Why Nigerians are special
By Reuben Abati
Whatever problem we may have in Nigeria at this or any other time, this country is sustained by the fact that we are indeed a very special people. We have been described as the happiest people on earth, we have also described ourselves as resilient, gifted and determined, and in one report, Nigerians are said to have the strongest shock absorber against some of the deadliest diseases in the world. If anyone doubted this last point, well, recall that we won the battle over Ebola virus, and polio. The more you look at it, the more it seems as if there is something in the Nigerian DNA that defies defeat, that automatically deletes any virus that can result in system shut down, there is that X-factor in our affairs that rises when hope seems lost, and life seems tragic. Somehow, the Nigerian spirit regenerates, recreates and reinvents itself, turns failure into possibilities, pessimism into new expectations, and tomorrow into an anchor for renewal.
We are at such a crossroad, right now. But in the midst of the despair, the listlessness, the anxiety, the what-happened-to-us and what-the hell-is-going-on, you can't miss the fact that the average Nigerian has not lost his bounce. The biggest tragedies that can hobble other nations happen here and we just shrug them off. Boko Haram alone has claimed thousands of lives. Hun hun. Herdsmen have killed men and women in their hundreds. Hun hun. More lives have been lost to vehicle accidents on our poorly made, badly maintained roads. Well, hun hun. Many fingers have been caught in the national cookie jar. Ha. What is this? Who dunnit? But, o ma se o. hun hun. The national leaky bucket has a thousand holes. Ha, no country can live with this? Still, hen hun hun. We voted and there were promises of a new spirit of the age. But that spirit is yet to manifest. So? Nothing good comes easy, therefore. No miracles in the new agenda. So, ni igba yen wa n ko? So, life goes on.
Whatever life throws at the average Nigerian, he protests, he complains, but he accommodates it. It is the reason why nobody will throw stones because power supply is at the worst level in years. It is the reason why workers who have not been paid for months after months will still see the same Governor who is responsible for their misery, after collecting Federal money to help them, and has refused to deliver and they will still scream: 'My Excellency, sir.' When workers go on strike, someone calls them together, says something nice, provides something nice and everything falls nicely in place. The late Chief MKO Abiola was quoted saying 'eto ni gbogbo e', that is anything in Nigeria can be arranged nicely.
The June 12 debacle sadly could not be arranged nicely. It cost the Chief of native wisdom and martyr of Nigerian democracy his life, but many lessons have been learnt. And one key lesson is that in this country, the people are determined to live no matter what. They can grumble as they wish about the public space but Nigerians are not ready to give up their will to live, their right to live and their understanding of how to live. And if you put your neck on the line on their behalf, you will be shocked that you will the subject of memes and what's app jokes. The people laugh at martyrs and heroes because they see no reason why anyone should commit suicide, defending Nigeria, when there is so much life to be enjoyed.
Nigeria is probably the global headquarters of enjoyment. The way the ordinary man has complained in recent times, about political change and the socio-cultural changes it has brought, you would think Nigerians are in serious trouble. But that is not the case. The foreign exchange market has gone into a crazy overdrive impoverishing the whole nation. Parents whose children are schooling abroad are afraid that they may no longer be able to pay fees. The manufacturing sector is abusing the Minister of Finance-what's-that-her-name-again? and where-did-she-learn-finance-public-policy-and-economics, but I beg, look around, more businesses are actually springing up and all those foreign investors who are supposedly monitoring the Nigerian market are actually clinging to this market. Why do you think MTN wants to remain in Nigeria till death do them part? Why do you think all those foreign countries want President Buhari to visit? The banks have retrenched a lot of staff but the same banks have started recruiting again. In this country, what you see is not what you get. There is problem with foreign exchange but activities at the ports have not ceased. Wait till September, you'd be shocked the number of Nigerian children heading towards Europe, North America and other parts of Africa in pursuit of expensive, forex-backed education.
