Opinion

National mourning for villagers

Consequent upon the massacre of 100 villagers in the villages of Tchoma Bangou and Zaroumadareye by terrorists, the government of the Niger Republic has declared three days of national mourning.

Who ever heard of national mourning for deceased ordinary villagers and peasants? We have certainly never heard about it in Nigeria. But here it is live and direct in Niger Republic: “We have decreed three days of national mourning, and on security, we are going to strengthen presence (in the frontier region with Mali),” Interior Minister Alkache Alhada said. Aso Rock cannot be pleased with this news – to them it would appear that Niger Republic is involved in the “crime” of trivialization of “national mourning.”

National mourning is something that Aso Rock uses sparingly, like a precious jewel, mostly to “eulogize” deceased statesmen, politicians and successful crooks. Aso Rock had always reserved national mourning for those with blue or cold blood – not peasants and villagers. National mourning has always been, in Nigeria, an entitlement reserved for deceased former and serving presidents and others who may have snuggled their way up the political ladder and gained some national fame or infamy or both.

We even observed a three-day national mourning for the confirmed thief and dictator, Sani Abacha, and pretended to miss his departure. Pretence was not a very good thing for a religious country like Nigeria to do – particularly when all over the country people trooped out to rejoice. But then national mourning in Nigeria is part of the “gratuity” reserved for former heads of states no matter how they fared as leaders – not villagers.

So you could imagine one’s shock when our neighbours up North, where Aso Rock normally claims the killer herdsmen come from, declared a national mourning over the death of simple villagers. In Nigeria we have lost over 500 villagers and more and the Federal Government did not declare anything close to a mourning – talk less of a national mourning. All the reaction we normally get from Aso Rock is “The Federal Government condemns in very strong terms the dastardly killing of 500 people in XYZ community. We should, however, note that more people were killed in past administrations and this is a herders/farmers clash.” I see you are sighing in understanding already – I understand.

Well, we have heard this speech so many times from President Muhammadu Buhari, that we suspect that it may come from a template prepared, framed and kept in a safe in Aso Rock office to be pulled out at short notice, names of communities filled and read when the occasion demands. Since killing has become a monthly ritual in Nigeria, this ritual saves time and money. Just keep one handy and read it every time, instead of asking the speechwriters to prepare another one each time.

Already the word “condemn” has crept into our national psyche like a virus. “Afenifere has condemned the killing of ……” “Ndi Igbo condemns without reservation the murder of ….” “Arewa Consultative Forum, while condemning the massacre of ….. has asked that….” Truth be told, Aso Rock is yet to learn from the wisdom of Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist, that “We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.”

If they had imbibed this simple lesson, they would have known that condemnation oppresses victim communities, it does not liberate. Sharing the sense of loss of the bereaved at a national scale does more to comfort the communities.

It was good to hear that instead of condemning, Niger is also taking steps to curb the menace. Instead of rationalizing it (like Aso Rock has sweated it out trying to make every killing look like a simple brush between farmers and herders, and comparing figures with past administrations), Niger intends to take steps to stop the carnage.

Alhada, speaking by phone after a meeting of the National Security Council headed by President Mahamadou Issoufou, said troop numbers would be increased to achieve “greater saturation” of the area with security forces.

“We have to stop incursions. We have to create a kind of security cordon, but one of the difficulties is that there’s a void on the Malian side,” he said. The hundred villagers were killed when scores of “terrorists,” arriving by motorbike shot people randomly on a killing spree in both villages.

It was believed that this was a revenge killing for two of their men who were lynched in one of these communities. The response of the Nigerien government shows its commitment to the protection of lives and properties – and that it would not tolerate such acts of criminality. Niger is a poorer country than Nigeria. It is ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world. Nigeria is richer than Niger. But what has the wealth of the Pharisee got to do with the kindness of the Good Samaritan? Niger has proven that national mourning ought to be done for the great as well as the not-so-great after all before God we are all the same. I hope Aso Rock is listening.

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