Monday, October 28, 2013

Life With Boko Haram - Opinion By Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani

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In December 2010, Nigeria experienced its first wave of terrorist bombings at Christian churches. In 2011, we had our first-ever suicide car bombing, at the United Nations headquarters here. The explosion rattled my nearby office building. Flinging myself on the floor, I assumed it was an earthquake. A bomb was still the last thing on my mind.

Just a few years ago, we thought terrorism was something that happened in faraway countries, like Israel. Now we know differently; the threat hangs over us all the time.

Some weeks ago, shortly before Nigeria’s independence day, I received a mass text message. Nigeria was going to turn 53 years old a few days later, on Oct. 1, and there were concerns that the terrorist group Boko Haram might have planned something special to mark the big day in the country’s capital city.

“Dear All,” the message read, “The Diplomatic Missions in Abuja have received a security alert today morning from the Federal Govt requesting everyone to stay indoors and not to visit any shopping malls or public places which is crowded for the next few days. Please inform all your dear ones!”

Over the past few years, as Boko Haram has devastated Northern Nigeria, I have received many variations of this message. Thankfully, this one seemed to be a fake: a friend, who works as the head of security for a multinational company in Abuja, said there had been no communication from the federal government. Nevertheless, he advised that I stay home as much as possible over the next few days.

But one cannot perpetually live in bondage to fear. Less than 36 hours later, two friends and I took our seats at the Abuja Hilton for Crack Ya Ribs — a comedy show scheduled as part of the independence festivities. The event was organized by Julius D’Genius Agwu, a celebrated Nigerian comedian. In his opening remarks, he mentioned the warning that I — apparently along with much of the rest of the crowd — had received. Reading it had irked him, he said. Was it a coincidence that similar warnings went viral each time he traveled from Lagos to organize a show in Abuja? Had it been sent by his enemies (which in Nigeria can mean anything from jealous relatives to rival comedians to witches)?

He had blasted the warning to all his contacts, after first making some slight alterations: The Diplomatic Missions in Abuja have received an alert today morning from the Federal Govt requesting everyone to attend Crack Ya Ribs ...

Over the course of the evening, a good number of the jokes at which the audience belted out the most explosive laughter were inspired by the terrorists and their antics.

One comedian had come from Jos, a city a few hours north of us that has suffered many losses to Boko Haram. After the audience politely applauded his entrance, he feigned outrage. Had we not read the many headlines proclaiming hundreds dead around Jos? Did we not realize how much it took to have survived, to be there to make us laugh? He then stormed off the stage in a huff, returning only when the audience stood and accorded him a more raucous welcome.

The ability to laugh and remain optimistic amid the most dire circumstances remains one of the enduring characteristics of Nigerians.

Perhaps this is one reason we find it so hard to believe that the terrorists are our own fellow citizens. It is difficult to imagine a single Nigerian who would willingly leave this world by blowing himself to smithereens. Much easier to imagine is that they have infiltrated our land from neighboring countries — Chad or Niger, perhaps.

This suspicion was captured in a joke by IGoDye, another of the performers at Crack Ya Ribs, who spoke in pidgin English. He said he wouldn’t argue with anyone who accused a Nigerian of being a 419 scammer — referring to the country’s notorious connection to advanced fee fraud (if you’ve ever received an e-mail beginning “I crave your distinguished indulgence” and ending with a request to send your bank account number in return for a large cash transfer, you’ve come into contact with a 419 scammer). But you can’t accuse us of being terrorists, he continued. Nigerians are no terrorists.

He gave the example of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian who, on Christmas Day 2009, boarded a flight to Detroit and failed in his attempt to blow up the plane with explosives concealed in his underwear.

Mr. Abdulmutallab was given money to make a bomb, he agreed to take the bomb onto a plane and detonate it, he was given payment to carry out the job, he promised to carry out the job, and then he boarded the plane but ended up not detonating the bomb.

“That sounds like a 419 scammer to me, not a terrorist.”

Making light of the situation helps us cope with the constant threat of violence. Every Sunday morning when I pull up to the concrete road blocks outside my church, policemen surround my car. One peeps through the window at my driver, his finger hovering close to the trigger of his gun. Another slides a bomb detector beneath the vehicle, then ransacks the trunk.

“We apologize for the inconvenience,” my pastor often says from the pulpit. “We’re only doing this to make you feel safe.”

But not every school or office can afford to hire guards and bomb detectors. I’ve heard some Abuja residents rationalize their insecurity by saying “something will end up killing you, anyway.” Especially in a place like Nigeria, with its many opportunities for death made easy. The plane in which you are flying could fall from the sky. The “doctor” performing your brain surgery may have never attended medical school. The bottle of water from the supermarket could have been scooped directly from someone’s bathtub.

Terrorists are just one more addition to the roster. They cause enough damage when they strike; we must limit their interference with the rest of our lives. That’s why we welcome events like Crack Ya Ribs. We must continue to go about our business, to live and to laugh.

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani is the author of the novel “I Do Not Come to You by Chance.”

Via the NYT

1 comment:

  1. Yes, I agree, we must limit the terrorists' inteference in our lives. Live and laugh. We must also understand that the extent to which people can do this varies. Cases in point: Borno and other states where telecommunications services are or were nil, Jos where since the 2008 crisis there has been no Night of a Thousand Laughs organised, even. Of course, we must live with our realities wherever we find ourselves.
    That aside, although I love Tricia's novel and own a copy; she's a great writer, I think she's exaggerating the Nigerian condition to appeal to an international readership. Why? 'The “doctor” performing your brain surgery may have never attended medical school. The bottle of water from the supermarket could have been scooped directly from someone’s bathtub.' I mean, in all sincerity, really?


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