If you can live in Nigeria and survive, then you can live anywhere on this earth. Nigerians simply love celebrations to live in the public eye, and to constantly drive perceptions of gaiety. In spite of the agonizing grind of daily living, the average Nigerian surprisingly carries on with a good cheer; a ‘nothing spoil’ attitude, the sort that once qualified us as the happiest people on earth. Largely, Nigerians are not patriots. Understandably, such a label is not amongst the many they covet. If there was ever an unforgiving critic of Nigeria, look to its informed citizens. Yet, Nigerians will naturally rally around the flag when their nation is uncharitable attacked. Such a schizophrenic bent raises a question about the Nigerian character. Increasingly, it has compelled many to wonder if ours is nation of pacifists and cowards, despite discretion being the best part of valor. If there is one factor that colors the Nigerian character, it is the penchant of some to defend the indefensible. As such, we tend to look the other way while things go wrong; and those who deign to criticize or complain are tagged detractors. I recently asked someone who I interviewed on how he can describe the character of an average Nigerian, “Rugged, highly spiritual, highly religious, highly optimistic, always on the move. Push a dog to the wall he turns around and bites you, push a Nigerian to the wall, he digs a hole and finds a way out.” An average Nigerian always thinks tomorrow is always better than today, they don’t want to give up, giving up means, they are giving in to failure and that is one thing a Nigerian does not want to be attributed to him. An average Nigerian is afraid of death, why do we think we are yet to have the revolutions that have taken over other countries that have better standard of living, because, no one wants to die. Perhaps, mild celebrations achieve their purpose to announce joy. Joy when achievements are made or milestones are attained. Gold takes some digging and when the individual feels sufficiently drained in the exertion of hard work to achieve a milestone, and then celebrations follow as a compulsive release of elation. It must be noted that Nigerians like to make a show of their achievements, real or imagined, substantive or tenuous. Let’s picture the case of a well-heeled political jail-bird who upon his recent release from criminal incarceration chose to convert what should have been a contrite and penitent ceremony to celebrate his release into a gaudy hysteria of sorts. Picture also the politician who elects an orgy of mindless celebration on the night of a purloined election victory, which he won, by the ‘Grace of God’, or the lazy student who pins his chances of passing an exam in flying colors on the ‘Grace of God’, even when his only strategy is to cheat or buy marks, in the tradition of his seniors in society, values shape human society and it will appear that they are in diminishing supply in these parts. The Nigerian gives the impression he is on a speed dial to God. Every attainment is by the ‘Grace of God’, no matter how damning. Setting forth on any project is incomplete without the invocation,’ by the Grace of God’. Just as robbers even seek the ‘face of God’, before embarking on their enterprise, knavery and purloined election victory gain traction when the individual ‘casts his burden to God’. Even in the midst of the daily din of loudspeakers from religious worshippers, gatekeepers at the temple of justice can no longer be fully trusted to interpret the law impartially; ministry officials have become ravenous in their greed; religious officials have become sleazy and seedy; students and their lecturers have also become shifty and lecherous. The landlord who demands two years rent advance for his property is acting out of fear that there may be no tomorrow , and that the tenant cannot be trusted to pay diligently once he occupies the premises . The worker and his employer are forever engaged in a game of wits as the latter comes up with novel schemes to maximize labor and short-change on wages and the former is perpetually engaged in dubious schemes to pilfer and gain advantage on company assets and utilities. “That’s your typical Nigerian.” This is a commonplace description often negative, if not condescending by one Nigerian of another, who may be found wanting. It is also an apt evaluation of the speaker, for often than not, what he disapproves his compatriot for, is exactly what he will most willingly do, unrestrained. The only discriminating variable is not the act or its redeeming value, but rather, its timing and level of convenience. If the timing is favorable, you can safely bet that the critical Nigerian would do exactly the same thing without a modicum of apology or regret.
Let’s look at one major issue, in contemporary Nigeria, public convenience is not in short supply; it is non-existent at most. So, everybody, man woman and child pee in public, when nature calls. Some Nigerians will swear they do not. Fat lies! If they get the timing right, they will do it; be it in front of the Durban Hotel in Kano, the Muson Centre in Lagos, Polo Field in Kaduna or the Cultural Center in Benin City. That is the Nigerian character. If I do it, it is excusable; if you do it, it’s damnable. This is a pure matter of precept and practice and the soul of the character that makes Nigerians to love and hate Nigeria; their very own creation and native land. The critical import here, however, is that little things like public convenience matters greatly, and that in Nigeria, we no longer pay attention to little things, or indeed, anything that matters.
The Nigerian character as well as image, if earnestly appraised, are gloomy and perennially suspect, which is why we need re-branding. But let’s cut to the chase. First, Nigerians from the grassroots to the leadership indulge in endless deceit; actually, national deceit. Deniability of our failings, for most, tends to be a national pastime. Past and present leadership pay vainglorious lip service to our national greatness and potentialities. What is so great about Nigeria, one may ask. What is great about a nation that cannot feed itself; cannot count itself, and can’t guarantee the security and employment of its citizens? If greatness is synonymous with cant’s, then Nigeria is great.
There is another trait of the Nigerian character, So long as something does not touch one directly, any calamity can be shocked away with a sigh or shrug of the shoulders. A show of resignation becomes a nobler form. The bottom line always seems to be, it is their problem. Their problem; yet, when it seems appropriate, we mouth off “Arise O’ Compatriots.” Is that supposed to be a clarion call to inaction or a mere ventilation of mundane clichés? I guess both, or better still another form of our national self-deceit. The most defeating aspect of the Nigerian character is that we lack courage, be it civil or individual. Those who lack the individual courage run off in a huff to seek solace in banalities. Also, a cruel twist of fate seems to have decreed that every leadership so far bestowed on Nigeria has enormously lacked the civil courage required for effective leadership. Added to our treacherous political landscape, this twist makes governance even more challenging.
According to Chinua Achebe in his book, ‘The Trouble with Nigeria’, he was quick to say that “the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership and that those who must lead Nigeria and lead effectively, must henceforth acquire the rare courage required for the job, repudiate the Nigerian character, which primarily is based on precepts, and be able to say no, even to their own “shadows” in moments of doubt.”. He went on to say that while “being a Nigerian is abysmally frustrating and unbelievably exciting…in my next reincarnation, I want to come back as a Nigerian again.” That sort of faith in Nigeria, despite all its failings is rather comforting.
Are Nigerians learning fast not to be their brothers’ keeper? Perhaps, in the constant pursuit of daily living, we must be unconsciously neglecting the very same values that acculturate us and shape our humanity. Citizens constantly get killed extra-judicially; underserved accidents and bombings occur; senseless sectarian killings and sundry violent acts take place, even amidst several unresolved murder cases; public show and mockery is made of corruption charges, and in all these, life simply trudges on. ‘Nothing spoil’. The average Nigerian is neither good nor bad, rather he/she simply lives life in a way to wake up to it (life), the next day, how they live the life or survive is of no importance, as long as life goes on.
Osaro Abraham Agho
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