Coping with grief and loss without faces in Baga and Bama

Do you know the lady in the picture below? My guess is that you do not, and honestly, neither do I. I found her in one of the very few articles that has dealt with impact of the violence on innocent Nigerian families, who just happen to live in Northeast Nigeria, now also in Nasarawa. One cannot help but wonder what is happening to these families, these women, children, their dreams, our dreams for Nigeria. 
Picture courtesy of REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde shows a woman sits amongst the ruins of the burnt Bama Market, which was destroyed by gunmen, in Maiduguri, northeast Nigeria, April 29, 2013. (Original article here

Now, reflect for a minute about the difficult pictures out of the Boston bombings a few weeks ago in the USA, covered for 24/7 for almost for a full week. Anyone with access to the cable channels watched the coverage. Every newspaper and magazine covered the story from the bomb blasts, from the search, to the identification of the bombers, to the success and the recovery. We listened to President Obama speak and we felt the pain of Boston. We saw a city come together, we felt a country hold together. We shared the joy of the rapid success in the investigation, and took solace in the resolve of the people to pick up the pieces.

Now to our Nigeria, how can we grief if we never see the faces, if we never read the stories, or hear the voices. Our president never speaks, neither do the governors. The only TV who journalist that we know actually visited Baga was Yvonne Ndenge of Aljazeera. Where is NTA news?  Where is the cover of Newswatch or Newsweek with the faces of the mothers and children affected. It is impossible for our Nigerian society to respond if we do not have an emotional connection with the events in other parts of the country. We cannot have an emotional connection if all the press tells us are numbers of dead (on which they cannot agree!).

Our grief has not began, only when it does shall we be able to find the compassion to chart a way forward. There is a piece of Baga and Bama in each of us. A piece of us that has been lost and, we must share the grief and sorrow. Baga and Bama is as much our home as Shagamu, Abakiliki and Eket are. Until we are allowed to share that pain – we will not have peace in our hearts.

How do we start asking about the provision of counselling services, of mental health services, of orthopedic surgery, of burns units? How can we explore the rights of medical personnel in the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital who have gone on strike because the Nigerian Police took out their anger on them?

How can we, when we do not feel connected to the mothers, fathers and children who continue to die needlessly in our country. How can we feel grief and compassion without their faces?

We pray for Nigeria….and for the woman in the picture.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

Chikwe Ihekweazu is an epidemiologist and consultant public health physician. He is the Editor of Nigeria Health Watch, and the Managing Partner of EpiAfric (, which provides expertise in public health research and advisory services, health communication and professional development. He previously held leadership roles at the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the UK's Health Protection Agency. Chikwe has undertaken several short term consultancies for the World Health Organisation, mainly in response to major outbreaks. He is a TED Fellow and co-curator of TEDxEuston.

Leave A Reply