Do some lives matter more?

Ask most people and they will say that all lives are important and that it doesn’t matter if the ‘owners’ of those lives are rich or poor, black or white. It’s something that I have pondered many times over the years but never stopped to analyse – until now. 

As I watched the horrific events in Paris unfold last weekend, the body count kept mounting along with the numbers of those seriously injured. Television news coverage was incredibly comprehensive as reporters told this dark tale in the City of Light. We have become accustomed to reports of terrorism around the world but somehow this was different – this was a European capital, not Kabul, Damascus or Abuja. Condemnation from world leaders was swift, as everyone moved to show solidarity with the French. Soon, Facebook, What’sApp and BBM would be awash with messages of sympathy and condolence. 

Here in Nigeria, ‘Pray for Paris’ images appeared overnight on the profiles, statuses and display pictures of virtually every adult’s phone. At first glance, I thought that this was a natural reaction, given the rise of domestic terrorism in the last few years and the feelings of empathy that would result. However, there was some dissonance in the midst of that huge wave of emotion, best expressed by one friend’s BBM status: “If all of you are praying for Paris, who will pray for Nigeria?” The sentiment seemed bold, defiant and unapologetic. 

It could be interpreted as unsympathetic to Parisians and a tad nationalistic, but it struck a chord in me. I tried to remember if I had ever seen ‘Pray for north-eastern Nigeria’ in response to the endless slaughter and kidnapping of thousands of Nigerians. Similarly, I had no memory of ‘Pray for Abuja’ after any of the suicide bomb blasts that claimed scores of victims. I could recall the ‘Bring back our girls’ social media campaign but that was popularised by US celebrities and Michelle Obama, forcing Nigerians to take ownership. Prior to that, the relatives of the kidnapped Chibok girls and a few supporters had conducted a lonely protest in the face of government denial. 

Is it possible that, for most Nigerians, these lives matter less? Or is it that we are used to the wanton loss of life in this country, while the idea of something similar happening in a seemingly safe country is quite shocking? Perhaps it’s the notion that they have immigration, security and defence systems that should protect them and we are surprised when they don’t. Or is it something much deeper?

The ‘Black lives matter’ campaign in the USA may offer a clue. This growing protest has been in response to the much-publicised killings of unarmed, young African-Americans by the police. Detractors like to point out that ‘black-on-black’ homicide claims even more victims, as if somehow this negates or justifies the actions of errant law enforcement. But, no matter which side of the argument you’re on, one fact is undeniable – the loss of these lives never merits the kind of blanket media coverage that occurs when there is a shooting at a mostly White school. 

At home in Jamaica it’s a little different but not that far removed. Violent crime is largely confined to poorer communities and is a bi-product of gang activity in the drug trade. As a result, the victims are seen as ‘involved’ or connected in some way to the perpetrators. However, the reaction of the security forces, media and wider society is substantially heightened when a prominent member of society is affected or the safety of a prosperous suburb is breached. Somehow, it matters more. 

As the French strike back at Isis in Syria, I wonder how many of us will spare a thought for the innocent victims who will be classed as ‘collateral damage’ when the bombs go astray. Will we be equally horrified at the carnage when it claims as many lives as those lost in Paris? Perhaps we will find a way to justify a new massacre because it’s retribution for the wonderful people in one the greatest capitals of all civilisation. 

Do some lives matter more? If you’re honest with yourself, the answer is likely to be ‘yes’. Those lives that belong to the people we aspire to be like – the wealthy, the educated, the sophisticated and especially the famous. They matter more than the poor, ignorant, unknown masses whom we secretly despise. We regret their passing but not enough to show our sympathy, solidarity or support. 

If your answer is ‘no’, then continue to pray for Paris even as you pray for all the innocent victims of war, terrorism and violent crime. Raise your voice wherever you see injustice and a blatant disregard for the sanctity of life. 

Black lives matter. Poor lives matter. Muslim lives matter. There will be much need to remember this in the days ahead. 

36 thoughts on “Do some lives matter more?

