Obinna Patrick Aguh: Boko Haram – Overcoming the trauma (30 Days, 30 Voices)

Are you hurt? Injured? Are you fearful? We must learn new ways of managing emotions.

Our nation has recently experienced a new wave of extremist religious militancy in which the group responsible, Boko Haram has taken to assassinations and bombing of public buildings leaving corpses and injured victims in their path. Even as Boko Haram threatens to carry out more attacks on the northern states of the country, Nigerians as a people are traumatized – psychologically and emotionally – by spate of terrorism in our country. 

Each time a bomb goes off, stories of the damages are told in the media accompanied by pictures of victims. These pictures invade our minds unguarded triggering waves of anxiety. In recent memory are the scenes from the charred remains of forty Okada riders’ and road users near Sarduana Crescent in Kaduna state and the mayhem witnessed recently in COCIN Church in Jos, Plateau State. 

In this age of citizen journalism, the stories are brought even closer to you by fellow citizens via social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. When these stories are planted in your personal place – your Twitter timeline or Facebook newsfeed – they turn into personal stories. And with personal stories comes the feeling of being closely connected to the victims. And with the feeling of personal loss comes a disturbed mind, with that comes troubling dreams spurned from memories of the tragic experience, night mares, actually. 

One of the evidence of a people suffering from trauma is hyper-vigilance against repeat terrorist attacks often manifested in being continually on guard to a level of paranoia. It is common for such paranoia to unfair tribal or religious profiling and discrimination, where persons who fit the description of the terrorists become victims of such discrimination. Such discrimination could end up being act out in unjust lynching of innocent persons who are unfortunately suspected to be terrorists. 

All of these reactions are well known to psychiatrists and analytical psychologists as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder also called PTSD. These vivid terrifying memories, neuroscientists believe are emblazoned in the emotional circuitry. The symptoms are in effect signs of an overused amygdale (the center in human brain responsible for flight or fight response) impelling the vivid memories of a traumatic moment to continue to intrude on conscious awareness. As such, the traumatic memories became hair triggers ready to sound an alarm at the least hint that the dreaded moment is about to happen again. These hair trigger phenomenon is a hallmark of emotional trauma of all kinds including suffering repeated abuse like rape, wife battering, or losing a loved one in fuel vandal explosion, unlike victims of natural disasters; victims of violence feel themselves to have been intentionally selected as targets of malevolence, this fact shatters all assumptions about the trustworthiness of people and government. 

Relearning Emotion 

The good news is that traumas as profound as those causing PTSD can heal and that the root to such healing is through relearning.

Ordinarily, when someone learns to be frightened by something through fear conditioning, the fear subsides with time, this seems to happen through a natural relearning, as feared objects is encountered again and again in the absence of anything truly scary. Thus, people can recover from even the direst emotional imprinting, in short, that is the emotional circuitry can be re-educated. 

One way this emotional healing seems to occur spontaneously is through desensitization of the memory and allowing non- traumatized sets of responses to become associated with it. 

Another route to healing is that human minds can magically give the tragedy another or better outcome as one boost his or her sense of mastery over that source of traumatic encounter. 

One way to get the at the picture frozen in the amygdale is through arts, poetry, pottery, painting, sculpting of which itself are mediums of the unconscious, these are massages of metaphor, stories, as it opens the way for people to talk about a moment of horror which helps in releasing traumatic experiences.

Other necessary steps to recovery includes; attaining a keen sense of safety (adequate policing of life and properties of each and every citizen by the state) speaking up or telling about one’s experiences or trauma in the harbor of safety, remembering the details of the trauma, the loss it has brought and finally re-establishing a normal life, friends and family members could also form a buffer between the patient and the environments. 

More still patients need to mourn the loss the trauma brought- whether an injury, death of loved one or a rupture in a relationship.

Are you hurt? Injured? Are you fearful? We must learn new ways of managing emotions, the more ways you know to respond to emotions the richer your life becomes, for being emotionally literate is as important for learning as instructions in math’s, physics, chemistry and reading.


About the author: Obinna Patrick Aguh is the author of three books; ‘Nigeria: Awaken Unlimited Potential’, ‘Inventing a New Nation’, and ‘Win Like Obama, Think Afri-Can’. His writing demonstrates where his passion lays – the rebuilding of Nigeria and reclaiming of her lost glory.


Editor’s note: Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.


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