Two months ago, we had discussed an editorial that featured one piece a month. The idea was to provide well balanced pieces that were interesting and inspiring enough for the prospective readers. In that particular moment, my ideal opener was about the vulnerability in art and the suicides of famous artist. The layout had been navigated quite favourably. But when I sat on the 24th of June, to write the opening deliberation, the news of deadly attacks coordinated with unerring precision and careful sophistication in different communities in Plateau state levelled in. The initial reports like in most conflict situations seemed to be contrasting. The numbers game between security agency, media and affected communities created a palpable discord. The animosity from the affected communities was derived from the almost justifiable perception that that the government sponsored media were directly trying to downplay the severity of the attack. With each conflicting report, the realisation dawned on me. My first column piece had to change.
It is here that my first conflict begins, as an indigene of the northern senatorial zone for which these coordinated attacks have been frequent, my position of objectivity has been swayed by the greater peculiarity of religious polarisation and an unwavering commitment to the community. To be able to write means my view is sub zoomed into the view of the victim. In my eyes, the conflict is already formed, through historical and political lenses, the view becomes one.
I am first forced to confront a mystery. This mystery is not mystical as such, but a semantic of political negligence that has served to create two different reactions. This mystery that I accord such suspense, is the gratuitous mystery of the so called “unknown gunmen “. To the survivors, this media tag becomes proof of the complicity of the government in the continuous killings of their brothers and comrades. The seemingly distant notion of a nation languishes therein in a divide. But to the perceived “unknown gunmen” such incompetent description emboldens the resolve they have. The cloud of perceived media and security neglect pushes them to gain more traction in their agenda.
The question in the action above still remains. “Why in spite of all the largesse of security intelligence, should a guerilla militia be so rampant and yet so invincible to the glaring eye?” My conflict to be objective as I write is pushed by this literal realisation that politics, security and policy has hit a dramatic 4th wall as far as the reality confronting it’s legitimate people is concerned.
The choice of the word “legitimate” is conscious, for in conflict, the known factor takes precedence. But when a perceived “unknown ” derives just as much protection and effort, the precedent being set becomes damning for the people.
Behind all this dramatic embellishments of the theatre of the oppressed, was the action from before.
It has always been observed that the oppressed should not identify with just about any revolutionary. The revolution that is adequate is a revolution in which the emergent leader is part of the same process of oppression that had been fought. The disparity between the experience of the emergent leader and the oppressed would usually mean different views of the same problem. By not understanding the problem of oppression, the emergent leader with no experience of oppression begins to antagonise the same revolution that benefited him.
The 4th wall begins to affect his view, truth and reality become subsumed in political narratives, the currency of power means that the emergent leader from a revolution, adopts the same dictatorship stands that influenced his ascendancy.
Writing in conflict requires the writer to be spiteful, to understand that sometimes the only acceptable truth, is the whole truth. For a nation that continually holds expensive elections to choose poor leaders, the writer becomes part of the mystique. He is faced with the conflict of truths, absolute truth comes with its challenges, being absolutely in truth alone means fighting a desperate battle. The titular idea of free speech is contradicted by a swift response to brand any concrete truth as “hate speech”. The conflict of the writer increases, in a society beset by security wobbles, does he further compromises his safety by holding to his ideation of truth?
Or does he in conflict to his own principles, subscribe to the notion of the least endangered truth!.
It is harder having this same conflict, when miles down the road, sporadic gunshots filter through. Dividing thoughts trying to gauge just how hopeless the lot you’ve been dealt. For every step you take you consider the narrative, “will you tone down the truth and be trampled by the menace of militia, or will you say it out and be confronted and persecuted by the government.?”
Writing about conflict requires the writer to be objective. But one must consider if there is truth in the objectivity being urged. It is cantankerous to be objective, when the other side is perceived as unknown.
You count the bodies, you read the tales, you see the survivors, you hear their anguish, and in that moment, you’re compromised. You begin to argue the objective of understanding a conflict that bleeds babies and infants.
Writing in conflict requires the writer to look at the society, to understand the effects of his words, the conflict in scene is absolute, the conflict behind the scenes is resolute. When the writer stares at the leader that emerged from an almost failed revolution, he must choose the glasses he’ll wear. In trying to understand the leader, the writer finds anomalies in the statements the leader makes. He sees the podium and the leader in it. Then he sees the leader comparing the massacre of the land he came to console, with that of different lands, even of times, this flip of reality is subtle. The underlying factor being that the perceived subjective nature of the conflict, places the leader in the supposed camp of the enemy, and to the survivors, this valiant attempt in demeaning the value of the dead increases contempt. “This is not a leader for all” they think, and in that moment, the revolution that was televised is dead.
But as the writer tries to settle his mind in the chaos, another mini product of the ill informed revolution admits to buying peace. This theatric is as amusing as it is offending. Trying to understand the economic diplomatic in buying peace deepens the confusion of the writer, the deaths and the weapons present makes him question the sanity of this move. The writer recognises that sanity is an endangered species, when in war, peace is quoted a price and paid to one side of the divide, the suspicion that this same peace payment, buys the guns that annihilate women, children and men alike. Trying to fit objectivity of context into all these chaos becomes the writers own personal conflict. He knows that in the end, this is a nation stuck in trends, with short memory span.
The problem with writing about conflict, is that the writer himself is in conflict. Gauging the truth, he slowly realises, the truth about conflict is picking a side, understanding the convictions that inspired that choice.
In writing about conflict, there is no objective truth. All truths are subjected to the ideal of the oppressor or the oppressed. In the end, the mind of the writer becomes the conflict.
The problem with writing in and about conflict begins with the simple truth of what you believe!
The question is, as a writer. What do you believe?
Looking forward to reading your views and criticism.
N.b. The dramatic 4th wall in lay terms refers to an imaginary conscious wall that separates the world of dramatic action on stage and the audience looking at it. The actors only react and interact with events on stage which is their side of reality. It is an apt analogy for the divide between government and the people it governs.