Christmas Bombings: A Nation Courting Death —okey ndibe



Last Sunday, Nigeria made another bloody bid for global infamy as bombs detonated in churches in Abuja and elsewhere in the country. At the time of this writing, the death toll stood at more than twenty-five, and was expected to rise. That’s a staggering loss of lives. Once again, Nigeria earned the world’s attention for the wrong reason.

As the rest of the world exchanged Christmas cheer, Nigerians reeled from devastation and death wrought by rabid terrorists.

At a time like this – and the story of Nigeria is increasingly a collection of times like this – one confronts the ultimate question of whether Nigeria makes sense. And whether there’s ever a cost-effective way to make the incoherent entity called Nigeria work after all. Those who planted the bombs are doubtless opposed to the idea of one Nigeria. They also disdain the basic idea that all lives are sacred.

Just as disturbing is the sense one gets that President Goodluck Jonathan has no clear path or plan to take Nigeria out of this devastating maelstrom. The man and his deputy were reportedly partying at the time the bombs went off, wreaking havoc. As the world recoiled in horror, Mr. Jonathan and his coterie continued to gyrate! It took numerous hours before he deigned to speak to his bereaved, battered fellow citizens. That’s simply appalling.

To be an attuned leader is to recognize that you must rally to comfort your people at their moment of distress. It also means being able to spell out what you’re going to do to arrest the reign of senseless violence. Instead, Mr. Jonathan told Nigerians to brace themselves for the burden of death by Boko Haram bombs – until such a time as the group’s hideous militancy “fizzles” out.

Mr. Jonathan’s initial silence – his missing voice – brought him no credit as a leader. When he spoke, he hardly impressed the nation that he understands the scale of the crisis – or that he knows his way around it. Instead, it was easy to detect alienation, disconnection and bewildered. Nigerians deserve much better from their leadership.

Several people came to me at mass on Christmas to voice their dismay, shock, and sympathy about Nigeria’s latest entry in the world’s harvest of shock-and-awe acts. It is nothing short of depraved for any group to think that God sanctions the taking of human lives, even the lives of so-called infidels. Let’s make no mistake: there’s no redeeming feature to the killing of innocents. Nothing excuses the assaults on worshippers.

The terrorist acts were callous, cruel, and senseless. They seemed calculated to trigger the kind of sectarian bad blood that may push Nigeria into the cauldron of a horrendous war. Inexcusable and cowardly, the bloody attacks – and their toll of deaths, injuries and destruction to property – bode ill for a country where cheer is already a scarce commodity, hope disappearing fast.

Each day, Nigerians are forced to accept new depths of crudity and violence as the norm. We are in danger of becoming a country where the slaughter of hundreds, even thousands, of defenceless citizens is deemed a normal fact of life. We have come to a stage where horror has become as familiar to Nigerians as humane, life-affirming practices are to people in much of the world.

Nigerian officials protest vociferously whenever any foreign governments or their agencies suggest Nigeria’s fragility, or predict that its continued corporate existence is highly endangered. Nigerian officials insist that the Nigerian union is solid, fortified, well cemented.

Yet, it doesn’t require a clairvoyant’s flair to realize that the official proclamations of a healthy Nigeria are based more on wishful thinking and delusions than reality and sound logic. Nigeria is a troubled, and troubling, polity. It is an unexamined concept; it is, above all, a creation of British fiat that we love to pretend is viable.

Socrates famously contended that an unexamined life was not worth living. One must stipulate that an unexamined nation is not worth preserving.

President Jonathan may not have done much to ameliorate the nation’s problems, but the problems predate him. In fact, the tragedy of Nigeria is rooted in fifty years of failed leadership, betrayed dreams, foregone paths, and squandered opportunities. In fact, part of the solution must entail an admission by Mr. Jonathan that Nigerians have not settled the fundamental question of whether they wish to coexist, and on what terms.

There’s little chance of the Nigerian police and military winning the war against Boko Haram. How do you win against an unconventional enemy that believes it operates under divine commission and guidance?

In the end, we must come to terms with the real prospect that Nigeria is a dying idea. Each bomb that kills and maims innocent citizens propels a fifty-year old country that doesn’t know itself towards doom.


•Ndibe teaches fiction and African literature at Trinity College in Hartford, CT.