  1. Well written as usual Michael.
    All lives matters and when these abhorrent acts against humanity happens, it should be brought to the world’s attention. We shouldn’t rely on the press, we live in the age of social media, let us use that wisely to bring attention what is happening. We should be breaking the chains of segregation, we should be looking at lives as lives not in terms of colour. We have to start doing this to chip away at these crimes. All lives matter regardless of colour race or religion; regardless if you are rich or poor ( being rich or poor depends on your definition, to me it is not about money or material things) I pray and send love, light and compassion to all, not just a selected few.

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  2. All life matters. But to those who “complain” about a lack of a campaign to highlight issues closer to home, that’s the thing with social media, they only take off when someone starts them. If they want to highlight issue A,B or C, then start the campaign and see if others follow it. #BBG really only started here when the west picked it up. So if people here want to highlight their issue, then they must speak up. But in truth, how many voices do speak up, how many will step up and speak regardless of the outcome. Every day in this country a child dies every 30 seconds from Malaria, 2,880 nigerian children will die today, do their live matter, do they matter to those who don’t want to pray for Paris, do they matter enough for anyone to stand up and say something? #AllLivesMatter

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    1. All very true. People in Nigeria say that they are afraid to speak out but I think that’s just a convenient excuse for apathy. In my last post I talked about the 18 premature babies that died over six months in Jamaica and the outrage that caused the resignation of the hospital CEO and the transfer of the minister of health. The numbers for infant mortality are staggeringly higher in Nigeria but not one voice will be raised in their defence. I guess those lives don’t really matter.

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  3. Thanks for this post Michael.

    I have been berated on Facebook for feeling sorry for Paris instead of my country. To me, all lives matter. The little Syrian boy who shook the world, the Uncle I lost in the Abuja bombing in front of a shopping mall, the lives of the Chibok girls, the constant bombing of Muslims by their so-called brothers. Lives matter and are not meant to be taken regardless of their country of origin or race. As with Paris, when I see the burnt bodies of the people in explosions in Jos, I weep as I realise nowhere is ‘safe’.

    However, news affect people in terms of geography/proximity…And that’s the first thing we were taught in Mass Communications. So even though my heart hurts for the families whose children, spouses and relatives are victims around the world, I cannot help but feel a little more shaken when the attack happened in France. To me, it was next door. I called my friends who had just been holidaying in Paris with a pounding heart and a silent prayer for their safety. I was scared because I feel these terrorists have penetrated Europe now and are coming closer…

    The UK showed solidarity because they’re neighbours who have stood and fought side by side in the past. The media coverage was ongoing and current, hence its continuous updates on the attack. I understand that some countries feel slighted by this and frown at the Europeans for showing more sympathy for their fellow European country. I cannot speak for the government of any country but for myself.

    I’ve always actively campaigned for the right way regardless of what a country or people think. And this case is no different, they started a campaign to publicise their issue and people showed solidarity from around the world. If other countries do that, I doubt that it won’t be taken seriously. I stand with Paris, Kenya, Syria, Nigeria and the World that is affected by attacks by terrorists. Families are grieving and no matter the amount of bellyaching we do, we should not forget that supporting each other in life is the base of humanity.

    #Istandagainstterrorism#

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    1. Sharon, I hear you. People shouldn’t be berating each other; instead, we should be encouraging each other to take the lives of our people as seriously as the French take theirs. Look at how the Americans mourned 9/11 – here it’s been difficult for the Nigerian president to acknowledge similar acts of terrorism on home soil.

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  4. Dear Michael, as usual you face the issue head-on and you are not afraid to state your views clearly and these views don’t have to be popular. Thank you for your observations. Yes, all lives matter although the human in us may cause us to react more strongly when we feel that the danger is getting too close for comfort. Also we sometimes cater to the belief that “they” deserve whatever is being meted out to “them”. Has nothing to do with me, some of us feel… So let us pray for the entire world, for those radicals who are blind to the sanctity of life, their own included, for the children who will inherit what’s left of this old planet, for each other that in our own tiny space we will love our neighbours as ourselves and live by the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

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    1. Spot on, Clover. Feeling that shock when it’s close to home is understandable – that’s why I’m mystified when Nigerians rally to ‘pray for Paris’ but don’t seem to be quite as motivated when it’s their own people being killed less than two hours flight away. Despite cultural and religious differences, I really can’t comprehend why a Nigerian in the south would skip over the north to find solidarity with the French. But hey, that’s just my take on things. Blessings!

