Last week, three bombs detonated in Jos, the Nigerian city where one of our partners, the Faith Alive Foundation, is located. Here in Baltimore, the attacks made it into the press. They showed up on my BBC news app and in the NPR broadcast on my radio. Indeed Nigeria has been in the international news almost daily for the past month. Boko Haram, which has claimed responsibility for thousands of deaths since 2009, has become a household name, and when I mention Nigeria in conversations, people shake their heads in sadness over the kidnapped girls from Chibok or the 470+ Nigerian civilians killed in other attacks since the day the the girls were taken from their school.
I do not have answers. I am not part of US or Nigerian intelligence agencies. I don’t know the clear motivation behind those responsible for terrorizing their fellow Nigerians, whether religious or political, and I don’t know how to stop them. What I do know is that this cannot become one more situation where people are reduced to mere statistics or where a population is defined solely by the actions of a few.
I was in Abuja on April 14th; I woke up to the news that over 70 people were killed in a bomb at the Nyanya bus terminal in Abuja and went to bed with the news thatover 200 girls in Chibok were kidnepped. Over the past 5 years, I have placed more calls and written more emails than I care remember to friends in areas that were recently attacked. I've had travel plans changed and work delayed due to safety concerns of moving about the country. Still, the Nigeria I know is not Boko Haram. Nigeria is the people, places and moments that do not make the international news.
Jos is the capital city of Plateau State, where the climate is temperate and the produce is amazing. Terminus Market, which was bombed a week ago is where people barter over fruits and vegetables, clothes and random goods. Its where I purchased super glue to fix my broken sandal. The people of Jos are the Muslim and Christian women who sit side by side in the hospital waiting room, they are Jane, who first taught me how to do HIV counseling and testing, and they are Dr.s Chris and Mercy Isichei who both work full time at Jos University Teaching Hospital while providing their salaries and services to Faith Alive, the large free hospital Dr. Chris started and runs.
Abuja is the city that stands in the picturesque shadow of Aso Rock as well as the National Mosque and National Church of Nigeria, and of course, the Abuja Football stadium. The people of Abuja are my brilliant colleagues who work late into the evenings to ensure patients get the services they need. They are friends who take me dancing because they think it is funny when I try, they are the ladies who grill the best fish ever at Mogadishu Barracks, and the sisters and residents of Anawim Home, another partner of HFWA, where Sister Oresoa and her nuns offer care, dignity and respect to anyone in need.
Lagos is home to exciting young entrepreneurs and international powerhouse companies, and Kano is home to a largely Muslim population that has only ever gone out of its way to make this white foreigner feel welcome. Kaduna is where I saw my first Durbar, as well as the only place where I witnessed a group of nuns' solemn profession of vows.
When presented with news of a conflict thousands of miles away, it is at times hard not to generalize a population or to reduce individuals into statistics. In doing so however, we stand perilously close to apathy. I am reminded every day, especially with each breaking news update on my phone and blog post on my facebook feed, that the people of Nigeria should not be defined by Boko Haram (nor the corruption or internet scams of which we are all aware). Nigerians are 174 million incredibly diverse and wonderful individuals who live, work, love, worship and relax exactly like those of us across the world. While my heart breaks with each report of violence and unrest, Nigerians to me can never be reduced to mere statistics. They are friends and colleagues who inspire, encourage, amuse, guide, and occasionally frustrate me in the precise manner that a family would. Above all however, they are individual people. And that reason, more than any other, has taught me to understand that apathy - in any conflict situation - is an impossibility.