By Muyiwa Adetiba
In the week that New Zealand woke up to the horror of terrorism for the first time in its history, Nigeria was confronted with its own all-too-familiar instrument of mass deaths in the name of building collapse. The former claimed 50 lives, mainly adults.
The latter 20, mainly innocent children. Ordinarily, the avoidable death of innocent children should win hearts all over the globe. Yet, it was the death of 50 adults that got mouths agape, and virtually stopped the world in its tracks, while the death of those little innocents hardly got a mention outside of Nigeria.
Within a few hours, the video of the terrorist’s attack had gone viral. Facebook had to step in quickly to stem the circulation of the video because of far reaching consequences. That was the extent of the reach and spread of the news.
As a journalist and former Editor, I can understand why. The parameters for assessing news are both objective and subjective. It is not always about numbers, although that helps. It is not always about location. It is also not always about age or gender. And it is not always about religion or ethnicity. These all tick the necessary boxes, but the deciding factors for most editors must be the rarity and gruesomeness of an occurrence.
If something, however, its level of horror, happens too often, it loses its news value. It becomes degraded to use the language of the weather man. New Zealand got the attention of the world because it has never had a terrorist attack of any kind. New Zealand is perceived by the rest of the world, as a small, friendly and religiously tolerant country.
And because of its location, it does not have the kind of immigration pressure that many European countries have. In terms of security and social inclusiveness, New Zealand, must be up there with the best in the world. The terrorist attack is therefore seen as an aberration. A dangerous one. Hence the huge coverage. The building collapse in Nigeria is one of many. Hence the sparse coverage.
Unfortunately, that is the story of Nigeria. Death has been degraded so much that it hardly commands the sense of horror that it should or media coverage that it should. Nigeria has been battling terrorism for over a decade. It has lost people in hundreds as a result. In addition to that, it started battling farmers/herdsmen clashes on a scale that has become alarming.
The situation in Kaduna is hard to pigeonhole and it would be irresponsible of me to describe it as ethnic cleansing. Suffice it is to state that deaths are occurring there on a regularity that is disconcerting. Just as deaths are occurring in the Benue/Plateau through on an uncomfortable regularity. Then there are the political deaths with their attendant impunity.
We lost many Nigerians during this election just as we lost many Nigerians during the last election and the ones before that. The Offa deaths remind us of political thugs who become armed robbers. We have not yet had tornados and cyclones like in southern Africa. But we have lost lives through flash floods and other natural disasters.
We have had kidnaps that have gone awry resulting in deaths. Military officers are also not exempt from the general insecurity and wanton deaths. Then there are stray bullets. As I was writing this article, the news came on TV, about a 17-year-old student who was felled by a stray bullet in front of her home. We can go on and on. Everywhere you turn, there seems to be death lurking around the corner.
As pervasive as these killings are, we must never be so inured to deaths and killings that we begin to accept them as a part of our lives. I feel scandalised and angry when the police try to play down a killing by calling it an armed robbery attack as opposed to assassination. It is as if one is less deadly than the other. Or one is more acceptable than the other.
Every death is a loss to someone at least, if not to the family or the community or the country. Every untimely death is an unfinished project; a dream unfulfilled. Every unresolved death is not only a stain on the fabric of the country, it is a scar on the very skin of the country. It cannot be washed away or discarded. Worse, an unresolved death prevents closure; either to the family or the nation itself.
We all saw the way the Prime Minister of New Zealand took decisive action not only to hand over the culprit to justice, but also to make sure that such a repulsive action never happens on their shores again. She showed a righteous anger when it was necessary. She also showed sympathy and empathy when necessary. She did everything a leader was supposed to do to assure a nation, a community and an aggrieved religious section. And in doing so, she started the process of a national healing that is always critical at times like this. There was no double speak in her words, her actions or body language. She is my kind of leader.
Our society and leaders must say: ‘enough is enough’ to wanton killings. A death is a death whether it is political, tribal, religious, domestic or just plain robbery. Killers and murderers of whatever hue must be pursued with all vigour and handed over to justice as soon as possible. One difference between our society and some others is that many killers don’t get away with their killings in those societies.
Here, we tend to think a stray bullet is excusable; a political killing is somewhat acceptable; ethnic killers must be appeased not apprehended; murdering herdsmen are merely protecting their livelihood etc. The killings we cover up because of expediency don’t go away unfortunately. They come back to haunt us in the form of more deaths through reprisal killings that are aided and abetted by our reluctance to confront them.
In this second coming, President Buhari must make a vow to himself, his country and his God and like Jacinta Arden of New Zealand, make a loud statement against the various forms of killings in the land.
It is high time we put a stop to the nonsense in Kaduna, in the Benue/Plateau trough, to farmers/herdsmen clashes and to political hitmen who masquerade as thugs in the daytime and armed robbers at night. We need to start bringing culprits, including their sponsors, to book. We have shed too much blood. It is time to heal the land. The President’s second term is as good a time as any to start.