Nigeria chalked up another dubious record in infamy with the recent pre-dawn massacre of innocent men, women and children near Jos. Reports of the bloodbath became a staple on radio and cable news broadcasts around the world, complete with macabre pictures of bloodied corpses, gaping mass graves, and disconsolate wailing women. These reports were also splashed on the front page of major international newspapers, including the New York Times.
Haiti and Chile are still reeling from the aftermath of devastating earthquakes, a natural disaster. Nigeria continues to be beset by man-manufactured crises and disasters.
In the age of the Internet, accounts and photos of the savage attack – which, in its use of machetes to dismember targets and bonfires to immolate many, came across as a mini version of the Rwandan genocide – seemed to be everywhere one turned. Scores of photos were forwarded to my e-mail addresses and posted to my facebook account.
Where I could, I deleted the photos. For there is, after all, something that’s deeply wounding to the psyche in peering at the monstrous work of the depraved and – one inescapably concluded – the deranged. To glimpse the pictures – and glimpse was all one managed, it being impossible to look – was to confront barbarity on a scale that caused one to shudder at the human capacity for evil.
I was not only appalled and horrified by the wantonness of the nocturnal attackers; my sensibility also recoiled from what, in my suspicion, is a growing appetite for gore and horror. This appetite is daily facilitated and fed by the Internet. Thanks to the communicative ease offered by the Internet, anybody can sit before a computer anywhere in the world and widely disseminate any information, complete with (often gory) photographs.
It’s true that, in many cases, these photographs serve to corroborate or lend dimensionality to written accounts of events. Yet, the raw, stark manner in which some grotesque photos are distributed leaves me worrying that we are in danger of losing our ability to flinch. I worry, besides, that our seeming fascination with gazing at extremely sickening photographs of callous acts – in this case, the Jos massacres – is bound to accelerate the erosion of our sense of the sacredness of human life.
That fear is real enough for me – which was why, once I heard and read about the latest episode of sectarian bloodbath in Jos, I tried my best not to linger over the pictures of victims. I’m not one to seek photographic authentication of dastardly acts. Yet, as I already hinted, it’s often impossible to avoid all the images thrown at you from multiple sources, known and unknown. In the case of the carnage in Jos, several well-meaning “facebook” friends must have thought they were doing me a favor by bombarding me with the horrific images. In order to delete them, one had, perforce, to glance at them.
In the process, two images from that photographic gallery of evil branded themselves on my mind. One photograph is of a mother and a baby – in all likelihood her child – lying side by side, both bodies burnt. It was as if their assailants wished to make them into human barbecues.
The other picture was just as haunting. It’s of a child, at most three years old, its skull gashed open to expose a reddened brain. Perhaps the deadly blow was struck with a machete or some other sharp instrument. The dead child has a thumb in its mouth; he or she must have been in deep sleep when the terrible blow was struck. That child’s posture – with a thumb frozen in the mouth – tells its own disturbing story. It spoke to me of the murder of innocence.
The immediate murderer is, of course, the man (or woman, perhaps?) who was so crazed as to take an axe to the skull of a sleeping, absolutely harmless and defenseless child. The perpetrator, whatever his or her grievance, cannot possibly produce any justification for snatching that child’s life.
But there’s also a sense – a deep sense at that – in which the thumb-sucking child as well as the charred mother and child indict the Nigerian state – a state run by vampires who “eat” the citizens’ flesh and “drink” their blood.
Truth be told, the recurrent spate of so-called religious violence in Nigeria is but a symptom of a nation that’s sabotaged every opportunity to achieve itself. Nigeria remains a discounted dream, a space run (and ruined) by (in)human parasites who suck the life out of their quarry, leaving the nation-space feeble and wobbly.
Those who sneaked upon the sleeping victims in a town near Jos and executed their murderous designs were – to some degree – proxies for a Nigeria that devalues its citizens’ lives. For despite the religious coating that served as ostensible motive, the attack was, at bottom, evidence of colossal dehumanization wrought by pervasive economic misery.
Nigeria might have nurtured that thumb-sucking child to grow up into a productive citizen. Perhaps the burnt woman was a suckling mother, a small trader who rose up daily and did what it took to provide food for her family, or a farmer whose produce gave her a means of sustenance and a way of meeting the world. But a Nigeria whose resources are looted by a few, whose police are too busy collecting bribes at roadside blocks to pay attention to the real task of law enforcement, whose bureaucrats spend their waking hours inventing novel ways to make the lives of their fellows harsher – that Nigeria betrayed the victims of our latest man-made disaster.
It is up to citizens to reclaim their lives by taking back their nation. The first step is to insist that their so-called nascent democracy learn to respect the wishes of the people in next year’s general elections. It should surprise no one that Nigerian “leaders” who usurp office and get away with it treat Nigerians as cattle or worse. It is only when the people establish their sovereign power that they can compel the state to respond to them as citizens – not fodder for senseless death.