This is a very difficult piece for me to write. I am doing by best not to express anger but focus on the issues. I am trying to reach out to the inspiration of my soul and spirit to tame the anger and anguish of my heart. I am deeply sober but in my soberness, I see hope. What is this hope? It is the hope that this piece will cause someone to act. It is the hope that this lamentation will cause a ripple and sanitization in the stinking and deep pond of silence that has greeted one of the most heinous crimes against humanity, the slaughtering of our children.
On August 16, 2012, I raised an alarm in The Punch in an article titled, ‘Boko Haram attacks and the Nigerian child.’ The piece was my response to the bizarre case of suicide bombing in Maiduguri, Borno State, where a 15-year-old boy blew up himself at a mosque, killing five people in the process. I submitted among other things, ‘why am I so passionate about the right of the child to life? It is very simple, the right of the child to life is the foundation of every other right the child has. In fact, every other right of the child is fulfilled in the protection of the right of the child to life. Thus, when the child’s right to life is breached with impunity, every other right is breached.’
Permit me to take off from here in responding to the killing in Yobe State at the weekend. It was reported that ‘gunmen suspected to be members of Boko Haram on Saturday morning attacked Government Secondary School, Mamudo, Potiskum, Yobe State, killing 29 pupils and a teacher in the boarding school.’ It was also in the news that earlier in the year, ‘a similar attack was carried out on a school in Damaturu, resulting in the killing of seven pupils and two teachers in a government secondary school and nine pupils in another school in Maiduguri, Borno State.’ UNICEF puts the total figure of pupils and teachers, who have been killed since June 16, 2013 at 48 pupils and seven teachers.
The simple interpretation of the foregoing reports is that our children are not safe in schools, particularly in the Northern part of Nigeria. Children are not only the focuses of attack, reports also have it that children are recruited to carry out attacks on fellow children.
It is sad that the Northern part of Nigeria is fast becoming another Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the Taliban has declared schooling, particularly for girls a capital offence. It was a crime for which Malala Yousafzai and two of her friends nearly paid the supreme price.
The difference between Nigeria and Afghanistan and Pakistan is that while Nigeria seems to be accepting the threat against our school children a necessary evil, the nations of Afghanistan and Pakistan have refused to accept the threat of the Taliban, despite its formidable capacity for blood-curdling and dastardly acts of terror. The states and its citizens (including the media) have honourably demonstration a steadfast commitment to the right of their children to life and the right of the girl child to education.
Here in Nigeria, I see a nation, which goes to bed while its children are been slaughtered. I see a nation, which shed the blood of its own future, which the children represent. It is very sad. Our near silence is our greatest crime as a people. Franz Fanon said it many years ago, ‘every onlooker is either a coward or traitor.’ Today, I share copiously, the deep philosophy against silence of one of the greatest human being living, who when he was been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986 was called a ‘messenger to mankind.’ Elie Wiesel submits: ‘The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.’ He further states, ‘there may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.’ He concludes, ‘we must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.’
Consider the response of the government and people of America, particularly the Media to the December 14, 2012 killings of twenty children and six adult staff at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in the United States of America to our reaction to what has become consistent shedding of the blood of our children and their caregivers in the Northern part of Nigeria. Apart from the fact that the American and international media focused on it fully, the shootings prompted renewed debate about gun control in the United States, and a proposal for new legislation banning the sale and manufacture of certain types of semi-automatic firearms and magazines with more than ten rounds of ammunition. The debate also extended to safety within the school environment and concrete security measures to be put in place to forestall future reoccurrence of such tragedy.
I need us to understand that when a child is denied any of his rights, including the right to life, there are three categories of culprits. The first is the actual perpetrators of the act, the second is the primary and secondary caregivers, who should form the four rings (family, community, state and international community) of protection, who fail in their duty of care and the third are people like us, who stay, passive and unconcerned in the face of cruelty against our children, blessing evil with the libation of our silence.
One major justification (among many others) of the majority who perpetrate the complexity of silence is that the matter at hand does not affect them. For those who thus justifies their silence, I urge you today the world of Martin Niemöller, when most of the German elites would not challenge the madness of Hitler, which later led to a pogrom, to which close to 70 million people were slaughtered, representing 2.5 percent of the population of the entire world at that time. Niemöller submitted, ‘First they came for the socialist, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist/ Then they came for the trade unionist and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist/ Then they came for the Jews and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew/ Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.’ I love the way Martin Luther King Junior puts it, ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ It may be public school children in the Northern part of the country today; tomorrow it may be the private and public school children in all parts of the country.
I urge us to begin the debate today and I think the issues are clear in my mind: first, is the school environment safe for our children in Nigeria, particularly in the Northern part of Nigeria? If not, what kind of security measure are we to immediately put in place for the safety of our children, beyond a blanket declaration of a state of emergency? What kind of relief mechanics can we put in place for the affected schools and the families of the deceased, pupils and adults alike?
On a final note, for a nation, who slaughters its future, its hope and for the citizens, who keeps mum in the face of this crime against humanity, I challenge with the words of Walt Whitman: ‘…Those corpses of young men, Those martyrs that hang from the gibbets, Those hearts pierced by the grey lead,
Cold and motionless as they seem, Live elsewhere with undying vitality; They live in other young men, O, kings, They live in brothers, again ready to defy you; They were purified by death, They were taught and exalted.’ Have an INSPIRED day.