel-gazing and self-absorption, seeing only the reflections of our shared humanity in wealthy Westerners, then it must be Lai Mohammed’s mission to ensure that the stories of all communities under siege from religious or sectarian ignorance are told. Mr President, Honourable Minister, give us a soul! If we cannot yet move around at will, give us something we can identify with, a narrative with real underpinnings and consequences for our development because right now, we have passports but no real country.

Minister of Defence, Dan-Ali

He expressed concern over the resurgence of extremism and ethno-religious conflicts in Nigeria. Personally, I believe the world is falling apart because there are no more real narratives in politics. All that matters in the world today is personal ambition, greed at the expense of the poor masses. Religions still have narratives but even those have cut themselves off from their prophets’ initial intentions. Jihadism, like the money seeking capitalism,which has taken hold of many churches today, is about control, dominion and influence, not God or religion. Will this new administration intelligently debate these cross-border issues, which now pose security challenges? The Ministry of Information will need to explain issues to Nigerians so that they don’t get clarifications or false enlightenment from false prophets or politicians across Nigeria.

Speaker Lagos State House of Assembly

Mudashiru Obasa reportedly said, at a conference, that women are “violated because of the dresses they wear”. These remarks are reminiscent of the Western and misogynistic middle ages, a time in Africa where paradoxically, women were much freer than they are now. He also seemingly indulged in the same macho, victim-shaming and blaming which discourages women from reporting abuse for fear no one will believe them. He was quoted as saying:”We should guard against false propaganda as some reported cases of violence against girls and women have proved non-existent.”

Rather than excuse misconduct from rapists and other abusers, both politicians and civil society should be saying that wrong is wrong, no matter what would-be form of temptation is witnessed. Although some would gleefully reduce Nigerians to animals, let us stand firm against the erosion of our values and most of all, against the desire to cease to see the humanity in our fellow man.

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