Marvin W. Heyboer sends us this lyrical reflection on the Nigerian jihad with this comment: he “was commissioned by Trinity Christian Reformed Church of Grandville, Michigan to investigate the subject of co-existence between non-Muslims and Islam (and other aspects of Islam). He offered to publish these words of his personal journal when he returned from Sudan in July and reviewed the media coverage of Nigeria. He was very disturbed to find that these incidents of slaughter had been dismissed as tribal and sectarian skirmishes. Only when the Christian villagers took up arms in defense did the New York Times quote a newswire, ‘that 1,000 people have been killed since May in clashes between Christians and Muslims in central Plateau State June 10, 2004, p A8).’ That publication made no comment on the previous village to village slaughters in February and March.”
If a tree fell in the forest with no one to hear it fall, did it make a sound? That distant question of my college youth mysteriously revisited me as I returned from my fourth journey into the interior of Nigeria. Ever so tacitly an answer nagged at me. Then I heard myself saying aloud, “It makes not a sound.” The falling tree makes not a sound, when there is no ear to hear the fall. With a fresh scent of fear for more African bloodshed and an intense sadness for Nigeria, I share the silence of the falling Trees of Nigeria.
The Trees of Nigeria are gorgeous ebony, a few kings” ebony too. These are Trees of smiling faces, bright eyes, white teeth and proud shoulders. Their height is average. Their branches are embracing. Their leaves are gentle. These Trees love life, very simple life. They happily walk for water, dig the earth for yams and devotedly nurture their young.
The Trees of Nigeria are falling. Alas these kindliest, loveliest, simplest trees of the human forest are fast falling. So I ask them. “Why fall there friend Tree? Is it of sickness or disease?” Tree nervously reacts, “No, not me.” I ask again, for I wish to know. “Help me to understand, oh gentle Tree. Why fall, the cursed AIDS, maybe?” With sounds of sorrow, Tree answers me. “No, not AIDS, thank God, for medicines are few.” “But, my friend Tree, why is your pain to fall?” Then Tree in grief cries aghast, “It is the bloody axe.”
These falling Trees of Nigeria make no sound. In the early morning of February twenty-fourth, 2004, the bloody axe fell one hundred twenty-five splendid Trees in the village of Shendam. Now the Trees are gone, with only ash and trash of former homes, churches and shops to witness of their fall. A survivor tells of the event with wet eyes dripping down his face of pain. He is a soft spoken gentleman of education, about sixty years, still in shock. His beloved Trees fell hard that day but made no sounds in the Forest of the World.
These falling Trees of Nigeria make no sound. In the region of Yelwa, eighty Trees humbly bowed in a stark and simple Roman Church saying their early morning prayers to bless the day. They too were felled, suddenly and brutally. The cruel axe severed their branches from their trunks. Lying in that beheaded form, matched kerosene sent their bleeding pieces smoking to the skies. But these falling Trees made no sounds in the Forest of the World.
These delicate falling Trees of Nigeria make no sound. Systematically felled in February and March of 2004, the simple villagers were unprepared and no real resistance made. For many years past they had grown into the safety of their kind, but then from afar the strange enemy”s holy axe suddenly did fall. From village to village in southern Plateau State hundreds were felled. Now the fallen Trees are gone, but the places they fell are still easily found for the curious reporters who dare. Begin in the villages of Bolgan and Karkashi and then simply follow the ashes. Begin even now. These falling Trees, though great in number, they made no sound in the Forest of the World.
These innocent falling Trees of Nigeria make no sound. At the break of dawn, on the edge of town, they see the holy aggressors” axe. Stunned, they freeze in defenseless panic while another holy attack begins. Papa Trees fall and the madness comes: to run the field, to ride the bike, to hide the hedge, a collage of choices for frantic minds. Tragedy and bazaar blur each other. Fresh widow and orphan flee, no Papa Tree. The roof smokes, kerosene leaks down the walls, flames burn the beds and the yam for evening meal. Havoc, fear and flight all mix into each other. No help, no police, no fire truck, no phone, no 911, no social security, only Papa Tree and now no more Papa Tree. Displaced Mama Trees and little Trees are now victims newly primed to vision their only Security (God) as a conversion to the supreme, holy axe people. These falling Trees made no sound in the Forest of the World.
What hope but to convert, for these broken souls?
“¢ No hope: with the silence of the falling Trees, the way of non-resistance is clearly impossible. Even for King and Gandhi, the instrument of non-violence is a powerless tool without the published sounds of inflicted brutality and bigotry.
“¢ No hope: with the silence of the falling Trees, the idea of international intervention is absurd.
“¢ No hope: when the silence of the falling Trees became so unbearably noisy within the country, the Nigerian Federal Army was ordered into southern Plateau State to protect the innocent villages. Survivors still tell of their arrival and division. One young man, shot twice and left for dead, told how the Muslim soldiers of the army unit joined the militia mob of the holy axe. How they, in official dress, passed door to door to ask each Tree its name. At the mention of a Christian name, the family was killed. More Trees fell that day than the day before. But, these falling Trees made no sound in the Forest of the World.
These tragedies took place before and during my visits (February, March, and April of 2004) to interview Nigerian Muslims and non-Muslims on the crucial subject of co-existence between non-Muslims and Islam. For the record I was able to obtain video of devastated villages, dead, wounded and fleeing victims. Clearly, the hopelessness of this Nigerian crisis extends far beyond the failure of its corrupt government to protect the innocents from their violent aggressors. It reaches into the corruption of Western media and indicts reporters as dishonest primary sources of information in Nigeria, and raises serious questions as to the truth of their information from elsewhere in Africa.
These holy attacks were not a singular act. They were week to week, village to village. Soldiers of the Federal Army turned on their own people. Not to report these atrocious behaviors is hideously harmful to the innocents and a deliberate deception of the people of the world. BBC had no ears. CNN had no ears. The New York Times had no ears. The Washington Post had no ears. NBC had no ears. The falling Trees of Nigeria made no sound in the Forest of the World.