There are not many things as scary as being one of the vulnerable groups in this part of the world. And by vulnerable, I refer to categories of humans such as children, women, the poor, the old, the orphaned, and even single folks. As a member of any of these groups, you are reminded that you are only a hair’s breadth away from abuse at any given time. Unfortunately, when we think of violence, we are inclined to narrow it down to a man brutalising a woman, we rarely think of it along the lines of the many other people who are prone to this threat to life.
Perhaps this oversight has led to a frightening increase in the number of abused children, for instance. Violence in Nigeria is either associated with a man and his wife engaging in fisticuffs or Boko Haram destroying lives and property. The shoves and pummellings and blows that happen behind closed doors are underreported, even worse, they are regarded as normal, especially when the victim is a child.
Children cannot defend themselves, this explains the effrontery that would possess a lady to brutalise her niece on the sickening charge that the little girl is a witch.
Apart from a mind that must be demon-inhabited, the ‘I-can-do-whatever-I-like-and-nothing-will-happen’ culture enables the average Nigerian to go on a misdemeanour spree emboldened the woman to commit such a heinous crime.
I can imagine the girl’s parents treating the incident as a family matter after pleas from relatives if someone had not reported the case to the outside community. It would be treated as a correction that went a little awry and at most, the aunt from hell would be chastised and made to pay the child’s hospital bills.
Case closed; everybody moves on except for an innocent child who has been scarred for life.
Violence, physical abuse, assault…(whatever nomenclature you choose for it) seems to weave into our internal fabric in these parts.
A creditor pursues a debt and the debtor beats them up for causing them embarrassment. You have an altercation with someone and they threaten to slap you. Citizens engage in a peaceful protest and soldiers are called in to ‘teach them a lesson they’ll never forget.’
One time I was driving when I observed the car beside me veering too close on more than one occasion. At some point, I was compelled to ask him to be careful to avoid a sideswipe. I did not yell neither was I rude to him, yet, this fellow vowed to beat me up.
It was as shocking as it was saddening. But I could tell what the problem was.
“How can I mere woman talk to me about my driving skills,” he must have thought.
I also wondered why violence was the first thought that crossed his mind as a way to address the issue.
We have a culture of violence that must be checked, else we stand the risk of minor matters snowballing into a war.
And the way to go, aside from preaching peace and conflict resolution is to enforce adequate punitive measures for acts of violence. Ensuring perpetrators of physical assault are prosecuted by the law will serve as a deterrent to others.
We must also probe the pervasive state of anger that is palpable around us at a deeper level. Nigerians are angry and this anger is what presents as violence. It is not normal for anyone to be perpetually angry and upset to the point where they are at home with inflicting injury on the next person.
And while there may be no empirical data to support it, it’s not out of place to connect the temperamental nature of our people to the dysfunctional state of the country.
What does one expect when a people have been subjugated for so long? When they cannot access clean water and uninterrupted power supply 60 years after independence? A society that is marked by inequity, gender imbalance, child abandonment, unemployment, and the rising cost of commodities is bound to be full of irritable people who will explore any avenue to unleash their frustrations.
And so while we advocate for peace and protect the vulnerable among us, a more sustainable way to stem the tide of violence is to take away the triggers.
In essence, our elected officials should do what they were voted to do rather than come up with excuses all the time.