The Nigerian: A life in its fullness
The Nigerian occupies a clearly defined space on planet earth, even though such definition is not restricted by the geographical area created by politics. If it were possible to bundle all the black peoples scattered all over the world into a container, and rattle the container to shuffle all of them, and then randomly pick out five, you would probably pick out a Nigerian. If the same procedure were repeated with all the peoples on the African continent, and you were to select four, you were also likely to pick out a Nigerian. In other words, the Nigerian stands tall representing a fifth of the global black community and a fourth of the African.
Despite the ubiquitous nature of the Nigerian — an attribute of his polyvalence and survival, vagueness seems to be a distinct quality of his personality. A panoply of disparate qualities, the Nigerian has his image daubed with inherent contradictions. Amongst his compatriots, he is both a prey and a predator; a wolf and a lamb; a cannon-fodder for the powerful to rise. Outside the country, he projects himself as the ultimate survivalist, habituated to the laws of paradise and the jungle. He is the African about whose exploits and mercurial success the American President Donald Trump, in disguised admiration, speaks publicly with so much unease and cynicism.
To have come out the way he is, the Nigerian must have been reared in a system that subsists in absurdity and incongruity; the product of an environment that subjects the conjectures of normalcy to serious scrutiny. Or else what kind of human being would, all these years, survive the policy somersault, the pain of betrayal, glaring uncertainty, and the ineptitude of regimes consciously making headway in the opposite direction?
As has been proclaimed ad nauseam, Nigeria is richly blessed with globally acclaimed professionals and award-winners. It also has all it takes to be potentially self-reliant: Beautiful people of diverse backgrounds with varied histories and cultures from which Nigeria as a nation can share, and a natural environment that seems like paradise when compared with some other nations. When one considers the havoc wreaked on other peoples and places by the evils of nature, Nigerians would appreciate the cosmic law of balance. By its geophysical position Nigeria is outside the world’s tectonic plates. It is not susceptible to earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions. No summer heatwaves, or winter frosts that kill in droves. Flooding in Nigeria seems like a child’s play when compared with the seasonal flooding of provinces in India or North central Europe. Strategically located at the centre of the globe, Nigeria seems blessed from all angles.
Yet, the Nigerian himself is his own natural disaster. Every day brings out shocking experiences that he easily adjusts to. Prominent amongst this is the ambiance of perceived insecurity and widespread corruption amidst escalating poverty. Whether it is the insecure environment caused by heavily polluted cities, or urban lawlessness observed in chaotic traffic and frequent fuel crises, or the disorderly behaviour of city dwellers; whether it is the fear of the murderous fanatical Boko Haram, or unruly ethnic militias basking in juvenile rascality, the Nigerian manages to remain sane. He retains his sanity because a semblance of law enforcement from an embattled Nigerian Police Force. From this poorly funded police force of ill-motivated, poorly paid ruffians and social misfits working with stone-age equipment, comes a handful of responsible law enforcement officers who thrive to ensure law and order and keep the peace, amidst growing insecurity.
This level of insecurity is compounded by insecurity over his needs. Nigeria is the only country where almost everything provided by nature is imported from less endowed nations; where in the midst of plenty people are hungry. It is about the only independent state where noble minds are ruled over by ignoble characters in the society.
Wallowing in a bounty of wealth, the Nigerian is one human being who thinks that for his needs, he must survive on the low quality products imported from countries less blessed than his own. Whilst he relegates all that nature provides for his sustenance, he spends double his earnings for half the value of imported products he does not need. What country produces Sweet Crude and depends on the conspiracy of economic hitmen and buccaneers to degrade themselves by becoming importers of toxic fuel, other than the country of the Nigerian? What manner of pounded yam lover has a rich barn of yam tubers, and yet depends on synthetic Poundo as a staple?
To console the Nigerian, the government blasts his or her ears irreverently with eloquent rhetoric telegraphing agricultural potentials. He listens with rapt attention to economic projections that promise billions of naira in agriculture, yet he is not provided with the enabling environment to make this come true. So, the Nigerian interprets the double-speak to mean self-reliance at the most subsistent level.
