Saturday, November 28, 2015


So recently, I’ve been in interested in animals. There is a reason that most of our folktales tell lessons — stories about animals. Deep in the heart of all our favorite and even hated animals, is a reflection of the heart and the soul of man. Our ancestors were not stupid when they told children about the tortoise and the lion. And I have no intention of breaking from this tradition. The only difference will be that my story is strictly about animals and has no connection to real life.

There was a farm. A huge, animal farm whose cattle had produced the best milk and meat in the area. Export quality. The farm was run by a wolf, whose fur was famously white – earning him the name White. White had acquired the farm after its reckless previous owner, Goodhead, was thrown out by the animals on the farm on account of cows going missing at an alarming rate.

The farm had three groups of animals. The first group still supported the old, reckless Goodhead, turning a blind eye to the loss of cattle and claiming that, in spite of the farm’s depleted resources and cattle, Goodhead was the best farm manager they had ever known. This group of animals, mostly goats and sheep, viewed every action by White as an affront on their beloved Goodhead.

The second group of animals were mostly animals that supported the takeover by White. This group was made up of all sorts of animals — including hawks, vultures, and wild pigs who had previously enjoyed generous servings of stolen cow meat under the provision of Goodhead, as well as animals who pretended to support Goodhead’s farm management, but only took stolen cows, sold them, and donated the proceeds to help White purchase the farm. Of course, there was the minority group of vegetarian animals, White supporters, who had never liked or supported Goodhead or anyone who ate meat for that matter.

The third and final group of animals were nicknamed the Swiss Guard on account of their refusal to support either Goodhead or White – neutral like the Swiss. Several months into White’s farm management, and even after White had promised to bring sanity to the farm, animals still trekked long distances to get drinking water. The first pro-Goodhead group of animals mocked White, asking him if this was the definition of bringing sanity to the farm, reminding him, also, that even in the final days of Goodhead, they never got such blisters walking long distances to get water. White supporters, on the other hand, while walking and treating blisters on their way to look for water, called supporters of Goodhead disgruntled animals, and at some point, refused to talk about it altogether, pretending that they were on a leisure stroll, and not desperately thirsty. Once the Swiss Guard spoke of water scarcity, however, White supporters harassed them, calling them ungrateful and accusing them of being closet supporters of Goodhead. And even when members of the Swiss Guard would point at their blisters and ask if they really enjoyed this torturous search for drinking water, they would shrug their shoulders and just continue walking. One prominent White supporter said, “You’re either for White or against White!”

And all the while, White walked the farm, hands behind his back, observing, saying nothing, sometimes walking out, going from farm to farm to take a look.

White was silent when animals accused some farm hands that he had selected, of possessing meat stolen when Goodhead was farm manager. White was silent as the animals went in search of drinking water. Even when the horses were selecting their spokesperson, and there were candidates from each of the three groups of animals, and people accused the candidate loyal to White of having so much stolen meat that he could pass for a Goodhead supporter, White was quiet. And because most horses didn’t want to fall out of favor with White, they chose the horse most loyal to him and ignored how fat and oily the horse had become from being around so much stolen, fried meat. Even other farm owners, who had such great hopes for the farm after White had taken over, began to wonder what plans White had to sanitize his farm.

And all the while, White was silent. And the Swiss Guard expressed much worry that the farm was not much different from the way it had been under Goodhead. They had no intention of joining issues with White’s fierce and blind supporters. Not that they longed for Goodhead either: They were clear about the fact that Goodhead had to go. But they were tired of not having enough wood for the fireplaces in the farm. They were tired of being cold. They were tired of walking long distances and getting blisters in search of water. They were tired.

And all the while, White walked through the farm, hands behind his back, silent.

Saturday, November 21, 2015


There is never a shortage of tragedies. The race to annihilation, anarchy and terror draws contestants from countless groups from around the world; from the less acknowledged white terrorists – who hate everything from foreigners to Mondays – to jihadist terrorists who have, exploiting the mess the world powers have created in the middle east, carved out a state for themselves where they get to make fantasies come true. Consequently, there are daily reports of mass shootings in schools and communities, suicide blasts and insurgent attacks. There has never been a greater need for empathy. However, empathy is a thing that one needs to be very careful about.

Often you will hear – closely following a tragedy in a foreign country – people chastising those who cry too loudly about the bereavement of a foreign people. So, for example, there will be people right after say, the Paris shootings, who will be so moved by sadness and shock in this otherwise peaceful capital of the Western world that they will put up the French flag on their very Nigerian profiles. Then there are people who will notice this shamefulness and write whole articles denouncing them and telling them how horrible they are for daring to share a very French pain. These later group of people are the subject of this article. Let us call them the empathy militia.

I will open by being unequivocal about the fact that we need the empathy militia. We need them to scour the internet from those in breach of the empathy code, especially when they are Africans. And the empathy code is very simple. Let me summarize it:

1.    To qualify for any sort of non-African public empathy, an African must first promptly show extreme public grief in writing as soon as an African tragedy occurs, especially taking care not to let foreigners and non-Africans show empathy first. This includes but is not limited to using hashtags on Twitter (eg. #NeverAgain #PrayforYola #BornoLivesMatter #IStandWithKano #HowCan), changing your profile picture to the flag of the country involved, or doing a long series of numbered tweets to show more nuanced empathy. You can never go wrong with numbered tweets.
2.    An African who has previously not shed tears and blood and other bodily fluids in mourning when an African tragedy occurs shall not shed tears when a non-African faces a tragedy, no matter how extreme that tragedy may be.
3.    An African who has shown local empathy as and when due shall be entitled to denounce other Africans who show foreign empathy too loudly, accusing them of not doing the same for local tragedies. This doesn’t have to be accurate. You have the right to accuse and you should use it.
4.    An African who has the right level of local empathy is also allowed to denounce foreigners who speak of their own tragedies, reminding them that every week, you also face similar, if not worse tragedies.

