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Prince Charles Dickson: Nigerians pray for Nigeria too, but…

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The Abuja National Mosque

By Prince Charles Dickson PhD

More than 10,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli armed forces in Gaza since 7 October, nearly half of them children, according to the most recent report by spokesperson for the Gaza Ministry of Health Dr Ashraf Al-Qudra. Over 25,000 others have been injured, with thousands still buried under the rubble. Meanwhile, Israeli tanks have begun to encircle Gaza City, whose population was 600,000 a month ago but whose neighborhoods are now largely vacant due to the desperate flight of its inhabitants to Gaza’s southern shelters and due to Israel’s killing of thousands of Palestinian civilians in their homes. Israel has cut off the city and begun to raid it, going door to door to bring the terror of the occupation from the skies to the streets. Those who await these raids in their homes might whisper the poem of Mahmoud Darwish (1941–2008), which is addressed to the Israeli soldier ready to kick down the door of a Palestinian home:

You there, by the threshold of our door,

come in and drink Arabic coffee with us

(you may feel that you are human like us)

You there, by the threshold of our door,

get out of our mornings

so that we may be assured that

we are humans like you

When Israeli soldiers begin going door to door there will be no time for coffee, not only because there is no coffee or water left, but because Israeli soldiers have been told that Palestinians are not human. They have been told, instead, that Palestinians are terrorists and animals. In the eyes of the occupying forces, the only treatment Palestinians deserve is to be assaulted, shot, killed, and eradicated. A hunger for genocide and ethnic cleansing colors senior Israeli officials’ statements and has influenced their conduct in this war. Talk of civilian casualties is brushed off, and so are calls for a ceasefire. The spokesperson of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) James Elder said of this situation: ‘Gaza has become a graveyard for thousands of children. It’s a living hell for everyone else’.

In June of this year, the Paris Poetry Market invited the Cuban poet Nancy Morejón to be its 2023 honorary president. Just before the event, the organizers of the poetry festival canceled this honor, saying that they were responding to ‘pressures’ and ‘rumors’. The Cuban foreign ministry condemned this cancellation as part of the ‘siege of fascist hatred of Cuban culture’, another kind of blockade. Here is Nancy Morejón’s Réquiem para la mano izquierda (‘Requiem for the Left Hand’), as if in conversation with the humaneness of Darwish’s poetry and with the rhythms of the Cuban musician Marta Valdés (to whom this poem is dedicated):

On a map, you could trace all the lines

horizontal, vertical, diagonal

from the Greenwich meridian to the Gulf of Mexico

that more or less

belong to our peculiarity

There are also big, big, big maps

in your imagination

and endless globes of the Earth,

Marta

But today I suspect that the tiniest, most minute map

sketched on school notebook paper

would be big enough to fit all of history

All of it

Now to my very strong and unequivocal points, for those that would take time to read my admonition, you would be tempted to think that I am blaming Israelis, or about to enter the terror politics of Hamas, these are not my forte, I am not here to postulating on who is right and why Hamas attacked and what happened many years ago, or Zionists movement or the genocide or what happened in 1947 or 1840.

So, what am I talking about, I am talking to Nigerians who are praying for Gaza, I am laughing at Nigerians who are more Israelis than Nigerian, I am laughing at Nigerians at the Senate who are asking both warring parties in the Middle East to a ceasefire.

I am laughing because gunmen are kidnapping in Abuja, I mean Abuja, but it is laughable that there has been a drop, not because the security has improved but the truth is that no one has ransom to pay.

We forget that there are plenty of communities out there in the federal capital territory that remind you of Gaza. There is no light, no portable water, and the data network is almost unavailable.

Have you gone to the bank lately, the place is empty, bankers are chatting, and there is cash to count, let me not mention the bank, but be assured the ATM booth is empty because the banks are putting in cash and depositors are not making deposits.

We are in our own Gaza; parents cannot pay school fees and tuition. Before I look like I am ranting, this is it, the humanitarian crisis in Nigeria is a deeply complex and protracted situation marked by widespread suffering and challenges affecting the population living in the three regions.

Take my beloved Plateau state, or Zamfara, Katsina, or Imo and Anambra continues to experience recurring conflicts between all kinds, militia, separatists, and state actors, kidnapping bands, and all kinds of groups, leading to widespread destruction of infrastructure, homes, and public services. The ongoing cycles of violence exacerbate the humanitarian situation.

We have been asked to tighten our belts while those in power expand their waist! But I know that there is an economic strain laced with high unemployment, particularly among the youth, stifling economic development, and making it challenging for Nigerians to breathe.

We are not different from Gaza, as the healthcare system in Nigeria faces significant challenges from the japa phenomenon to the sapa reality. Limited or lack of access to medical supplies, and infrastructure deficits, contribute to inadequate healthcare services.

Did I tell you that I laugh because the water and sanitation issues such as severe water and sanitation problems, with the water supply heavily contaminated are child’s play in many communities in Africa’s giant? This poses significant health risks, contributing to the prevalence of waterborne diseases. And you wonder what is the task of the office of the minister for Water Resources (sic).

Have you taken note of Lagos’s population density, it is a mega city, the home for many city boys like me, but we suffer overcrowded living conditions, and we are not at war yet. You ask, where is the master plan for many Nigerian cities?

While we are quick to pray for Gaza, and France and pray for everywhere, after all, we are one of the most prayerful nations in the world, let me remind us as I laugh that the impact, the trauma, the psychosocial realities of our times as a result of prolonged exposure to conflict, displacement, and economic hardship in many communities in the North East will come to hunt and haunt us, especially children and young persons’ being exposed to our self-inflicted wars.

Our mental health services are limited, I know this for a certain, thus exacerbating the long-term consequences of our crisis. I have left out loads of the lamentations, I am not a pessimist, I am a cautious optimist, I believe in Nigeria, and I am irrevocably committed to her, and the sheer will of her people to get it right when least expected will help us rise, Gaza, Palestine, or Israel—May Nigeria win.