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  5. Funny you write this article. I was in a discussion with a friend of mine two days ago and we were saying the same thing. I even go as far as to say this whole thing the media perpetuate about “the holy land” is a myth. There is nothing holy about a place where people hate each other, killed each other and commit atrocities on each other. I always laugh when the hypocrites talk about crime against humanity as if any of them is innocent of such act. How did each party get the arms to fight. If one should check one would realize that all the societies calling for destruction of ISIS are world top arms manufacturers and dealers.
    The way we get news or the importance placed on incidents have to do with those who control the major media houses of the world.Their lives mean more to them so of course there will be a reflection of their thought process in the way the news are distributed to a world as we know it.
    I believe the death of the citizens in France should be condemn but also in other places. It is a fact of life that people are inherently bias towards themselves so whatever the country is, the so called elite will get more coverage for these things than those at the lower level. If truth be told, the Europeans see themselves as the elite of this world so no one should be surprised by this unequal coverage and condemnation.

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    1. Taylor, you’ve nailed it. Unfortunately, these are repercussions from earlier conflicts and these terrorists, misguided as they may be, can point to the source of their grievances. The US and its allies had no place being in Iraq, a sovereign country. The idea that you can effect regime change just because a foreign leader doesn’t bow to your self-interest is the genesis of this crisis. The British media is pushing for Blair to be held accountable but would the US media do the same to Bush? Maybe if the lives in the Middle East had equal value to those of Europeans, maybe we wouldn’t be in this situation right now. Thanks for an insightful response.

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  6. Ahh Michael, you have your finger on the pulse as usual…you ask the question if all lives have the same value. It is particularly relevant at this time of mourning, and quite rightly so, for the 129 victims of the Paris bombing. Sadly, I would hazard a guess that the answer to your question is that all lives do NOT have the same value in the eyes of the majority of humankind. What is even sadder is that the very people, such as us Blacks whose lives are considered less valuable by those who hold the reigns of power, also see themselves as less valuable. If this were not the case then what is the reason for Nigerians to show such sympathy for the people affected by the Paris bombing, and almost no regard for the kidnapped girls until foreign celebrities took up the cause?

    For me the root cause of this self-hatred, as exemplified by simple things like hair straightening, skin bleaching and Facial realignment through plastic surgery, lies in colonisation and slavery.

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    1. Bravo Charles! You’re one of the few readers so far to grasp fully the substance of the piece – the fact that we see ourselves as less and value others more, without realising it. Most people have seen it as ‘they’ do not value us. It’s quite natural to value your friends, family and countrymen more than strangers in foreign lands, however we have subverted the natural order of things because of our psychological conditioning. Until I came here I thought that slavery was our problem but here in Africa, it appears that colonialism was even more effective. Slavery was something to reject and rebel against, while more benign colonisation was more persuasive, insidious and clearly longer lasting!

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      1. Well played Mr. Williams. Unfortunately I think the answer is quite obvious. That’s just how it is and how it’s always been. We may choose to admit or deny shortcomings, but our inability to “honestly” love our neighbors as we love ourselves, or to consider the life of a homeless bum, being of equal value as our favorite celebrity may be quite natural. That’s just the way humans are wired. This is a stretch, but probably, the same psychology might explain why babies of almost every animal species always comes across as cute, and makes us want to pet or cuddle them. For various reasons, we like some people, and others we dont. The ones we don’t like, their lives don’t matter that much. …and thats my Simple conclusion.

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      2. Hey Morton, it’s great to see you on here. And you’re right; some of it is natural and some is conditioned. However, they say charity begins at home, yet I believe that colonised people tend to value their lives less than others without realising it. That’s my observation, having looked at why Nigerians would show more solidarity with terrorism victims abroad than at home. It’s why ‘uptown’ lives in Jamaica are valued more than those ‘downtown’, even by the downtown people themselves. You won’t see Parisians mourning more for us than for themselves – and that’s the natural order. For us, the values are often subverted without us realising.