With subsistence comes diminishing standard of living and poor health conditions. And because he is accustomed to inadequate healthcare from poorly paid and overworked health workers who seem like undertakers rather than life savers, the Nigerian has come to be desensitized by cheap death and low premium on life. Hence, his healthcare system thrives on quackery. The Nigerian is a quack, he patronizes quacks. The flipside of this sorry state is that over 4,000 registered doctors in the United Kingdom and about 27,000 in the United States are Nigerians, contributing in no small measure to the quality healthcare system of those countries.
If education plays a major role in defining the individual and the society, then the Nigerian is a microcosm of the Nigerian educational system. Standing at between 7.8 and seven per cent of the national budget, the budget for education is the clearest demonstration of government’s utter disregard for quality education. In its usual lip-service to the Universal Basic Education, the country manages a basic education system with a preponderance of private sector initiative and a negligent public system.
To be literate in this kind of system, the Nigerian must attend a private primary school, which in some cases may be more expensive than average university tuition. If he is lucky to bribe his way to government unity schools or other provincial equivalents he would have had basic education. To acquire higher learning, he may be saddled with the drudgery of painful, boring tertiary education, inundated with frequent strikes that extend the calendar beyond normal. The perceived worthlessness of education is further demonstrated by annual decrease in education budget that is inversely proportionate to continuous establishment of universities.
The Nigerian is one who bears the brunt of a wobbly educational system, laced in obnoxious policies and cluelessness to empower the teeming youth population or solve problems. However, having passed through this supposed deplorable educational system, he goes abroad to Ivy League institutions, makes impressive show of himself and wins prizes over there. However, on coming back to the country and he is unable to solve problems. Even after earning his cherished degrees, he comes back and is no better than the folks he left behind.
The Nigerian possesses an uncanny ability to tolerate profligacy, recklessness and impunity. He receives N18, 000 per month as minimum wage, and still runs a home with wife and children. He reads about legislators annual salary of between N1 billion and N600 million, and imagines how to quantify that sum. He witnesses how public officers and politicians squander public wealth without recourse to public accountability. And he largely keeps mum. To be a true Nigerian politician is to possess a rapacious capacity for looting public funds. It is to the infamy of public office holders that budgeted funds for police reforms, power generation and public infrastructures have found their way into private coffers.
The state governor who should serve the Nigerian is a devil who carries on like God. When his state governor persistently denies him salaries for months and yet takes chartered flights to attend frivolous pageants or to watch a European Championship Cup football match in England, the Nigerian would only shrug his shoulders in resignation. At other times, his governor would transport friends and family members at state expense to attend the lavish wedding of his daughter in Dubai, whilst children of the masses are forced to stay at home over non-payment of teachers’ salaries. Elsewhere, the Nigerian sees his governor transmuting from being an administrator to becoming a sculptor erecting statues of non-Nigerian dignitaries in a ritualistic manner people do not understand. Threatened into silence by the very servant who should be his advocate, his voice of anguish means nothing to the powers that be.
Try as he does in order to understand, he fails to, and when that happens he is either silenced with a token or some other fatal means. When his rights are violated he does not complain, but take his case to God because the Nigerian falls short of getting justice. He is at the mercy of a judiciary where justice is bought by the highest bidder.
In settling the disputes between the Nigerian and his governor, the Nigerian is more or else a victim rather than a plaintiff. Unlike the plaintiff who has the ability to present his wrong, the Nigerian lacks such luxury of justice because he is a victim. He faces a Catch 22 situation which the postmodernist thinker Jean-Francois Lyotard calls a ‘differend’.” In a differend, says Lyotard, the victim’s wrong cannot be presented because he has also lost the power to present this wrong. In all this, the Nigerian is incapacitated by lack of language to express the wrongness of this insanity.
This impunity is a gratuitous insult to cultured characters in government. Yet, it did not start today. His country might have been the only democratic government, where a supposed Acting President took directives from clannish butlers of an ailing president; where thieves get national accolades, and public servants get paid to steal, and law makers and pastors have more private jets than some western nations. After all, some years ago, it was reported that a president in coma signed documents and held meeting with key national officers. How did he and why has he become so desensitized or indifferent to impunity as if he is an automaton remotely-controlled by some fiendish element? It is the attitude of Nigerians to this kind of impunity and bare-faced plunder that a foreign newspaper wondered about when it wrote some weeks ago: “Nigerians have never shown such level of patience and tolerance towards any of their past leaders for his record and strange policies as that shown to their current leader, Muhammadu Buhari.”
