There used to be a fruit seller right on the sidewalk of Banex Plaza – a humble and sometimes playfully mischievous Mallam that sold pineapples, watermelons and oranges. I hear he is gone. The bomb blast took him away.
There used to be groundnut sellers – young women that sat on nature-made stoops to ply their trade right outside Banex Plaza. They were competitors – because they each wanted to outsell their counterparts, but they were also friends – because they mostly chatted away idly amongst themselves while waiting for customers. Many of them, will sell no more. I can only imagine what their last words were.
Philomena and Tina – friends of a friend, saw the EMAB Plaza blast happen right in front of their eyes. They survived. Thankfully. But one of them, Philomena or Tina – I cannot remember which – is still in shock. She cried her eyes and heart out later that day at the office.
Leticia, my next-door neighbor, and Mike, her boyfriend, left Emab plaza just five minutes before the bomb that killed 21 people went off. They were in Mike’s new car. When the blast went off, because of the violent vibration from the explosion near-by, he thought he had gotten rear-ended by the vehicle behind him. Until he saw the smoke… He laughed the whole experience off nervously when he told me the story. Emphasis on “nervously.”
I was in Maitama on that day – just ten minutes away from Banex Plaza when the bomb went off. From where I stood – at a building not too far from Transcorp Hilton – when the soldiers informed my colleagues and I that a bomb had gone off at Banex, I could clearly see the smoke, definitely feel the fear, and almost cut the tension in the environment with a chainsaw.
It is moments like last week Wednesday that make you reevaluate your very existence. One second before I heard about the blast, I was just thinking about if I would get home on time to catch the Super Eagles World Cup match. One second later, my heart was heavy, my phone battery had run down, and I did not know if any of my friends or family happened to be at Banex. Thankfully, they were not.
Many people – especially those from the North East – are complaining that Nigerians are becoming largely desensitized to the insurgency that has permeated right to our very doorsteps. To those of us that still largely believe that the whole Boko Haram insurgency is happening “over there”, I have only one thing to say: “Wake Up!” We must stop deceiving ourselves. This war has become personal.
Before Wednesday, June 25th, 2014, I too was somewhat guilty of becoming numb to all the killings that I read about daily in the papers. After the April 14th, Nyanya bombing, I have tried to keep my mind positive by skipping news stories that have to do with Boko Haram-caused violence. However, since this recent incident occurred, I keep on telling people the Banex bombing was largely a wake up call – especially to those of us in Abuja that often feel untouchable. This is my reasoning: if my phone had fallen, or developed some kind of problem on Tuesday, June 24th, the chances that I would have been at Banex Plaza sometime on Wednesday, June 25th – the day of the bombing – are astronomically high. I thank God that I am alive – but really, to me, this just got personal.
This is no longer a battle of ‘those guys’ versus ‘those other guys’. This is no longer a battle of Boko Haram against the Federal Government. Disregard the tags that peg this violent insurgency as ‘good versus evil’ and let us take the definition of this conflict back to basics. This battle is about You and Me against the people that want to kill us. Shikena!
I say: ‘You and Me’ because Boko Haram striking at the gates of Banex means striking indiscriminately at one of the heartbeats of the Federal Capital Territory. They did not target Muslims, or Christians. They targeted Nigerians – in the heart of Nigeria. Yes, they did this to send a message.
How will we respond?
–– Olu Onemola tweets @TheOluOnemola