        That’s for the support bro!

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  7. I don’t think the world sympathy has anything to do with France being world power or a safe place or race. It comes down to just one thing: MEDIA COVERAGE. Sometimes we expect American and European stations to cover African tragedy and when they don’t, we feel like they don’t care about us. If the white folks watch NTA or AIT or Channels, they might also start praying for Nigeria but they don’t. Its only important when it makes the news; does not matter where it happens but we got to get our media up first. BBOG campaign somehow clinched that media hype and that’s why the world started to give any attention.

    When we start telling the episodes of the soaps in our lives, they world would gain interest in what happens next.

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    1. Hey Idy, it’s good to see you here! I agree with you about the role of media and to a large extent, it’s about who controls the media. However, social media is a level playing field so there is no reason why it should have taken foreign celebrities to spark BBOG. Linda Ikeji and a bunch of Nollywood actors with Wizkid et al could have done the same or better. They just didn’t care to. You kind of missed the point about ‘Pray for Paris’ though; it’s more about why we’re not praying for ourselves first. It’s not about ‘white people’ because often I learn more about the deeper issues of Nigeria from CNN and foreign media. Amanpour (CNN) and the BBC did more incisive interviews with Goodluck than any Nigerian media house, prior to the last election. Let’s stop looking outside. My piece was really about examining ourselves.

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  8. Another knockout Michael. For me, what’s rather more annoying is the fact that Nigerian seem to have been conditioned to negativity; perhaps resulting from a long period of suffering, neglect and strive for survival. So for instance, you take a cursory look at the social media and you see an array of solidarity for France on the one hand and on the other hand, you get a vibe of slight and vengeance. Some persons see the Paris attack as an opportunity to smack the white. Others sound as though France deserves the attack. And I ask: Why? Does France deserve the attack just because a certain Maiduguri was also attacked some weeks back? Or because there was a certain bomb blast in Nyanya some months ago? If Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have been torn apart by terorism, has that made terrorism fashionable? We must learn to condemn evil for what it is: Evil!!

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    1. Agreed, my brother; evil is evil. The conditioning of the post-colonial mind is a complex thing and it has played a part in the devaluing of our lives. Therefore, we have to make a conscious effort to reverse the trend. Let us pray for Paris but be willing to pray for our own people first.

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  9. Wonderful piece Michael. I think we have dehumanized ourselves around here to the point that the sanctity of life means little or next to nothing. Interestingly when we see others esteem and pay respect to the value of a human soul we pretend to share the same values and play along. It’s all about our value system

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    1. That’s quite an insightful perspective, Tony. It explains why we signed up to ‘Bring back our girls’ only after foreigners showed their concern but we didn’t bother about any subsequent atrocities. Wow. A friend of mine in Calabar is struggling to get signatures for his petition to end the senseless deaths on the Calabar-Itu road. No wonder. Thanks for your support.

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  10. Wonderful piece Michael. I think we have so dehumanized ourselves around here to the point that the sanctity of life means little or next to nothing. Interestingly when we see others esteem and pay respect to the value of a human soul we pretend to share the same values and play along. It’s all about our value system

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  11. I agree to an extent.
    However, media coverage plays a huge role in how tragedies like this are perceived. I remember tuning to CNN the evening of the Paris attacks after receiving an alert on my phone. I followed the coverage until I fell asleep with the tv on, at this point, the casualties were about 50 with several injured. By the time I woke up at about 5am, CNN was still airing live coverage and the death toll had risen to about 153 or so. It was crazy to me, because I felt like scores of people died while I was sleeping.
    If the media covers a terrorist attack in maiduguri the same way, I believe the world will feel as strongly about it. As opposed to if its just a by-line on the 9 o’clock news. When you keep hearing about attacks but never seeing pictures or hearing the names of the actual victims, it’s easy to become increasingly desensitized.
    Also, there’s also the fact that European cities are generally perceived as safer than African or middle eastern ones. Look at the fact that refugees from war-torn African and mid eastern countries are flocking to Europe. So there’s that sense of “If Paris isn’t safe, where in the world can we run to?”
    I’m not sure about drawing parallels with America and the black lives matter movement. I think that’s a tad more complex than this.
    Finally, I believe that All Lives Matter Equally, praying for Paris doesn’t mean people here aren’t praying for Nigeria also. You can do both or even pray for the whole world.

