Why Nigeria’s Tragedies Are Not International Tragedies

Last week, someone sent me a forwarded message. It was the account of how someone had tried to donate relief materials to the victims of the Benue (in North-Central Region of Nigeria) flooding through the Nigeria’s NEMA (National Emergency Management Agency).

Let’s just say, it is easier for a camel to pass through the proverbial needle’s eye than for him or her to pass through the official hoops. By the way, don’t bother visiting the agency’s website for information on a disaster that has displaced an estimated 100,000 (according to the President) — you won’t find anything there. Their twitter updates provide some passable news on it. This is in spite of the level of palpable personal tragedy.

Imagine The Hoops So You Can Do A Good Deed!

This contrasts remarkably with the activities of FEMA in USA towards the Texas flooding. But this is really not a diatribe about the ineffectiveness of another government agency. I think so much of that has been done in the past and as long as everything is seen as finger-pointing, little change occurs.

This treatise is more about a malaise that has plagued all of us collectively as a society. It has to do with our view of tragic events. Every society experiences some tragedy but the tragedy of tragedies is usually the response of the society and not the tragedy itself.

The message I alluded to earlier took my mind to something I wrote on a whatsapp group I belong to. This was written in the aftermath of the Barcelona attacks on August 17, 2017.

I will reproduce the contents of my response below:

La Rambla (the site of the van attack in Barcelona) By JT Curses

On the Thursday after the Barcelona attack, someone posted that he/she hoped no one “wondered” into Barcelona.

Interesting choice of words. I guess my years of volunteering in social work has conditioned me to speak differently during times of tragic events. Personally, I think that may not be the choice of word for that kind of situation

That is actually an aside and not the reason for writing this. I am more concerned about the sentiments expressed by two other members of the group regarding the treatment of a Boko Haram attack that happened just before the Barcelona attack as a seemingly non-event by the international media

I have always thought about this and came up with my own reasoning for this. I think the proximity of the Barcelona attack (just a 9-minute journey from where I was staying & a regular route friends and family use) has helped me see things clearly. Proximity seemed to have given me better clarity.

There are 2 ways to report events and I think a lot of the problem comes from the way Nigerian media and Nigerian authorities treat these events. International media only follows the lead that we take.

These events can either be reported as a terrorist attack that resulted in human tragedy or a human tragedy that was caused by a terrorist attack. This is not just a play on semantics — the perspective determines the depth & consistency of reporting.

  1. A terrorist attack that resulted in human tragedy — the focus is on the attack and the perpetrators. The casualties are just statistics, not individuals with self-identities and connections to the rest of humanity. The reporting is focused on the nature of the attack and anything that goes along with it
  2. A human tragedy that was caused by a terrorist attack — the focus is on the humans and their interest which has been affected by the terrorist attack. The humans comprise of the victims (direct & indirect) and the responders. The reporting is focused on getting justice for the victims and recognition for the responders.

Do you know that the Chibok girls were not the first underage victims of Boko Haram? On February 25, 2014, fifty-nine boys were killed at the Federal Government College of Buni Yadi. According to Obiageli Ezekwesili, she started the Bring Back Our Girls campaign because she did not want the girls to go the way of the boys. She changed the narrative from a terrorist attack that resulted in human tragedy to a human tragedy that was caused by a terrorist attack

How did she do that? She unveiled the statistics and gave them names and families. They were now someone’s daughter. We now saw the agony in the victims — direct and indirect. Because of this, everyone joined in the campaign — Hollywood actors even Michele Obama.

Justice for the victims meant bringing them home and reuniting the girls with their families — it didn’t matter if the Nigerian Government has to negotiate with the terrorist group (Boko Haram) to achieve it

Most of the reporting until BBOG started was just reporting terrorist attack with human loss as the statistics appendage. Unless, we change the reporting no one will get on the bandwagon to keep it on the news trail

On Thursday, within the first few hours following the attack, News stations had started airing interviews of anyone remotely affected by the attack — because it is a human tragedy

At the moment, stories about the victims are already coming. One of them was honeymooning with his wife — now she has to make arrangements for his funeral. Justice for him will mean bringing the perpetrators to book. Even if we forget the event, we cannot forget the story of that one person among many. That story stirs a call to action and an unwavering commitment to see whatever cause of action to the end

The church I attended on Sunday said they were organizing an appreciation drive for the responders (Police, medics etc.). This just further entrenched the perspective I could see in the narrative

The problem of lack of international reporting on our events is not their fault — it is our fault. If we address our narrative to focus on the victims and responders, there will be a story to sustain interest

The BBOG campaign have shown our news outfits and the rest of us how it should be done. They were not perfect but they were consistent in following their course of action. This is why the world followed them

Postscript

Even though, I had alluded to Nigerian media & authorities as the news herald, the truth is that we all bear a burden of responsibility in the matter. These people come from among us — most times it is the collective narrative we share that they spread abroad.

Can you imagine that in aftermath of the Lekki flooding, people living in the Mainland were making unkind remarks to the people who had just experienced personal tragedies? This was their way of proving that money does not guarantee anything. Have we become a nation of uncaring brutes just waiting for the other shoe to drop?

Until we learn to treat ourselves better, no one will treat us better. Our narrative defines the story that the world spreads about us.

So, let’s make a commitment to change our narrative and hopefully, we can get to the point of seeing each other in a better light and make the effort to go the extra mile to serve each other in whatever circumstances that life may bring our way.