#BBOG:When empathy dies slowly

BBOG Family: Aisha Yesufu, Gidado Bappa
BBOG Family: Aisha Yesufu, Abubakar Abdullahi, Gidado Bappa

I still wear my #BringBackOurGirls shirt. When I do, I get those strange stares. First, the shirt is red so i understand that it is by nature attractive. Then people look at the writing, and for a brief moment they direct their stares at me. It really lingers, but these days i get tired of attempting to decipher what they are thinking. I don’t care anymore.

I have had some lengthy conversations with people who share diverse views about the movement. ‘Where are the girls?’ Some smile and eventually ask me. I smile back. My views can be core I remind myself. You are a social animal and you have to interact. These words play in my head. ‘They will come back’ I often manage to say. Sometimes I simply smile back. Just yesterday, a friend looked at my shirt, read the lines, looked back at me, smiled, and said ‘Is that where you work now?’ I cocked my head and asked ‘They have an office?’

At the beginning I worried about how our government and our politicians kept playing with the issue, how they were going about it, the nonchalant attitude, the politics. So for the first time ever, i went for a protest. Inspired by the turn-out of those who had equally come out for their first protest march, i felt an unbelievable connection. That Nigerians could come out en-masse for a cause that didn’t take money out of their pockets; this seemed like a turning point for me. I remember going over to Mrs. Ezekwesili and asking to take a picture with her, to which she kindly reminded me of our reason for being there.

‘…it began to look like we Nigerians are people without empathy…’ Mrs Ezekwesili’s words echoed through the crowd, everyone was charged up. With unbelievable energy we rode through a massive storm to the Senate to demand more action towards releasing the captured girls. While marching with the crowd, i was being interviewed by Bonga Dhulane of Voice of The Cape South-Africa over an article i had written as a letter to Boko Haram. At the end of the day, together with my friends Tom Saater and Kassim Braimah, we had almost lost two android phones, an iPhone 5, a 5D Camera, and two apple Mac computers to heavy rainfall. But the energy remained.

Days later I was sitting with Colin Freeman of the Daily Telegraph London, who had also once been a captive of Somali rebels, he had just returned from Maiduguri and we were placing calls while trying to get to families who could identify their kids from the video feed released by the captors. I spoke with over 15 distraught people in a mixture of ‘Broken English’ and Hausa, in the end, we got four families. It was getting real.

But a week later, touring Wuse market with Buzz-Feed reporter Jina Moore on a research project to ask women in the market if they had heard of the girls which were kidnapped and also if they were aware of the protest marches being organized. The feedback was shocking. It seemed as though the protest marches, which had gotten excellent coverage from platforms like Reuters, CNN, BBC, Al-Jazeera and other local as well as foreign media wasn’t even an issue in Abuja’s largest market. They just didn’t know. Worse than that, some ddidn’tcare.

Then along with my friends Kofa Mrenje and Mike Mbugua who were CCTV Africa reporters, we attended a function by the #BringBackOurGirls group at ‘This Day Dome’, a day after the sit-out had been attacked by vandals. The event had begun late and was interfering with a programme scheduled by the Common Wealth of Zion Assembly (COZA). Now I have attended a series of programmes by COZA, I had become a fan of Pastor B and during the Walters lady saga, I remember tweeting that she was a ‘Modern Day Delilah’, i almost fell in love with their gospel choir ‘the Avalanche’. Which was why, i had mixed feelings when COZA organizers began to impatiently arrange the stage and their chairs while some BBOG guest speakers were still talking.

Days afterwards, I kept asking what had happened. Why was there a consistent amount of negative feedback? The answer i think is as simple as it is obvious. A lot of Nigerians have lost empathy. It is quiet seductive to blame the government at every turn, equally self-righteous to blame the elite for escalating societal problems. But out there on the street, in the eyes of people as old as the Chibok parents, in the stares of teenagers, truth stares, a sad reality lingers, these Nigerians have stopped caring. Caught up in the art of surviving on what is obtainable, selfless and philanthropic actions have become meagre.

People need to live their lives. Perhaps this I can understand. What makes me tick however is not only that people do not care anymore, but that some have developed a sceptic attitude towards the #BringBackOurGirls movement altogether. During discussions, i remind those who care to listen that i haven’t been to Chibok, that i am not from Chibok, that i am not a soldier on the frontline or a member of the insurgency. But that simple events such as seeing Michelle Obama displaying support for the group is sufficient for the less critical. Why? Because the wife to the President of the most powerful country in the world with assets on ground like Homeland Security and the CIA, would not publicize such opinion to the world without being adequately informed.

These days, they get a bit fiery; some politician with good rhetoric comes around and fires up the crowd. Occasionally, stories detailing the sufferings of unknown people are also told. The crowd delivers moments of silence. You can still see the Chibok mothers. While speaking today, a member of the BBOG family gave a story of how her friend reported her missing cat at the police station after placing a N10,000 reward if the cat was found. To this, the policeman responded

“If you bring that N10,000 i will bring you 10 cats”

Some found it funny. I didnt. I thought of an individual so aggrieved over a cat she would report it at the station and even place a reward on it. I thought of the connection between her and her pet. I imagined the connection between the Chibok mothers and their girls. Yes! We have allowed empathy to die.

I still walk around with my #BBOG shirt, to banks, the market, the movies, and occasionally, to the sit-outs. I still get the stares. I don’t care, my views can be core. Unlike a lot of people i cannot wake up one day forgetting that over two hundred innocent girls are in captivity. I cannot simplify or politicize the obvious. I cannot let empathy die in this heart too.

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