Cause we all wait for something else to save us,
With eyes closed we find it all indifferent.
We can’t walk the line unconscious this time.
Cause our apathy is a deathwish.Story of the Year, 2008
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.Matthew 9:36
A few days ago, I expressed perplexion on Facebook at the seeming public apathy of the people of the Middle Belt of Nigeria to our plight. Apathy in the sense that, following our activities on social media and how we carry on with life generally, our reality is unreflected in our collective conscience.
Of course, the conversation is vexing. Mostly, what people do is ignore (if not fume at) such seemingly foolish or self-important posts that appear accusatory and ignorant, especially because I go no further to explain or proffer any tenable solution.
I can hear from the silence the question: what would you have us do? Someone actually responded to my pathetic poem with the following remark:
“We are out with our buckets and tanks, what do we do next?”
A perfect jeer, even if not intended! Well, this is a question I have set out to answer here. You see, when people are in a crisis situation, they don’t carry on with life as usual. When that happens, it goes to show that there is a suspicious psychological disposition from which they must shake themselves.
Of course, I could not possibly mean there are no persons whose posture on social media or elsewhere reflect this reality. It is, in fact, thanks to them that I have come to know that killings still happen nearly every day, and I am able to see that something is wrong with our collective response.
But these people are just a handful, hardly a good representation of collective consciousness. Again, the outcry depends on who was attacked and so it is isolated cries here and there. Some time the attacks go on quietly without the majority of us knowing or caring. It is such a shame!
Our Troubles and Reactions
Now back to the question, which I will put a little differently. What would I do if I were in a situation where I am unable to sleep at night for fear that my family could be attacked by armed men and cut down with no repercussion whatsoever? That my right to live is solely in the hands of brutal men with no one to protect me? What will I expect of my neighbors?
That my neighbors chose to go on as though nothing is wrong in spite of my troubles because my plight is not quite personal to them yet will feel like a betrayal. I will panic for sure, and wish desperately that someone can “see me” and empathize, and share in my misery even if they’re unable to take it away!
It is not hard for me to imagine the pain because I have been there. I have known sleepless nights from anxiety; who amongst us hasn’t? This is what makes it particularly curious that we can afford to move on at break of day as though everyone had a perfectly peaceful night!
Do you realize the horror of seeing pictures of slain men, women, and children and then studio-perfect pictures or selfies of fine people just showing off on Facebook feed, and then realize that they are from the same area, perhaps the same local government? Or a village is attacked and another church (the same denomination) is having a big launching somewhere, or celebrating a “successful” program. Help me! Am I losing my mind? It doesn’t sit well with me.
From one village to another, people are killed like animals without a protector. The fearful anticipation itself can be as painful as the real attack. In truth, our threats have only multiplied. Our enemy is not only alive and well but has become more powerful. Sadly, many more troubles have arisen all over the country to make our destruction more certain.
When you have a powerful enemy whose plan is to destroy you however long it takes him, through many different and calculated assaults, and you know it, you talk about it among yourselves, is it normal, then, to only wish him away with “Allah ya isa” or “God dai”? It seems to me that is what we are doing. We have lost our sensibilities and pretend to be praying!
It is no longer “news” that these attacks happen almost on a daily basis and no one can be sure what community is next, even though some communities or regions are more prone to attacks than others. This is what creates false security for some and aggravates suspense in others. Communities have literally been displaced and their homes and villages taken up by total strangers or left desolate.
Our (agricultural) communities are traumatized and left defenseless against a formidable enemy. Unable to farm from fear of attacks, all they can see in their future is hunger and destitution. A few who were courageous enough to farm their lands found their hard labor destroyed. Will the rest of us escape the hunger that is bound to follow?
I am not suggesting that we solve the problem because we can’t. I am only asking that we give an appropriate response to it. You don’t respond appropriately to a problem only when you can solve it.
The news has lost its sensation in the wider Nigerian context and the news media has thus cast it aside. It no longer excites ordinary citizens on the one hand and incurs the wrath of the government on the other. It is no longer good for business. There is so much trouble everywhere in the country, enough to distract from this peculiar plight of the middlebelters. Propaganda in favor of the government is what sells. This is understandably the way the world operates.
But what I cannot understand, no matter how hard I try, is how the very people among whom this catastrophe is happening, have become deadened to the horror. I understand that life must go on even for the destitute, but can nothing be done at all by wise, educated, and mostly Christian communities about this collective evil?
Surely, an apathetic conscience is not a Christian conscience. Christian conscience is always perturbed by human plight, especially when the plight is within our community. I believe that something can and MUST be done in the spirit of Christian charity, and here’s why:
The Example of Jesus or Biblical Mandate
Matthew records that when Jesus saw the crowd, that they were “harassed and helpless,” like sheep without a shepherd, he had compassion on them (Matt. 9:36). And don’t think for a moment that he does not require compassion from us because the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is implicating in that regard.
The man beaten by rubbers is most likely a Jew, who might have been on his way back from the temple in Jerusalem when he met his doom. Quite ironically, the Priest and the Levite in the story, who were not only members of the community of the victim but leaders of his religious community, had an excuse to walk around him and move on.