At the heart of all of this is the principle: s/he who does not wail for my brothers and I does not deserve to wail at all. Prepare to attack with tweets like:  “Did you put up the Nigerian flag when scores of boys where slaughtered in Borno? Why put up the French flag?” It will not matter that in Maiduguri, the frequency of attacks in the ongoing war makes it practically impossible to be shocked every single time there is an attack. That is not your business. The faithful member of the empathy militia doesn’t care about complicated arguments, like why an ongoing, protracted and bloody war is different from an unexpected attack in an otherwise peaceful city. Complicated arguments are for traitors.

We need the empathy militia to regulate mourning. If you allow Africans they will show unnecessary humanity. And being concerned about humans who share physical and genetic characteristics is far more superior than showing empathy to everyone who faces tragedy. Who needs humanism when you have patriotism and nationalism. Humans should not spread themselves thin by being capable of feeling empathy for everyone. One must suspend empathy until one has ascertained the victim in a tragedy. This works in many scenarios. For example, if you have reserved empathy for say the abducted Chibok girls in Borno, you are not allowed to be too excited and create hashtags for rescued girls who turn out not to be from Chibok. You are only allowed to be briefly happy and resume hoping for the real subject of your empathy to be free. Just one tweet. Strategic empathy is what I call it. Life is too short to empathize equally.

My point is, we must all encourage the empathy militia. Retweet their tweets when they denounce those who show unnecessary empathy. Tell them they are right. Be disappointed with them at those who are at once capable of mourning for Paris and for Palestine, for Raqqa and for Maiduguri, for American school kids shot by someone who hates Mondays and for dead school boys in Borno, for Chibok girls as well as the thousands of other kidnapped women and boys. No one should empathise that widely. Because a moment of empathy, is a terrible thing to waste.

Sunday, November 1, 2015


Mansir was 16 when he first got seriously in trouble for wearing a dress. Mansir was 16 when he first sat behind an army truck and posed, against his will for a picture that would go viral in Nigeria and beyond, in spaces he did not inhabit, spaces he probably would never inhabit. Mansir was 16 when he first became a terrorist disguised as, in the words of the Nigerian army, a she-man.

In my head I have conversations with him, in a virtual space far from his home in Mando, Kaduna where he has his home, his family, and his dresses. I ask him why, in my head, not because I want to know why but because I know this is the question people asked when they were told that he was no terrorist, that he planted no bomb, that what he had was no disguise when he went out to see what was happening in the chaos that followed the blast in Kaduna. I know it is a stupid question, just like I know it is stupid when people ask me why I like a certain color or why sometimes, I like to paint my nails. When people ask, I just say, life is too short not to paint your nails at least once.

Zubeida however, has ideas, even though she may not be sure. She has ideas about spirits, bad spirits inhabiting her son’s body, whispering terrible gender non-conformist ideas – veils and dresses and eyeliner. She has tried to heal him, rid his body of spirits. Spirits who could not protect him when he was stripped almost completely naked and beaten and wounded and paraded before the world as the face of the most hated group in Nigeria – a group that delights in taking lives and planting fear in the hearts of people. Spirits who could not whisper into the ears of the soldiers that took him away to their barracks and tell them that Mansir was just a boy, curious and afraid. Spirits that could not stop the army from tweeting his photo to a mob baying for blood. Spirits who could not make the army apologize when, after months of interrogation, they let him out through the back door.

I do not even know if Mansir has any ideas of his own, just like I do not know if he knew what was happening to him as they tore his clothes and slashed his back and dragged him away. I would show him his photo in that tweet from the Nigerian army and tease him about not knowing how to apply the eye pencil on his brows, but he might not find it funny. I would not find it funny.

Mansir is 17 now. Mansir is back home now, with his mother. He dropped out of school after the school fees were hiked and Zubeida could no longer afford it. Not many people read that he was released. People read the scandal but hardly ever read the resolution of that scandal because there are always new exciting scandals to read about. And reading that a scandal is not true is not so sexy.

I read someone call Mansir a homosexual in a newspaper article. This is not one of the questions that I would ask him, because like the question of why he likes wearing dresses, I think it is stupid to be concerned about his sexuality. Our rigid gender roles and rules make people unable to understand how a male who likes women could also like wearing dresses. From the moment we are born we are told that boys should wear blue and want to be doctors and engineers and strong and masculine. We are told that boys don’t cry. That boys who cry act like girls. That boys don’t play with toys or speak a certain way. We are told that men who don’t conform must be homosexuals and that homosexuals are bad, bad people. Perhaps Mansir likes dresses as well as girls. I do not know. I do not care.

But if I could I would want to hear his own questions. I imagine he would want to know why the people who claim to fight for human rights said nothing about his plight. I imagine he would wonder: is it because I like wearing dresses? Does wearing dresses make me less human? And if he does ask, I am not sure I can answer. I will not be able to explain why people showed no empathy even when it was established that he was not the bomber; why some people tweeted that if he was not being silly and wearing dresses, he would not have been mistaken for the bomber in the first place. I only know what I think: that Mansir deserves an apology from the Nigerian army. I only know what I hope: that Mansir will be able to afford to return to school soon; that Zubeida is able to afford to change the life of her son through education. I hope that Mansir someday is able to find a community that will not treat him like an animal for wanting to wear a piece of clothing that humans have decided only women should wear. I hope that his 18th birthday will be better than his 17th.