Before I sat to write, I watched The Torture Virus, a BBC Africa Eye documentary that exposed the kind of torture methods our security agencies (including the notorious SARS) subscribe to. Prominent of these torture methods is one called Tabay. To torture with Tabay, a person’s elbows are tied behind the back to inflict excruciating pain. Sometimes, the ankles are also tied behind a chair. Sometimes, this person may be twisted into a triangle and hung on a rope. Sometimes, a weight (a cement block or a tree trunk) is laid on his back; the middle of that triangle. This documentary was incredibly painful to watch. I couldn’t stop crying. At some point, I screamed: “God! What are you doing up there? End this freak show!”
Later that night, I thought of my outburst and the demand I had made, the question I had asked. What is God doing up there? In theory, I know what God is doing up there. I know why Christians have been put on this earth. I know that this whole thing will end with victory ascribed to the Lamb. I know about the last day and rewards and punishment but this is all too much. The pain. The suffering. The ugliness. Too many broken people. What is God doing up there?
Nigeria is just a gigantic crime scene; a culmination of oppression, suffering and too many human rights abuses. I mean, you can pay police officers to kidnap a person or two for you. You can do anything, say anything and get away with anything. The government can declare days of fasting to fix the country and rats can take over our version of the white house. Anything can happen and with the whole of my being, I have always known this but something about protesting to end SARS made me rediscover Nigeria. The protest became a mirror to reexamine everything I thought I knew for sure. Several weeks have passed and the protest is long over but my life has not remained the same. My mental health is suddenly too brittle (it always has been brittle) and I now think of my traumas as pre-protest, during protest and post-protest. I now recognize a great divide, something like an awakening except that nothing awoke. Maybe somethings awoke but other things died first.
I was never an optimist. Never. I take my pessimism and my cynicism everywhere I go. When it comes to Nigeria, I know the depth of the rot and its many faces. I know how we got here – who and who did what, who and who said what – but I don’t know where we are going. I can’t see where we are going. But in my bid to end SARS, I let my guard down. Mumu me. I dared to believe that the prayer walks and the collective goodwill of millions of people would end in something positive. It didn’t. Instead, government-sponsored violence and a massacre happened, and every other thing went downhill from there. Deception right in your face. Did you steal the meat? No. Two days later. Did you steal the meat? Yes, but it is not the cow meat. We don’t normally steal cow meat in our village. Four days later. Okay, I stole the cow meat but the meat flew out of the pot first. It landed on my scrotum and I had to kill it.
Fixing Nigeria was never supposed to be easy. You can’t move from a dictatorship (colonialism) to a democracy (“independence”). It is a matter of common sense. But, is it really supposed to be this hard? Are we supposed to pray, believe and “activist” our way to toothpick production?
In my bid to end SARS, I endangered my mental health. I rediscovered Nigeria. I set myself up for grief, sensory overload and heartbreaks that even Asa’s songs cannot heal.
God, what are you doing up there?
I know the theory. I know about freewill and how the writer cannot step onto the stage until the play is over. I know about mansions and a utopia where there will be no pain or sickness or regret. I know that, regardless, we will all have pain in this world but by accepting Christ, we walk through our pain with a nail-scarred hand. I know the theory but I could really use that mansion right now. Maybe not me, maybe those people being killed in Zamfara and maybe, Somalia or the children in Yemen. Maybe everybody in the world.
But what makes my grief special? Is history not a culmination of the many things man can do to another man? Is history not evidence that some people will suffer and others will get away with making them suffer?
Why won’t God do something? I don’t mean appear in the cloud and announce “I am the Lord, your God” in a booming voice. I mean subtle things, subtle reassurances. A humming in my chest. A vision in my sleep. A heart attack or two. Or five. Even thirty-seven. Maybe four hundred and sixty nine. Abacha style. Kidding. Or not.
The Christian Bible remains the greatest purveyor of hope in the world. Lots of promises. A whole lot of promises. I believe in all those promises but sometimes, wheew. Well, maybe “Is there anything God cannot do?” was never really the question. Maybe the question should have been: “Is there anything God will not do?”