One day in Nairobi, my mother went to visit her friend, and they watched together a Nigerian movie called Suicide Mission, and she came back singing the praises of that movie. She promised to bring us a video cassette of Suicide Mission the next day, and unlike a lot of promises Kenyan parents make where the next day means some day, my mother brought the cassette. Suicide Mission was my first encounter with Nigeria. And it was a typical Nigerian movie with enough mix of juju, and a man who has been cheated away from his wife, dramatic music, and a female villain who either goes crazy or blind at the end of the movie.
Even as on the East Coast of Africa, my siblings and my aunts watched the movie a million times and discussed if we would forgive the man if we were in the victim's position. Nigeria had begun to tell its story to us. In my mind, telling their own story has never been a problem for Nigerians as seems to be happening in the feared killing of maybe 2000, maybe hundreds of people in Baga. Nobody knows.
I have been listening to the discussion about Western media ignoring the death of people in Sub-Saharan Africa. But what happens when the president of that African country himself is condemning the terrorist attack in France, and sharing photos of his niece's wedding while keeping silent on the massacre? I know that a conversation -- no, a revolution -- must occur on which lives matter, and on how news is driven by financial and political pursuit rather than the important issues that affect the voiceless average man. But I also know that Nigeria is not ill prepared to tell its own stories. When Kenya experienced a terrorist attack that claimed 67 lives, I watched an hour-long investigative report on what happened. And although telling such stories has put the journalists' lives in danger, coverage on terrorism continues to stir a conversation among Kenyans.
I wonder where the story of Baga is for Nigerians within Nigeria. I make excuses. It must be unsafe to go there now. It must be unsafe for you to be found investigating the issue. If the situation is anything like Kenya, two journalists who have exposed foul play in the death of a politician have received death threats for covering the story. How much more if you were calling out a government for neglecting the death of 2000, maybe hundreds, of people? It must be costly as an independent journalist to try and report on Baga. I am always critical of the way Western media portrays issues affecting Kenya. And I hope that their silence on Nigeria means that homegrown news sources will dignify the deceased and bereaved in Baga by telling their stories.
Perhaps Nigerians are telling their stories but the world is not listening. Within the past year, there have been massacres and suicide bombings in Yobe and in Madiguri among many others that the world ignored. But everything must be done so that this story catches everybody's attention. The world cannot condemn the situation, cannot empathize with the affected, cannot understand their plight and the urgency to address it, unless these stories are told. Making our own stories a big deal will force the world into realizing that our lives matter too, and hopefully thaw that cold feeling many of us have developed of being unsurprised by the death of people in the African continent. In the case of Baga, I hope that somebody from within Nigeria leads us through this foliage that we are groping in.
Presidents of other African countries have been silent on the issue. I know that Africa is not one country, and that African countries are particularly sensitive about autonomy because of how the West has scarred them in the past by telling them what to do. But surely if your neighbor is clobbering his son you must come in and ask, "What is wrong?" I think that it is right for the Rwandan president and the Ghanaian president to send their condolences to France, but imagine the positive political pressure on Goodluck Jonathan if even one president commented on Baga in Nigeria while still respecting its sovereignty. Perhaps I am missing something about how governments work, but I know that I am not missing something about how bodies are lying in Baga.
I grew up on a diet of Achebe's books as required readings, and countless Nollywood movies, and Fela's music, and Soyinka's quotes, and the Pacesetters book series where many of the authors were Nigerian. Nigerians occupy influential positions in the world of academia and pop culture and literature. In fact, Nigerians are so good at telling their own story that I get a little jealous when the rest of Africa is eclipsed and some Americans think, for example, that the Nigerian accent is the African accent. I just wonder how the world has managed to muffle their voices this time.