When the church in the Middle Belt, whose people are victims of this harassment goes on with its yearly programs as usual, its church auditorium buildings, its conferences on other issues, its collections for other projects, and its politicking; when the church government moves on with life as usual, and church people carry on with their big celebrations, and “launchings,” and parties, are we not like the Priest and Levite in this story?
It was a Samaritan who “had compassion” on the poor man and helped him. The Good Samaritan didn’t think to himself that since he couldn’t fix the problem of armed robbery on that particular Jerusalem-Jericho highway, he needed to move on and leave the case to the able. He stopped; suspended his activity, allowed himself to be interrupted at that moment in order to help bring comfort and healing to the wounded man. Compassion caused him time, effort, risk, and money. He was neighborly.
Societies are founded mostly for the purpose of survival. It use to be the case that people didn’t want to live in isolation for fear of being attacked by wild beasts and for fear of bad guys (bandits of all sorts), so they rather lived in communities. This is so that, by their sheer numbers, they could defend themselves against predators. It is an unspoken expectation that people living together defend each other in times of crisis.
The story of an overpowered community usually spreads far and near, and neighboring communities take measures to see to it that they do not suffer the same fate. Mostly, communities form alliances to help each other. This is what, on a larger scale, NATO is, and supposedly ECOWAS.
For a long time societies have known that they cannot survive alone. An example in the Bible is that of the kings of the lands beyond the Jordan in the hill country and in the lowland, all along the coast of the Great Sea toward Lebanon, when they heard the fame of Israel and the news of their approach:
“As soon as Adoni-zedek, king of Jerusalem, heard how Joshua had captured Ai and had devoted it to destruction,[a] doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel and were among them, 2 he[b] feared greatly… 3 So Adoni-zedek king of Jerusalem sent to Hoham king of Hebron, to Piram king of Jarmuth, to Japhia king of Lachish, and to Debir king of Eglon, saying, 4 “Come up to me and help me…”Joshua 10:1-4
Usually a government protects its people, but when there is no government support, solidarity among communities of interest becomes the only way out. Community in this case can mean more than physical proximity, it can also mean a group of people with common interest. Is the church of Jesus in Nigeria not a community then? Will it not stand together at a time such as this?
So, based on these reasons, I have one proposal to make, which I shall then explain in bullet points.
Protest in Solidarity
The term “protest” comes with many assumptions. True, the term can mean many things. It can mean going out to the street to demonstrate, with placards, walking and chanting for long distances. We have tried that and it doesn’t quite work in the Nigerian situation where civil rights are nonexistent.
Another form of protest (which is not very common in our context) is the protest that involves giving up certain privileges, rights, and/or comfort to show dissatisfaction with a situation. It can involve boycotting certain services or refusing to patronize certain businesses. It can involve hunger strike (in our case, fasting, either dry fast or staying off some types of food).
In extreme situations, people have set themselves on fire in protest. This is certainly an extreme that a Christian cannot indulge in. We believe that life belongs to God and we have no right to take it, be it another’s or our own. In light of this, here’s what I am proposing that we do.
SOLIDARITY: We should …
- Stay connected through some kinds of communication medium such that every time a community is attacked or someone is kidnapped and killed, the news spreads among us and we broadcast it through social media. We must learn to upload videos (not too gruesome to sear our sensibilities and infringe on the privacy of the dead) on YouTube too, not just Facebook, and make our posts public. This way, we can stay abreast of what is happening and let the world bear us witness that a gradual genocide is happening under the watch of the Nigerian government.
- All appear in black or dull colors for the two days that follow the attack. We can do this as we go about our normal day: wear black to work, school, market, and our businesses. We don’t have to demonstrate on the streets.
PROTEST: we should
- Boycott any national holiday celebration. You cannot celebrate when you are in mourning, and really, no one should expect you to. We do this peacefully by not felicitating.
- Maintain low-key appearance on social media, making the sounds of our weeping louder than the drums of our celebrations. This is something I have personally decided to do and won’t be surprised if others are already doing so. There were three milestone celebrations in my family this past week: my first son turned 18, becoming officially an adult. My youngest turn 12, he is officially a pre-teen, and my husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. Of course I am thankful and joyful for God’s faithfulness in our lives, but I didn’t feel like publicly celebrating for the sake of those who are suffering right now. I have not always felt this way, but I am happy that I do now.
- Maintain a low profile in everything, the way a suffering people would do.
The Church In Action
My last and final proposal is a call to the church to make this crisis situation her priority. Unfortunately, it is the only organization we have with capacity to bring us together and make most of my proposal feasible.
- The church should make this crisis the target of her budget. In what ways would the church suffer if it decides for the moment to suspend every project and focus on the existential crisis of its people? A people could never feel more loved than when its church makes sacrifices for its sake. Build camps or at least supply the camps that exist with all that the people need. We have been spoiled by NGOs and expect the “government” to do these sorts of things that we can easily take care of if we set our minds to it. Now that “government” is actively against us, what next?
- The theme of the church’s sermons should be geared towards the crisis to bring comfort, assurance, and a sense of solidarity with those who suffer at this time. This is what Jesus would do; should we find it impossible to do same?
In conclusion, God alone is the giver of burdens. May it please him to give us enough burden for our problems such that we will not only pray but also back our prayers with collective action. May he clothe us with his wisdom also, so that, just as the sons of Issachar understood the times and knew what Israel must do (1 Chronicles 12:32), we may also know what we must do.