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    1. Ah, it’s great to hear from you, my brother. You’re right, of course, that media plays a huge role in our perception of and reaction to these events. But that’s my point. Why doesn’t Nigerian and African media react to our tragedies in the same way that western media reacts to 9/11, Columbine or Paris? Why don’t we start ‘Pray for Abuja’ campaigns when similar tragedies happen on home soil and let the world show solidarity with us?

      The reaction to Paris is appropriate and necessary, let’s make that clear. My question is directed at our own response to the daily tragedies here and the apathy that is in stark contrast to the concern shown in the West. Bottom line? You must value yourself first and then others will value you.

      Last year, I got tired of having conversations with colleagues about the Chibok girls and other victims of Boko Haram. Why? I was talking about the victims, their families and the devastating effect it was having on those north-eastern communities. Their concern was that Nigeria was ‘looking bad’ in the international media and that the whole thing was a conspiracy to embarrass Goodluck Jonathan. Some even suggested that nothing had happened and that the parents were being paid to tell stories, while the girls were safely at home.

      I wish you were right and that this was mainly a media issue, but I fear that it’s a mixture of apathy, self-hate and post-colonial conditioning.

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  12. It’s sad that the same attitude we have in Nigeria about foreign things has been transferred to human lives.
    We have always placed a premium on anything foreign and so this is only following a due process we created a long time ago.
    Personally a life is a life, be it a black or white life, a foreign or local life, a French or Nigeria life, Muslim or Christian life.
    It took one person to start the “pray for France” campaign and it caught on.
    Maybe I should start a pray for Nigeria campaign? Will u use d flag?

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    1. Hi Bethia, that’s the most practical suggestion I’ve heard all day. Yes, let’s pray for Nigeria and see if it catches on. It would be helpful if you got some data on how many Nigerians have been killed by Boko Haram in the north-east and in the Abuja bomb blasts. Go for it.

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  13. Interesting observations, old friend. Just wanted to add my 2 cents.
    I strongly disagree with your blanket statement that “if you’re honest with yourself…” etc., and I refuse to accept your remark that we actually “secretly despise” the “poor, ignorant, unknown masses”, as you put it. Who exactly are you speaking about?
    I think the truth to the original question is more a mix of various emotions – that spans a spectrum from the understandable, to extremes as ugly as described above. A couple of those that I think you missed could simply be:
    One feels more compassion for situations one can relate to. Fact is, most people on the planet will know and understand a lot more about France than Beirut. This lack of knowledge will create a distance, perhaps making it more difficult to know the pain of the victims of Beirut’s bombing.
    I think another reason could be that the world has become so used to trouble in the Middle East, that there’s a numbness whenever one hears about another atrocity.
    In no way is this meant to excuse what appears to have been a knee-jerk reaction from many people to jump on the Paris bandwagon. I just don’t believe that people are deliberately uncaring, and would like to think that when people thought it through, after being exposed by thinkers such as yourself, they will awake from a media-induced trance, and realise that All Lives Matter, and adjust their thinking and actions accordingly.
    Walk good.
    Alistair

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    1. Hey Alistair, whenever I see Trini readers in my stats I’m always imagining that you’re one of them. Good to hear from you.

      Well, the statements you object to are deliberately provocative, to induce some introspection. However, I do allow for a ‘no’ in the paragraph that follows, so I guess you fall into that camp. I agree with your other points about familiarity and a numbness that accompanies some troubled parts of the world. However, note that my main target is the Nigerians who have never embraced their own terror victims as they have embraced the French cause. We’ve had bomb blasts and scores of deaths in the capital, Abuja, and I never witnessed any social media response on a Parisian scale. Thousands of deaths and kidnappings in Nigeria’s north-east by allies of ISIS and the social media silence is deafening.

