Monday, 20th March 2023
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I can’t shout

The first time I heard the phrase “I can’t shout”, I was in a San Francisco hotel suite with an uncle and aunt and four small children trying to order pizza. We had just driven the long way from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
Oyo State Governor, Abiola Ajimobi

Oyo State Governor, Abiola Ajimobi

The first time I heard the phrase “I can’t shout”, I was in a San Francisco hotel suite with an uncle and aunt and four small children trying to order pizza. We had just driven the long way from Los Angeles to San Francisco. It was the kind of road trip you go on in countries where the roads are good and the air is clean and traffic lights are a possibility. The pizza delivery service had messed up our order by giving us four pizzas instead of three. While the delivery guy was profusely apologizing, my uncle brought out the money for the four pizzas and bade the delivery guy goodnight. I asked him why he did not insist on paying for only what he had ordered. He first said nothing, then turned tired eyes to me and said, “Saratu, my dear, I can’t shout.”

I used to be amused by the expression. “What do you mean “You can’t shout’?” “Please, please, I will shout o!” But if there is anything that Nigeria does well, it is to rise to the challenge of rendering you speechless.

It is hard to tell if things really are worse than one can immediately recall, or if it is that we are all just paying more close attention. As seems to be the case, it’s already been a tough past few days of terrible news.

A suicide bomb strapped to a 12-year-old girl went off at a mosque in University of Maiduguri, killing four and injuring more, mere weeks after the Chief Of Army Staff handed over a Boko Haram flag to President Muhammadu Buhari, signifying that Sambisa was now under Nigeria’s control. The reaction to the Maiduguri bomb blast was muted online as it is wont to be when bombs go off and take the lives of yet more of our fellow citizens. Once again, we have no words and the terrorists still roam the streets, even as the government continues to claim victory over the insurgent group.

Elsewhere, someone recorded Gov. Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State having a go at some university students for daring to voice their dissatisfaction over the closure of their school for almost one year. “I am still the constituted authority”, he bellowed, seeing no irony in his having to throw his popular mandate in the face of his people, among whom are probably some who put him in that seat. He was roundly criticized for this, some sycophants notwithstanding.

And just then, when your voice is raw from ranting against that preposterousness, the sheer tragedy, the Nigerian Air Force makes…. a mistake. The Army dropped a bomb on a displacement camp in Rann, Borno State, leaving 52 dead and scores of already-traumatized people injured. It is cynical of me, but judging from what we have seen, President Buhari’s uncharacteristically quick mea culpa and acknowledgement of this bombing is probably more because of the six international aid workers who lost their lives than of the hundreds more who fled their homes in terror, who have lost their livelihood and ran to these camps, only for the bombs they survived at home to meet them there.

I can’t shout. And yet one must. Even when our voices are hoarse and we are tired of having to be strong and vigilant — and we all get tired, we must ask questions of this Administration, even if our queries are to be met with silence. Can our communities get justice from a corrupt system when people lose their lives? Can this camp take their government to court and demand justice? Who was the target of this bombing? Who exactly in the Air Force was responsible? What will happen to the officers who authorized this regrettable attack? Mistake or not, what disciplinary action will they face? Will our president, for once, act like he is accountable to the Nigerians who gave him a mandate to govern? A statement expressing regret is simply not enough.

Whatever our political sympathies, being Nigerian always means not being able to afford silence.

Saratu Abiola is a writer based in Nigeria’s capital city, Abuja. She is involved in humanitarian work, civil society; focusing on gender, youth and agriculture. Her other interests include teenage-child education, governance, media, literature and socio-political issues.