Compassion fatigue – By: Chika Unigwe

This week, I really wanted to write a fluff piece. Something non-depressing, something joyous, filled with sweetness and light. Then Owo happened. I wondered for a short minute if perhaps I shouldn’t write about it. One gets the sense at times that one has written too much about Naija’s security challenges. It’s exhausting, I thought, always examining (or trying to examine) the big and small tragedies of Naija. However, the longer I thought of it, the more ridiculous “too much” sounded. It’d be like saying that discussing racism, for example, at any point is “too much.” How can it be too much when kidnapping and murder occur on a daily basis? We do not have the luxury of taking a break. We must never get tired of advocating for a country where citizens feel safe, and so here we are again. Here we are because there are certain topics and realities that one can never discuss too much. We keep hammering away at them until something changes. Amen.

But then once I sat down to write, I couldn’t bring myself to write anything. Instead I started googling symptoms of compassion fatigue. Here they are (in case you’ve been feeling them too and wondering what was wrong): “Feeling helpless, hopeless or powerless. Feeling irritable, angry, sad or numb. A sense of being detached or having decreased pleasure in activities. Ruminating about the suffering of others and feeling anger towards the events or people causing the suffering.” I have only recently learned of Compassion Fatigue, and I suspected that it might explain how I’ve felt since the news of Owo massacre broke: numb, apathetic and helpless.

The first I heard of the attack was on Twitter, that source of all my news these days. The post announcing the attack accompanied by a photo, now imprinted on my mind that I see it superimposed on every surface. A child in a blood-soaked dress. Her head of her is buried in her mother’s lap of her. It is unclear whether the little girl is dead or alive. The photo, one of the many from the attack on St Francis Catholic church is haunting. As are all the others that have made it to my carefully curated TL. Puddles of blood under church pews. Abandoned shoes and sandals. Dead bodies, face down on the floor. I will never forget these images for as long as I live.

This, one of the many in a long line of terrorist attacks in different regions of the country, has people using the term, ‘failed state’, much more comfortably with Nigeria. If one of the signs of a failed state is the utter lack of security, then that label isn’t undeserved. When I call family and friends in Nigeria, their foremost concern isn’t electricity or water (although these too are concerns), but security. Like a friend told me, every outing of her feels like an excursion into the lion’s den. “You could go for a wedding and be kidnapped on your way back,” she said. When I told another friend of how I have discovered the joys of doing long drives before dawn, when the roads are empty, she told me how envious she was. “I can’t even try it in Naija. I? Alone? In a car at that time of day? na craze?

With every new catastrophe, the sense of insecurity deepens and a divided nation becomes even more divided. Accusations are thrown across ethnic divides, often with little evidence, and a bad situation is made worse. I am worried about Nigeria. Ethnic tensions isn’t a new phenomenon, however social media and misinformation combine to make everything much more toxic. People who are unable to or who are too lazy to verify the authenticity of the information they get, forward fake news over WhatsApp and pour fuel on an already raging fire. This fire, threatening to incinerate us all. Where do we go from here? From whence cometh our help?

Pessimistic folks say we are doomed, just accept it already. Tufiakwa! Optimistic folks are certain that electing a capable leader will make the difference, and so they are gingered up for the forthcoming elections, campaigning on social media (and hopefully off it) for their preferred candidate. Folks are being encouraged in different ways to get their PVCs (and vote). The entertainer, Peter Okoye, tweeted that “I have just instructed my security and my management that no one is allowed to visit my house or my office without showing there (sic) PVC! This also include (sic) my management team and entourage! Not PVC! No Visits and Travels!… We must get it right this time and vote out bad leaders.” Some others say it doesn’t matter who we vote in if we, the citizens, don’t change. In the words of the uber talented Michael Jackson, we ought to be “starting with the man in the mirror (and) asking him to change his ways from him.”

I pray for free and fair elections. I pray for a transformed citizenry. I wish us wisdom as we vote. I hope that my fantasy of a better Nigeria becomes real. One day. And may the perpetrators of Owo massacre be brought to justice. iseeeeeeee

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