      Also, I have drawn parallels in other post-colonial societies, such as Jamaica, where deaths amongst the poor masses are undervalued.

      I hope this makes a little more sense? Thanks for your support, my brother.

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  14. That has being the black African mentality: valuing the white skin man better than ourselves, especially Nigerians. In the eighties, the love that an average adult Nigerian had for our local football league was unprecedented but reverse is the case today. In those years people could pay transport/air fare from Lagos to watch Leventis United, Abiola Babes, Stationery Stores FCs play with the then Rovers FC in Calabar and vice versa. Today, most of those local teams are moribund and those in existence are not commanding that kind of appeal to Nigerians again. These days; Nigerians, big and small would rather bet with the last drop of their blood to watch LaLiga, English (Barclays) Premier League and the rest of them. Nigerians would prefer to spend their last kobo to renew DSTV subscription just to watch the English Premier league and FA cup but not any Nigerian local team. This is the same mentality ruling our reasoning on the matter under review. Nigerians get killed in their thousands on daily basis by Boko Haram and nobody gives a hoot but when it involves foreigners, every Nigerian tends to be humane all of a sudden. We are still basking with the slave mentality.

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  15. Another very interesting piece, Michael.
    On “Do some lives matter more?” The honest answer as you rightly noted is “yes.” The constitution may state otherwise but the reality is that even the poor masses do not pretend to equate the value of their lives with that of the affluent. We see this even with countries. Some countries value the lives of their citizens more than others, you may wish to compare Nigeria and France’s reaction to mass murders of their citizens. Some lives, regrettably, just do not seem to matter enough. The politicians know this. The police also know this, hence the many atrocities that are covered up when it involves the lives of people regarded as being of less value.
    However, my take in all this is that lives carry the value we attach to it either as individuals, groups, or government. The “Black lives Matter” campaign in America can again be referred to. If you do not place premium value on your life, or the lives of your citizens do not expect others to do it for you.
    In conclusion, I totally agree with you Michael, that no matter one’s colour, social status, religion or sexual orientation, that “all lives matter.”

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    1. Godwin, this is the best analysis and most honest response I’ve had to this question. Some people saw my post as a critique of people valuing their own more than us, as opposed to us valuing others more than ourselves. France showed the greatest respect for their dead and we blindly followed suit, without considering the scant regard we’ve shown for African lives.

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  16. All lives matter but some matter more- to me. I prefer my wife, son, mother, siblings to a lot of people combined. However, I have enough sense to know that the next man should esteem his own above me or mine.

    What we need is to respect others and accord them the dignity that we would have them extend to us. There was something very nauseating about the outpouring of grief for Paris. And the annoying thing was when Nigerians had the tri colour on the Facebook and other social media profiles.

    Why do black people disdain themselves so? I remember the tag line of the 1991 movie Boyz in the Hood- “The problem with black-on-black violence is that no one sees it”. So, no one really sees the atrocities and carnage in North-Eastern Nigeria and Abuja and Zaria where the Army killed scores of citizens and Onitsha and . . . Are we beginning to get the idea?

    I really your candidness. Do keep advancing.

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  17. All lives matter but some matter more- to me. I prefer my wife, son, mother, siblings to a lot of people combined. However, I have enough sense to know that the next man should esteem his own above me or mine.

    What we need is to respect others and accord them the dignity that we would have them extend to us. There was something very nauseating about the outpouring of grief for Paris. And the annoying thing was when Nigerians had the tri colour on their Facebook and other social media profiles.

    Why do black people disdain themselves so? I remember the tag line of the 1991 movie Boyz in the Hood- “The problem with black-on-black violence is that no one sees it”. So, no one really sees the atrocities and carnage in North-Eastern Nigeria and Abuja and Zaria where the Army killed scores of citizens and Onitsha and . . . Are we beginning to get the idea?

    I really your candidness. Do keep advancing.

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    1. Thanks for this, you’re absolutely right. Even Black people process violence against them differently than when the victims are White, however they do not recognise this and therefore cannot address the obvious disparity. We will progress.

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