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Opinion: Why are Nigerians numb to slaughter?

By Terfa Tilley-Gyado, Special to CNN
updated 6:02 AM EDT, Fri October 5, 2012
Dozens of people were killed in shooting at Federal Polytechnic Mubi campus in Nigeria on October 1.
Dozens of people were killed in shooting at Federal Polytechnic Mubi campus in Nigeria on October 1.
  • Political commentator says Nigerians largely indifferent to growing security threat
  • Twenty-five students were executed at a university in Mubi, Adamawa state Monday
  • Tilley-Gyado argues insecurity has now become a constant companion for many Nigerians

Editor's note: Terfa Tilley-Gyado is a Nigerian journalist and commentator. He is a former bureau chief and editor of the newspaper, 234Next. His works have been featured in Huffington Post, Daily Telegraph and several Nigerian newspapers. He has also worked as a political analyst for AlJazeera. Follow him on Twitter: @TerfaTG

Abuja, Nigeria (CNN) -- In Nigeria, nobody speaks of terrible things. Where some unimaginable atrocity has been committed the news is often met with pursed lips, a double snap of the fingers and a swift motion over ones head to invoke a purge against evil. To speak of terror is to welcome it into one's life.

A terrible thing happened in Nigeria on Independence Day. In the small town of Mubi in the North-east, 25 students were rounded up a few hours before midnight. Their names were called out one by one.

Terfa Tilley-Gyado
Terfa Tilley-Gyado

This was no typical roll call, however. The owner of each name that was called was swiftly executed by unidentified gunmen. No group has yet claimed responsibility. However Mubi is situated in Adamawa state which has become volatile of recent, an unwilling hotbed for the radical group, Boko Haram.

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The cold blooded massacre is one of the worst to hit an educational institution in Nigeria and yet nobody is really talking about it. It is not a hot topic at the workplace or on the streets. The public mood is palpably apathetic. Two full days later and the news is only just filtering through to many.

Even where there is a flicker of interest, pursed lips, double finger click, arms raised. Next topic. Thank you very much. The federal government has responded typically which is to say that the old book of cliches has been dusted down for frantic recital.

No stone unturned. Perpetrators brought to book. Remote and immediate causes will be investigated. The cliches are often peppered with words like probe and investigative and panel.

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There is something sacred about learning institutions. When one thinks of the more infamous attacks on educational institutions -- Dunblane, Columbine, Toulouse, Erfurt -- it is shocking to see there is not a similar outpouring of grief in Nigeria over those who died in Monday's attack.

The sad truth is that insecurity has now become a constant companion for many Nigerians. As a result there is no longer any shock value. Attacks segue seamlessly into more attacks at a pace that makes it impossible to distinguish, digest or mourn appropriately.

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Disbelief has made way for indifference as no one simply knows how to respond anymore. One week a church is hit, another a mosque. Today a newspaper headquarters is bombed tomorrow a petrol station is set ablaze. The pattern of violence is predictably indiscriminate.

The strategy to combat the rising insecurity -- if indeed there is a strategy -- is not a winning one. Eyewitnesses to the Mubi killings say the shooting lasted for almost two hours uninterrupted after which the killers casually disappeared into the night.

The latest attack will once again question the imperative of a regional or state police force. The national police system is crumbling under the weight of increased responsibility. The argument, which is slowly gaining traction, is that a local police force would have a far greater appreciation of the terrain, natives and nuances of a particular place.

The current practice of stationing police officers in completely unfamiliar surroundings puts them at an obvious disadvantage.

However even if a state police system becomes a reality, the long term solution to tackling insecurity must go beyond fighting fire with fire. There are more fundamental issues at play.

The disparity that exists between Nigerians is greater now than it has ever been. There are no new interconnecting roads and bridges to reconnect cities and states. Strangers remain strangers. It will always be easier to maim or kill those that are unfamiliar to you.

A greater push must be made to plan and budget public spending that will be used to finance the ever deepening infrastructure deficit.

Where idleness exists crime and violence invariably follow. The inordinate amount of unemployed Nigerians can be linked directly to rising insecurity levels. There is insufficient power to energize the productive energy of the economy.

Cosmetic initiatives such as the almajiri school system, which combines Muslim and western education, are rubric failures. People have to eat before they can learn. An empty stomach is the poorest of receptacles for qualitative learning.

A better initiative would be to establish commodity boards to buy produce at government guaranteed prices. This puts money in the hands of the poor rural farmers who are most vulnerable yet paradoxically have the responsibility of feeding a country. The human potential of a satiated nation is close to infinite. A full belly is the most effective distraction against crime.

Until such measures are put in place the Nigerian society will need to rediscover the ability to police itself. The growing number of atrocities is being perpetrated by people indigenous to the area.

Rising insurgency has led to rising insularity. Neighbors are now regarded with suspicion. It is a harsh truth to bear. There are killers in the midst of everyday Nigerians. Only a greater acceptance of civic duties; to observe and report suspicious behavior can expose those that lurk in the shadows yet continue to wreak havoc across the land.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Terfa Tilley-Gyado.

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