Despite this sloppiness, the Nigerian thinks he has all the answers, for he is an articulate armchair theoretician, who can address all the problems facing the country. Either as a member of the by-standers’ conference around the motor park newspaper vendors or beer parlour critics, he claims to know what governance is or is not. As a social commentator or elite journalist, he writes powerful leading comments, pontificates on talk shows, and engages in incisive analyses of state of the nation. But give him the job and he becomes a turncoat and a praise singer of the powers that be, systematically negating the very values that took him to that height.
To hide his hypocrisy and dangerous duplicity, the Nigerian turns to religion for refuge. Oftentimes to cut corners, he adds suspicious prefixes such as ‘Pastor’, ‘Rev. Dr.’ as door openers to the corridors of corrupt wealth and power. The Nigerian cherishes fatalism as a justificatory after-thought, yet believes in the magic and miracle of prayers and fasting. He is about the only one who deliberately prays to God for protection to do the wrong thing. He attends vigils to pass an examination, knowing full well that he is going to cheat, impersonate and falsify records. After all, if he could give God bribes in the name of tithes, what can God not do?
Forced to emigrate by bad leadership and apparent despair in the land, the Nigerian is lured by the myth of a Europe paved with gold. So, in his foolhardy and desperate quest for making it by any means, embarks on a fatal voyage through the inhospitable Sahara Desert and tempestuous Mediterranean Sea to ‘grab gold’ in the streets of Europe. Not minding reports and global outcry against barbaric treatment and brutal slavery of black African immigrants in Libya, he is about the only one so tenacious to risk his life to make it.
Notwithstanding the negativity that befalls at home, the Nigerian is one person you are proud to encounter abroad if he made it there. Disregarded at home, where problems weigh him down, the Nigerian encounters problems abroad and creates an industry out of it. Ask the Kenyan, ask the Senegalese, or even the South African: When a black person finds herself in a crisis situation, the natural reaction of other African kindred is to wait for the Nigerian to take charge. The Nigerian takes over and outshines everybody. Find yourself in an academic conference on Africa, and you come to see that no resolution is complete until the Nigerian has spoken. Such is the public of the Nigerian abroad. Outside the continent, leadership position seems like the birthright of the Nigerian.
The Nigerian is also easy to please. A very optimistic individual who cherishes his simple happy moments. For him, complaints are palliatives for long-suffering.
He embodies hope so unbelievable as to make cheese out of the moon. So firmly rooted is the hopefulness that the Nigerian believes that his present generation would take the country to the moon, even though his government is yet to provide basic electricity to more than 50 per cent of his population.
The Nigeria is also a good man; one with fellow-feeling and inestimable level of sympathy. Notwithstanding the searing economy, or the awareness of the antics of an administration that has turned the anti-corruption fight into a merry-go-round and the anti-graft machineries into a circus, the Nigerian still has the conscience of thinking about his neighbour this season. It was not ostentatious politicians, but the Nigerian at Akoka, Yenagoa, Eket, Ado-Ekiti, Zuru, Gboko and Yola, who on Christmas day rallied round others to donate foodstuff to poverty-stricken Nigerian masses.
In this narrative of the good, bad and ugly, the virtue of resilience is an attribute that characterizes the Nigerian. Despite the fact of life of lack, injustice, and insecurity the Nigerian has devised ways of maintaining a balance in a life characterized by flux and rude uncertainty. That the Nigerian is able to re-create himself and adapt to environing circumstances already suggests hope. The legendary Persian poet, Rumi, must have been justifying the resilience of the Nigerian when he writes: “Try not to resist the changes that come your way. Instead let life live through you. And do not worry that your life is turning upside down. How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?”
It is the reality of optimism and the beauty of resilience that inform the hope of a better life for the Nigerian in the years ahead; that, given the paradox that is the true meaning of the Nigerian, this Nigerian could become the greatest man on earth.
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