I beg, leave matter. And if you don't want to leave it go to the nearest fuel station where many Nigerians are queuing up for fuel with power generating sets and jerry cans. The people are going through the hardship but they are laughing at their leaders. You think you can mess us up, na lie. If you people like, sell fuel for N150, we go survive. They stay in front of that fuel station and they review Nigeria's history and lament the choices they have made, but their spirit remains strong. That is what makes them Nigerian. Go to the vendors' stand. The crowd of poor people who cannot afford to buy a newspaper copy, have all the same listened to the news and the only place where they can compete as pundits is that roadside corner, where sometimes one drunken idiot loses control behind the wheels and sheds human blood, wasting those who have gathered not to buy any newspaper but to debate Nigeria. This special crowd knows it all. You don't want to get involved with them. They will remind you that a Ph.D holder is actually a real idiot, and that nobody needs certificates of any type to be a Nigerian, and well they add too, that if you ever worked in government, then you are a confirmed idiot, and a professional trickster.
Nigerians are so inventive, they find every way of beating bad news, bad experience, or anything that tries to defeat them. Everyone says there is no money in town, they claim things have gone from bad to worse but the parties have not stooped. Go to any of the joints around Lagos, nothing has been spoiled. Isi ewu, nkwobi, asun, sawa, orisirisi, point and kill have all defied the Forex market. Yes, the price of staple commodities has risen, but that has not stopped the people from throwing lavish wedding parties. Nor has it stopped anybody from marrying three times when once is enough: our people do traditional wedding - valid, they go to the registry: valid, they rush to church- valid: rather than marry once, they do it thrice all within a week. Nor has the austerity in town stopped anybody from burying the dead as if the more money is thrown at the grave, the likeliest the possibility of the dead suddenly becoming a Lazarus of the 21st century.
Is there poverty in town? You answer that question based on the evidence of your eyes. What I have seen is that Nigerians are still living as if there is too much money in the country. Take a look at the garments Nigerians wear every week. We certainly don't look like electricity is a problem or that money is in short supply. Soon it will be another Ojude oba among the Ijebus, for example. You go and check them out. As a teacher at Ogun State University in those days, (I served later as member of the Governing Council), we used to go from one party to the other, guzzling free food and quaffing free drinks. Today, those lavish parties have not ceased. Nobody eats like that in Europe or North America. When you go to all the old joints, in Agarawu in Lagos or Tarmac, nothing has changed either. The music still flows, the swag is on. Elsewhere, new buildings are springing up; new cars are being 'washed', additional wives are being acquired. Leave matter, I beg. Nigeria will survive, and these same people who are complaining about change, you'd be shocked, they'd still vote for their stomachs in 2019.
And that is why Nigeria is one country that beats all the textbook theories. We are just something else. There is more in the social arena that defines who we are, than in the theoretical arena. The same people who are complaining that they have not seen change are actually hoping for more. They are not ready to adjust. They are not ready to make sacrifices. If they have an opportunity to be close to government in any way, they will jump at it. The corruption that we talk about is not just in government corridors, it is in society, but the one inside society is so difficult to trap because it is amorphous and inchoate in so many respects. Invariably, the snake feeds on itself: mobius strip.
What we are left with is the image of the people laughing at government and themselves. Have you taken time out to check what happens on social media? Anybody who ever ventured into governance is easy game. The people design caricatures and mock them. Nigeria produces more memes and graphics than any other country in Africa not necessarily because of the events that happen here but because of the people's consciousness, and if I may add, private greed. In that other world, political change is ridiculed, poverty is deplored, GEJ is becoming a saint and PMB a villain, but the people are still having fun, and blaming Nigeria and the politicians. I tell you, the problem with Nigeria is not the politicians but the people themselves. We are very special people, but we don't really know what we want, and because we are like that, we confuse the politicians and the nation. But for as long as we can wear those impressive attires and throw those parties and dance to old music and pay our private bills, we see no reason to care enough. Pity is: no country can ever move ahead if the people do not care enough. For us, life goes on, no matter what.