Mary Lou recently showed the film, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” to the student body at the school where she teaches. The documentary tells the gripping story of Liberian women who came together to bring peace to their country ending Charles Taylor’s rule. “Who was the devil in the film?” we asked. It would be easy to say it was Charles Taylor. An astute student responded, “The devil is war.”
Since May 14, three northeastern states of Nigeria have been under a State of Emergency. While we have not been following the coverage outside of Nigeria completely, nor able to get much news within the country due to a media and communications black-out, the news that does “trickle out” is excruciating.
Headlines from the few news stories in the western press focus on the alleged atrocities committed by the Nigerian army as they fight the Boko Haram. For example, this NY Times article from early June and last Saturday’s report in the Globe and Mail would be representative.
Local stories focus on the “successes” of the army, and the atrocities of the Boko Haram and it’s variants who still operate. A recent summary of the destruction in Yobe State last year reported that 209 schools had been destroyed or damaged. Students and school-teachers are still targets.
The saddest news for us personally is what is happening in the Gwoza Hills. The community where Dave and his team built their first dam when we were here 20 years ago
has been hard-hit most recently with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and petrol bombs. Houses, places of worship, and a dispensary that had been built in the community in the mid-90’s after we left, are gone. The people have fled down the hills to neighbouring towns and across the border into Cameroon. The article linked above quotes a military source saying, “Some of the villages on Gwoza Hills cannot be accessed by our [military] men because of the difficult terrain. Our men [are] stationed at this village for our operations with fighter jets that could bombard the hills with cannons to destroy the training camps and hideouts of Boko Haram sect members.” Imagine: those hard-working farmer communities whose hills rippled with stone terraces for food production built over generations are now being bombed from above and below.
War is one devil that harasses Nigeria. Another tormentor is Impunity. Atta Barkindo, a current Ph.D. Candidate at the Department of Politics and International Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London argues,
“Impunity has become a norm in Nigeria, leading to excessive forms of violent conflict and crimes. The hallmark of this is defined by the elite use of power in a dishonest or illegal way largely to take advantage among other competing interests. The significant character of Nigeria’s culture of impunity is inequality before the law and lack of accountability.”
In the face of this kind of violence and systemic failure, at times it feels like our efforts, despite the seemingly trite words, “small is beautiful”, attributed to Schumacher 40 years ago may not be as beautiful as one might hope. However, we were hugely inspired 10 days ago when we witnessed a very creative relief intervention by a grassroots women’s empowerment group to women and children displaced by another war. Our next blog will include a short video — “5 Doughnuts & 2 Necklaces” — that will illustrate their story!