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BAD ARITHMETIC: 153 Dead, Half-Mast, 3 days Mourning

President Jonathan who has cancelled all his public engagements scheduled for tomorrow, has also directed that the Nigerian flag be flown at half-mast for the three days of national mourning. — State House Press Release, June 3, 2012

Official state mourning is a common practice. It’s mostly done when a Head of State or a dignitary dies. A period of mourning is declared during which citizens are asked to wear black. The country’s flag is flown at half-mast. A funeral is conducted. And then business as usual. The life of the nation goes on. That’s why I was a bit confused when I read about President Jonathan’s declaration of three days of mourning for the Dana Crashed. A head of state didn’t die in Nigeria. Something worse happened. 153 people+about 30 on ground+15 Bauchi bomb victims died yesterday. And as everyone on twitter is saying, these deaths are the most recent of a rather common occurrence. Yesterday’s crash has a much longer history that includes Nigerian Air Force C-130 (1992; 150 died), EAS (2002; 148 died), Bellview (2005; 117 died), Sosoliso (2005; 106 including 50 school children), ADC (2006; 96 died) and others. Planes crash and take lives but bad roads, failed healthcare system, lack of security, terrorism, bad water, bad medicine, and a non-functioning emergency infrastructure also take lives.

Daily there are deaths. How can three days of national mourning suffice? Daily Nigerians die. For whom exactly has the President ordered three days of mourning? The whole thing is absurd to me, really. The President thinks in his head that this crash is like the death of a monarch–special, extraordinary. Funny how he misunderstands Nigeria ’cause he doesn’t understand the way Nigerians die. Death is not an exceptional event in Nigeria. It’s not just the Dana Crashed that have died here. It is all those Nigerians who have and are yet to die from faulty planes, faulty trailers, faulty roads, faulty fire trucks, faulty political leadership, and a faulty nation. We live at a time when we have to mourn the loss not just of the dead but also of the living since being alive in Nigeria is tricky business. Do the arithmetic and tell me how 3 days of national mourning can even begin to account for anything.

I’m not complaining that three days is somehow not enough. My fear is that there is no duration for this kind of mourning. Do we even know how many have died? The number of those who have died, to which we must add those yet to die, is uncountable. How many days of mourning does it take to adequately account for a death that you cannot even count? And then who is supposed to mourn for whom when death lurks at every corner? How do you mourn the dead when you know that it could’ve been you and that it might soon well be you? Are we not tired of going to church to give thanks to God that we escaped death so that another might die?

And then there’s the half-mast business. Flying a flag half mast is a 17th century practice. The logic behind it is that when the flag is lowered, the invisible flag of death can fly at the top of the mast as a sign of death’s sovereignty. With Nigeria, sadly, it is not always easy to make a distinction between the living flag of the nation and death’s invisible flag. Whether the President realizes it or not, the Nigerian flag has always flown half-mast because death not life reigns invisibly in Nigeria.

Pardon the dark tone of this writeup. It’s merely my quick and awkward attempt to think through this crash and the Bauchi bombing. My heart goest out to all the families, friends, and neighbors who lost someone yesterday.

The Dana Crashed. RIP.

 

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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