To Secure Northern Lives, First Secure Northern Brains

Farooq A. Kperogi

Twitter: @farooqkperogi

More northern Muslims are suddenly concerned about the unending carnage and kidnapping in the region than has ever been the case in the last five years. Many people have reached out to me to request that I lend my voice to the #SecureNorth social media campaign. But what would my voice or even the social media campaign do to change anything?

There’s nothing that’s happening today in the region that hasn’t been happening since at least 2017, which northern victims ignored, excused, explained away, or defended. I used to be one of the few northern voices that called attention to the sanguinary insecurity that drenches the region in oceans of blood, but I always got aggressed by the same northerners I thought I was fighting for.

The emotional dislocation I feel over Boko Haram’s relentless mass slaughters in Borno isn’t merely roused by humanitarian concerns; it is also personal. As I’ve pointed out in many columns and social media posts, part of my mother’s distant ancestry is traceable to Borno.

When she went to Mecca on Hajj in 2012, she was overcome with tender emotions for having the privilege to go through the Maiduguri international airport in spite of the risks. Going to Maiduguri was a consequential pre-Mecca, domestic, emotional pilgrimage for her. Although she couldn’t get out of the hotel to enjoy the sights, sounds, and vibes of a city whose ancestral reminiscences she nourishes through the folk songs handed down to her by her grandmother and her mother, she was fulfilled.

She expended outsized spiritual energies praying for the end of the carnage in Borno while in Mecca and always wanted to know if there had been any improvements in the state’s security situation. Sometimes, she would hear of mind-numbing mass slaughters that would leave her crying. Each time she called and cried on the phone because of news of savage slaughters of innocents, I was always distressed.

I wished I could just lie to her that peace had returned to Borno. Then the Buhari regime came, claimed to have “defeated” or “ended” Boko Haram in six months, muzzled the press, and threatened everyday folks with dire consequences for publicizing news of Boko Haram mass slaughters.

To be frank, I was relieved because the absence of news of Boko Haram’s spectacular homicidal furies gave my mother some peace. She no longer called to cry on the phone over the terrorist group’s mass murders. But I also have friends and relatives in Borno who shared worrying news of Boko Haram’s escalating but unreported ferocity.

Although I never shared this news with my mother, I occasionally shared them on social media just so that people weren’t comforted into a delusive sense of safety. I also hoped that it would jolt the government to act. But I became the object of attacks from northerners—and even from people in Borno. Protecting Buhari’s image—and sustaining the delusory narrative that he had “ended” Boko Haram— was more important to them than saving their lives.

My February 24, 2018 column titled “Bursting the Myth of Buhari’s Boko Haram ‘Success’,” for instance, got the hackles of many northern Muslims up, and I was used for target practice by headless twerps who wanted to bolster their Buharist bona fides.

They delegitimized my concerns by calling attention to my American location. They insisted Buhari was an impeccably guiltless saint who had secured the North like no one had ever done in Nigeria’s entire history and that only hypercritical, geographically dislocated diasporans like me didn’t see that.

The government, of course, also actively bought the silence of the news media and intimidated those it couldn’t buy. Now their fraud, ineptitude, and lack of compassion are unravelling once again.

Scores of people in the North, even in Buhari’s home state of Katsina, have been protesting his blithe unconcern as hundreds of men, women, and children are senselessly murdered or kidnapped for ransom every week in the region.

People who had said Buhari was an irreproachable demi-god who could do no wrong suddenly now see wisdom in protesting physically or on social media. People who once protested in SUPPORT of Buhari’s petrol price hikes that smolder them and AGAINST people who opposed it are suddenly waking up to the realization that Buhari has nothing but stone-cold disdain for them.

People who’d cursed and insulted us for calling out Buhari’s ineptitude and fraud have now become emergency social critics because the regime’s unrelieved incompetence now threatens their very survival.

As I’ve repeatedly said, I have no respect for people whose moral conscience is so feeble that they protest injustice and governmental ineptitude only when they’re personally affected. Martin Luther King famously said injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. If it happens there, it can happen here.

Even the best-intentioned governments need the periodic nudges of a critical democratic citizenry. To not demand action and accountability from a government, any government, is to give that government a blank check to be irresponsible.

I wish I could say this is the beginning of the awakening of the northern masses. Sadly, I can’t. As I pointed out in June this year, docility appears to be specially wired in our DNAs.

And Borno State governor Babagana Zulum, who came within a hair’s breadth of losing his life to Boko Haram’s attacks several times, is leading the charge to once again exculpate Buhari of any responsibility for the insecurity in his state—and the region— and to go back to the same escapism and denialism that allowed Buhari to get away with murder since 2015.

He is doing this by callously hierarchizing killings in his state and suggesting that more people died before Buhari became “president” than after. Even if this were true (it is not), what purpose does it serve in the face of the mass deaths that is the fate of many everyday folks in the region? What comfort does that give to people who are grieving the loss of their loved ones?

Sadly, I haven’t seen a robust pushback against Zulum from northerners campaigning for #SecureNorth over his casual insensitivity and rhetorical downplaying of the mass slaughters in the region.

I have also not seen any response to Lai Mohammed’s continued repetition of the odious description of the latest victims of Boko Haram’s mass massacres as mere “soft targets.” We all know that if it were Lai’s children who were murdered by Boko Haram, he not only would not have called them “soft targets” (or even “hard targets”), he’d go to war with anyone who does. His children are human, but other people are just “soft targets.”

The description of victims of Boko Haram victims as “soft targets,” as I pointed out in October 2018, is a distastefully deceitful rhetorical strategy of the Buhari regime to minimize the horrors of Boko Haram’s atrocities against ordinary people. “Soft target” is a euphemism for poor people who, in the estimation of the regime, are inconsequential and worthless.

To call victims of murderous terrorist brutality mere “soft targets” is to dehumanize them even in death. That’s why no one even bothers to know the names of the victims of Boko Haram massacres. Unfortunately, many people, particularly from the northeast, have accepted this linguistic dehumanization of people at the bottom of the social ladder.

Before we secure the North, we need to secure the brains of its people so that when they don’t invest unrequited love in deodorized frauds like Buhari to the point of living in self-destructive denial about his dreadful ineptitude. Or sing the praises of people like Zulum who mesmerizes them with showy but empty symbolism while being indistinguishable from other callous, out-of-touch elites.

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