What’s the clearest sign yet that fears about rising disorder in Nigeria are creating near-hysterical conditions in the minds of many people living in this benighted country?
The answer to this question is itself another question: can mobile-phone calls kill … instantly?
Some Nigerians think they can.
The BBC, an endless source of edification on all things African, has reported that panicked Nigerians now believe a mobile phone call can kill. Not any phone call but a call from the number 09141.
Alas, the BBC’s own intrepid reporters were unable to complete a call to this number — and they haven’t received either — casting doubt on the veracity of this “urban legend” sweeping the country.
The fears over the number have escalated to the point where the venerable Nigerian Communications Commission has said that killer phone calls are “unimaginable” and that “unscrupulous persons” are spreading fear.
The specter of the killer phone call seems, to an untrained and distant eye, a rather pointed case of displacement. Instead of fearing for the collapse of their own society, Nigerians are displaying their fear into the irrational. In a dismaying example of political escapism, Nigerians are resorting to magical thinking to cope with the very grim daily reality experienced by many in Nigeria.
In the politics of running and hiding — a politics not unique to Nigeria but carefully cultivated in the country — killer phone calls provide a kind of curious comfort to ordinary people must somehow sustain themselves in the face of an everyday irrationality that undermines hope.