When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said. “Where have you laid him? They said. “Lord come and see.” Jesus wept (John 11: 33-35). In some African cultures weeping is a sign of weakness. Men, we are told are not supposed to cry. Very often when something tragic happens, men are blackmailed into silence. In some cultures in Asia, especially in North Korea, women are discouraged from showing “weakness” during child delivery. Whatever that means I honestly don’t comprehend it very well myself. But, today we see in the chapter and the verse above, how Jesus wept at the death of Lazarus. This weeping I can imagine was a public display of his pain and agony over the death of his friend.
This week in Nigeria scared me so much, I tried to wrap my thoughts on what to write. The inglorious news and happenings were simply too numerous. Where exactly should I focus my prayer points to? The Editorial of the Punch Newspaper of May 6th 2021 tried to summarize our woes in simple language: “Plainly, Buhari has lost control of non-state actors; Nigeria is at war in many theatres. The human and economic costs of this anarchy are simply unsustainable. In the North-East, Islamic terrorists have regained the upper over the military. Boko Haram, which has killed more than 100,000 persons and displaced millions is better armed than the military. Insurgents are recapturing territories, with Geidam, Yobe State, and Southern Borno State their latest Prizes.”
How are we to feel, with the hopelessness in our land? The editorial continues: “The North-Central is bleeding blood again. Eleven soldiers were butchered early in April in Benue State. Between April and early May, bandits and Fulani herdsmen slaughtered 70 people in an IDP camp in Makurdi. Before this died down, 19 others were massacred on Monday in the Gwer LGA of the State. The bloody frenzy has spread to Nasarawa, Plateau, Taraba and Kogi States. Its more deadly version occurs in Niger State, where Boko Haram has hoisted its flag in 50 villages in two LGAs. Various international reports categorize Nigeria among the world’s most terrorized countries. We read in 2nd Samuel Chapter 21: 10: “And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it for herself on the rock, from the beginning of harvest until it rained on them from the sky; and she allowed neither the birds of the sky to rest on them by day nor the beasts of the field by night”.
The bloodshed in our land is “almost beyond atonement”. The terrorism is on everyone’s doorsteps. On the 4th of May 2021, I received a call from the secretary of one of my outstations; St John’s Catholic Church Danja, Katsina State. He called to report to me the return of one of my parishioners who was kidnapped on the 26th of April 2021. She came back not in her full senses, and apparently abused by her captors. I rushed to see her and to welcome her. I took time to listen to her. Her trauma and experience was gory and humiliating, she witnesses the death of some of those in captivity with her. The whole town irritates her she said, she can’t continue to live here she told me.
The entire country is involved in one form of agitation or the other. We are seeing death as never recorded before in our country’s history. We have a harvest of tragedy after tragedy. No one is safe and free. We have prayed and fasted, and we have wished our political leaders God’s wisdom and discernment as they carry out the duties of their offices. But something keeps striking me, and am sure a lot of other Nigerians. What tragedy will force the government to fly its flag at half-staff in recognition of all the deaths and tragedy that has occurred in recent times? Statutorily: “The president may order the flag to be flown at half-staff to mark the death of other officials, former officials, or foreign dignitaries, in addition to these occasions, the president may order half-staff display of the flag after other tragic events”. And I wonder, what other tragedy are we left to experience before we can show some respect to all the victims of Boko Haram, Kidnappers, Bandits, and Herdsmen?
In the play Peer Gynt, the hero visits a lunatic asylum where he believed that people are not out of their minds or out of themselves. The director corrects him; “It’s here that men are most themselves- themselves and nothing but themselves- sailing without spread sails of self. Each shuts himself in a cask of self, the cask stopped with the bung of self and seasoned in a well of self. None has tears for others’ woes, or cares what any other thinks.”
The cure for this general malady of selfishness is to break out of our walled garden of glass cage. Existence is not opaque and unrelated to the universe and people about us. Existence has a relatedness to everything. That is why there is in us a nostalgia, a sense of nonfulfillment, until we complete it by having an encounter with others. Care makes one a responsible being and responsible government, reacting to others, helping others grow and develop. There is a frustrated egotist who could not be cured by getting his back off a couch, getting on his feet to serve. His weakness would pass out through his fingers in what might be called the therapy of touch. Instead of having his guilt explained away, he could work it away with a love that covers a multitude of sins.
A British psychiatrist Maxell Jones, introduced into a hospital what he called community care. The project was that each person should have contact with those either in the same room or, if he was ambulatory, on the same floor, he was to consider himself a part of the healing community. No one was to talk about his illness but to bring solace to others. The orderliness, the nurses, the doctors, also pledged themselves to be interested in others. Three results followed: Patients recovered more quickly, because they were loved. Doctors discovered that fewer formal interviews with patients were necessary, because of the new form of care on the part of the patients. Third, the doctor divested himself of unnecessary symbols of authority, such as the white coat and the stethoscope, and depended upon earning his status as a real person in the life of the patients and the personnel. It is all very well and good to release people from certain anxiety, but the real cure does not come until one is released to a concern for the welfare of others. The cruellest words of tongue or pen are “could not have cared less”. Jesus is the epitome of care and concern. With all that has been happening, He would have flown the flag at half-mast.
Fr Stephen Ojapah is a priest of the Missionary Society of St Paul. He is equally the director for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism for the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, a member of IDFP. He is also a KAICIID Fellow