First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak outâ€” because I was not Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionist and I did not speak outâ€” because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak outâ€”because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.â€™â€™ Martin Niemoller (1892-1984).
A victim of the Boko Haram insurgency spoke of how her family was virtually wiped out in an interview with Vanguard last weekend. She spoke of how wives were forced to watch as their husbands and soul mates were tied to trees and killed.
Then she spoke these profound words which form the theme for this article; â€˜No one can quantify my anguishâ€™. It is the anguish of a person who canâ€™t go home because there is no home to go to.
The place she grew up in and had known as home all her life was razed to the ground and all members of her blood family slaughtered with the exception of her father who managed to escape and may never be found. The friends she went to school with, played with, danced with, and shared tales by the moonlight with are all scattered.
Many are dead. Childhood memories, often pleasant for many of us, are now embittered. The soul of her town as well as the physical structures have been violated; cherished places have been desecrated. So callous, so wanton, so inhuman, so beastly are these defilers and so deep the wounds they inflict, that these towns will never be the same again even if they are reclaimed.
Yet this lady whose anguish we are trying to quantify, is in some ways lucky. First she is an adult and better able to articulate her feelings and can seek medical help when necessary. Second, she lives thousands of miles away, in Australia; a saner, more civilised clime.
Not so the thousands of children who if they survive, will have to live with the gory pictures of how their world was turned upside down. Many were forced to watch as their mothers and sisters were gang raped repeatedly before they were butchered like cheap Sallah rams. They saw, and were witnesses to the pain, the fear, the revulsion as they were being violated again and again by their abductors. Many saw how their fathers, their role models were disgraced and humiliated before they were killed.
Many of these children now live by the day, unsure of tomorrow. Many have formed a survival bond of sorts with older people who have lost their own children. In this new tribe of survivors are husbands without wives, brothers without sisters, mothers without children who are being hunted and preyed upon like defenceless animals. In there, are people who need urgent medical attention for physical and psychological wounds.
They eat what they find and find what they eat. Some sleep on tree branches, some inside caves. Their fear is palpable; their needs urgent. Yet they are part of a country that pumps two million barrels of oil per day. They are part of a country that calls itself the largest economy in Africa. They are part of a country where the presidency budgets over a billion Naira for feeding. They are part of a country where churches and mosques spring up every day. They are part of humanity.
â€˜He who feels it knows itâ€™ goes a popular adage. We, who are in the South and are ensconced in our private world may never be able to quantify the depth of the anguish of our brothers and sisters in the North-east whose lives and livelihood have been destroyed. We may never be able to grasp the horror in human terms, in relationship terms of what is happening in the North- Eastern part of our country. We may not be able to gauge how it will affect the rest of the country in future.
But it is no excuse for the near apathy that we are showing. In that same edition of Vanguard where this ladyâ€™s interview was carried, in fact, almost on the adjoining page, was an interview with the President of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN). His comments on what is going on in the North East showed no deep understanding and compassion of the humanitarian crisis there. His defence of private jets for men of God was nauseating and showed a disconnect between them and the down trodden.
But I have news for him and for all of us who are burying our heads in the proverbial sand. The lesson of Ebola is very instructive. We all felt Ebola was miles away, in distant unfortunate countries. It took one man, one wayward traveller to bring it all home to us. Now, at the cost of 12 lives and millions of Naira, we have all learnt the importance of being our brotherâ€™s keeper. The Western world was even worse. Africa was not only another continent, it was another world. Then US got hit, UK got hit and Spain got hit before they realised that we are all neighbours after all and helping those countries is in our collective interest. In the world we live in today, what affects one affects all. And in the words of Jane Aristide: â€˜if one suffers, we all suffer; together is courageâ€™.
So helping our affected brothers and sisters in the North-east is in our collective interest. We in the South are not as safe as we think we are, and it will take just one wayward suicide bomber to wake us up. We can fight the insurgency in a couple of ways. We can organise to make our commander-in- chief realise that lives are being lost on a daily basis and families are being dislocated. Every day brings untold trauma to many innocent souls and we can no longer stand the carnage. He and our current military chiefs should either lead or get out of the line. The press can put this on the front burner by carrying daily human interest stories of victims. Finally we can dip our hands into our pockets and raise massive funds to help ease their pains. Our high flying pastors, the oil and gas millionaires and indeed every one of us should stand up and be counted.
Otherwise when they come for us, there might not be anybody left to come to our aid.