June 23, 2012


Pardon my silence. It was not because I had nothing new. It was because my voice was claimed by overwhelming emotion that made words of no use. 

In the last few weeks I have felt pain, anger, fear. Pain especially, for my friends Farida Shehu Kaikai who I lost in the Dana air crash and Ndako who lost members of his family who were enroute Lagos on the same flight, to attend his wedding slated for the following Saturday. 

I wondered how he felt, I wondered what I could say or do to help, I prayed but I knew it was not enough. But I pray still.

The stories of other victims on the ill- fated flight surfaced quickly in the days after the crash and a lifeless manifest came to life as we heard about Rev. Akin of House On The Rock who left behind his small kids, Vivien Effiong, the crew member who was due to get married, Ndako’s elder sister who perished with her cute babies, husband, mother and other family members, Echendu and Jennifer Ibe, the Mother and daughter who were to board a flight in Lagos to India for medical checkup, staff of CIHP, NNPC and CBN, not to talk of the people who were killed when the plane crashed into their homes.

Each seat number and torn building had a story. It quickly became more than just another plane crash as everyone found the human story behind the events of June 3rd. As the stories spread, they were clearly about the human lives abruptly ended by a tragedy. A human tragedy told in many stories by storytellers that evoked our sympathy and rage.

A few years ago, Author Chimamanda Adichie talked about the danger of a single story. A single story is a one- sided account about a person, group or event. She said that the problem with one story is not that it is untrue but that it is incomplete. And it is dangerous when that incomplete story becomes the whole story and defines entirely the person, group or event.

I watched a video of a similar tragic event that had occurred. The uploaded video told the story. A man rode a jeep into the premises of a business enterprise and an explosion occurred which set the building ablaze. It told a single story. Like the plane crash, there were many stories as were many lives lost in this event. Unlike the crash there weren’t many storytellers to tell the human story. So we were sold the story of a building blown and a media house attacked. And we reacted differently; we made no tributes, we held no vigils, and we did not call for donations to assist the families bereaved.

Adichie introduces the principle of Nkali as she makes her case for the rejection of the single story.

So that is how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing over and over again and that is what they become. It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power. There is a word, an Igbo word that I think about whenever I think about the power structures of the world, and it is "nkali." It's a noun that loosely translates to "to be greater than another." 

Like our economic and political worlds, stories too are defined by the principle of nkali: How they are told, who tells them, when they're told, how many stories are told, are really dependent on power. Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person,but to make it the definitive story of that person. 

The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story and to start with, "secondly." Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have an entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story.”- Chimamanda Adichie

I started this post by talking about my friend Ndako. He got married. His story reads a new line- happily married to lovely wife. Now when I think of him, I think of my friend Ndako who I grew up with, as Ndako who is starting a new family with the love of his life.

His life is not defined by one story but by several, with several happy ones to come! To define him by a single story is the greater danger of all.

Congratulations Ndako! I wish you happiness in your new life!


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