“The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering.”
Ben Okri’s antiquated yet prevailingly relevant words offer the westerner a peek through the keyhole into the Nigerian psyche.
The literary poet lays bare a constant in the tumultuous history of the African nation. A nation that, since the turn of the 20th century, has fought for independence with spears against colonial muskets, endured interminable military coups and been the playground for bloodthirsty civil wars.
Despite the succession of catastrophes which dominate her past, Nigeria has a habit of answering tragedy with democratic triumph. Thirteen years of relatively stable democracy since 1999 has seen the oil-rich nation develop much faster than the rest of the sub-Sahara, aided by an average GDP per capita increase of eight per cent each year. The country is now certified ‘middle income status’ by the World Bank.
But, as ever with Nigeria, a fresh catastrophe looms. Islamist sect Boko Haram are currently wreaking havoc in the predominately Muslim north, bombing Christian churches, kidnapping officials and gunning down anyone who stands in their way.
The government retaliation to these attacks has been equally unequivocal, with security forces being accused of widespread extra judicial killings and arrests of suspected Boko Haram militants. Despite this heavy handed approach, the secrecy and splinter-cell organisational structure of Boko Haram, whose name loosely translates as ‘Western education is sin’, has rendered the government crackdowns hopelessly futile.
This article was originally published on August 26, 2012.