I remember visiting the United States Of America 10 years ago and having to get to a few places with a Nigerian domiciled there.As we stepped into his car, he noticed I had my Nigerian passport in my breast pocket and he was hysterical " please hide your passport,i don't want people knowing we are Nigerians".
I looked at my friend and told him I would even go to a beauty parlour and tattoo Nigeria on my forehead if he ever told me such again.That was how proudly Nigerian I have always been in spite of the image problem we have had to cope with as a country for many years now.
I've worn my Nigerianity like a veteran badge until the incident I am about to narrate last week in Dubai made me to have a rethink.
I had walked into a Boots Pharmacy in Deira City Centre with my wife to get some medicine and we were attended to by this very courteous Pharmacist who is an Indian.
As we were about concluding the transaction,the gentleman asked where we come from and i proudly told him "Nigeria".The smile on his face gave way to some melancholy."I lived in Ikeja for 2 years as head of training for a chemical company",he said in a very low tone."How was your experience ?"my wife asked him.He surveyed our eyes and responded "Lagos was great but Kano shattered me by giving me a scar I will carry for the rest of my life".
We became interested in his story and he told us in great details. His company decided to have a northern operation and he was delegated to lead three other Indian nationals to start a Kano office. They proceeded to Kano to start business with an office in the heartland of the city.
He got a driver who used to drive a former Governor of Kano state and his knowledge of the city made navigating the commercial town quite easy for them
All was going well until this fateful day about one and a half years ago. Prakash said he was riding in the car of a client whom they were going to conduct training for while his three colleagues were coming in their company car a few metres behind when suddenly they heard a loud bang .
On looking back he noticed that the explosion had caught up with his colleagues. He watched as they ran out of the car only to be hit by bullets"
"That was how Boko Haram pumped five bullets into the first guy,three bullets into the next and two into the last. My world momentarily came to an end seeing guys we were planning the day together an hour earlier all dead in minutes".
He said for five days after he could not step out of the house and just surviving on water .Those five days he said were the most harrowing of his life.
"It was my lot to return with the corpses of my colleagues and that was so painful for me.The Governor of Kano State provided me some succor by constantly calling me during my travail.My company wanted me to return to Lagos but I couldn't find the spirit to return to Nigeria.I do not think I will get there again for the rest of my life" he said with tearful eyes. As we made our way out of the pharmacy a few thoughts nagged my mind and later kept me awake for most of the night.
One,are we ever going to know the number of those who have fallen victims of Boko Haram insurgency?Until I ran into Prakash,I did not read about these three Indians in any publication.How many of such unsung victims do we have?And this speaks volumes about records keeping in our country.I remember a Newspaper reporting about a year ago that the National Emergency Management Agency(NEMA) does not have the data of those who have died in the various bomb blasts in the country over the period.How would a society that does not have an accurate census of those who are alive keep record of those who are dead?You die,your family bury you,case closed!
Two,I remember that former Information Minister Prof Dora Akunyili once came up with what she called "Rebrand Nigeria" and some of us told her then that no amount of deodorant can make a stinking corpse smell nice.I wondered if spending the entire oil earnings of Nigeria on reputation management would have made any impact on the poor image brand Boko Haram has given us. A few days before I met Prakash,another foreigner I was talking to for some training project in Nigeria told me flatly " you may have to send one of your staff here as people are afraid to go to your country because of Boko Haram
Three,in my younger days I used to hear newscaster on radio saying "there has been another bomb explosion in Lebanon today".Then I used to imagine that Lebanon must be some county in hell.I started thinking if that is the kind of imagery my own country evokes now in the minds of people living in peaceful climes.
Four, could one possibly come harm's way simply by introducing oneself as a Nigerian these days?I thought for a moment that were Prakash a vengeful soul looking for whom to devour,would he not have said "this is the day The Lord has made" after we said we were from Nigeria.I found a solution to that quickly.When next I'm asked abroad where I come from,my answer would be "Africa" first and ask the person if he has ever visited any part of Africa.It would only be safe to say I'm a Nigerian from Africa after he had no Prakash's experience
Somebody said the other day that it would take the North 20 years to recover from the havocs of Boko Haram,I hazard it may take Nigeria longer than that to wipe out these memories.
Where do we go from here? The government has imposed martial rule in some states where Boko Haram is concentrated followed by defensive violence against the insurgents.That is one step on the road to bring the bloodbath under immediate control.
There is the need to go further by combating the ideology that undergirds Boko Haram.
Here is where leaders in the north comes in.Religious leaders in particular would have to preach a new message that denounces violence .Enlightened self-interest dictates as most of the leaders have relocated to Abuja.There was a report that many of those still living in the north are now afraid to worship in mosques.
Political leaders would have to be responsible with the management of resources of state to create opportunities for young people who must have a hope to live for in order not to want to die for an illusion.I traversed the whole north in 2011 and saw how wicked leaders who have held the reins of power over the years have been to the ordinary people. There is an urgency of now to combating the insurgency!