The maladies bedeviling the Nigerian Homo Sapiens in her struggle for survival, transcend Darwinian evolution theories of Natural Selection in the Origin of Species– It is indeed fact, being Nigerian is daunting.
It’s as though our creator dealt us a wrong stack of cards- bad leaders, bad citizens, and a truck load of bad luck. Nothing good happens. And when we try to make good of ourselves, something sinister piles up on our plate. For example, we were sprinkled some cosmic dust of “Goodluck” (with high oil prices, awash with Foreign Direct Investments) yet at the same time Boko Haram sacked communities leaving the smell of charred flesh in its wake. The memories of Chibok and the Aluu four massacres linger, not to mention the iniquitous thievery that took place in that administration. The flicker was doused.
Enters Sai Baba, who ironically benefits from a process he truncates years before, ushering hope by his victory over the almighty PDP. Buhari came in at the time Nigerians were fed up with the draconian party at the centre. And you would think, finally, we can claw ourselves back from the pit. But with Jonathan out of the way, our luck turned for the worse: oil prices plummeted and our reserves took a hit not imagined by economists. A renewed militancy erupts in the Niger Delta championed by the Avengers while IPOB & MASSOB spark flames in the South East. Consider this, with Buhari, there is “no corruption” (at least not as glorified as it was with his predecessor) but we have to contend with new devils compounded by a ravaging recession. Buhari’s government has no clue yet on what to do, little wonder our citizens scurry towards danger like Alice in Wonderland going after Ponzis such as MMM and ultimate cycler in other to make ends meet.
If you take the biblical account of the Tower of Babel seriously, it would suggest that all a nation needs to prosper even if their creator didn’t approve is to cooperate in whatever goal they set out to achieve.
Cooperation as a nation is easier said knowing Nigerians well enough. We never agree on anything, even obvious problems. Issues are peered through cultural, ethnic and religious kaleidoscopes. Our moral compasses oscillate towards the satisfaction of our bellies and we have altogether lost our way (if we ever had one).
Does this mean Nigerians never come together at all? Yes, we actually do. Soccer brings us together! Remember how Rashidi Yekini, screamed out his lungs when he scored against Bulgaria in the world cup? The country was united. Remember Nwankwo Kanu’s miraculous chip against Brazil? Yes, that brought us together too. In fact after we won Atlanta 96, people filled the streets chanting and singing, not minding the language spoken. But these sporting events are few and far between and are usually short lived. Sports are a good rallying point, but it doesn’t hold the centre for us in the long run.
So what else can be a unifying factor?
Famous televangelist, TD Jakes says: “Nothing brings people together like adversity”. And he is right. Death in the family brings relations from far and wide. We see how America came together when tragedy hit them on 9/11. America was unequivocal in its stand against terrorism the way South Africa was united against the apartheid government of FW de Klerk.
Nigeria has had her share of adversity- the Civil War; Kano riots in 91 & 2001; Jos killings; Cynthia Osokogu; Mubi; Ikeja Cantonment mayhem; Independence Bomb blast; Madalla, June 12 and the fuel hike protests of 2013 among many others. But each time, the disasters wore a different color of interpretation depending on what religion, ethnic group, or culture you gleaned it from. We may have come together in these times but it is my opinion that these tragedies never defined us as a people the way 9/11 or apartheid did for America and South Africa. There was no common ground. There were in fact people who blamed Cynthia for getting lured to a hotel room; others defended the Aluu killings because they believed Lloyd, Chidiaka, Tekena and Ugo were members of some cult.
There is perhaps only one event where Nigerians saw the struggle through from start to finish. It was not a political tussle, or a civil rights movement or a protest against unlawful killings. It was a fight to save and preserve our individual lives. It was the fight against Ebola.
The fear of death from the Ebola Virus gave us a unifying language. The market woman in Kafanchan and the student in Ilorin greeted with their elbows. The prostitute in Obalende and the priest in Mbaise understood the language. There was neither friend nor foe when life was concerned. Bribes couldn’t get you into any public building without the use of sanitizers. Nigerians who would otherwise never obey simple instructions now wash their hands. Why?
Nobody wants to die
These examples illustrate how individualism (or selfishness in this context) can be used to save the community. Usually it is our inherent selfishness and lack of consideration for others that make us cut corners. We take bribes in order to stop protests not minding if the objectives are achieved. We support thieving politicians and protect them with the “our son” mantra. We inflate contracts and still never build the roads not caring that pot holes kill people. We skip queues at banks and airports by settling attendants, just because we can. And recently, to think that food items desperately needed by Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who have gone through so much pain can be diverted by their own kinsmen privy to their plight would make you cringe at the deep seated selfishness in every one of us. Nigerians are selfish at heart.
But have you noticed how we obey flight attendants who ask that phones be switched off before take-off? And how everyone rallies against the passenger who just doesn’t get it?
Because, nobody wants to die. We will shelve our individualism for the collective interest of everyone so long as it spares us also. Our love for self is brought to the fore, but this time for the common good. The support for the flight attendant could in fact potentially save the plane couldn’t it?
Now, how can convert these individualistic tendencies to benefit the generality of Nigerians?
In the movie, Beautiful Mind, John Nash (Russell Crow) captures this concept brilliantly when he refutes Adams Smith’s claim on the positive influence of competition (individualism) alone. Nash was of the opinion that competition is only positive if it benefits the group (collectivism). Nash adds: “In competition, individual action (should) serve the common good”.
He further explains: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. Nash’ argument was that when one does what is good for him and also for the group (or community) the system benefits more. Simply put, if our individual interest benefits the overall interest of the society, then that interest is worth doing but if it benefits us alone, it should not be done.
Going by the Ebola example, if a contractor sees himself or his loved one dying on the road he is meant to fix, he would not cart away public funds. Imagine if this were the attitude we took to our business places every day
What if major fuel importers thought they would make a better profit investing in building refineries that in importing fuel because it would benefit the country more in the long run?
What if, the solution to the youth restiveness in the Niger Delta and South East was “True Federalism?”
What if having only one chamber in the National Assembly would benefit the country more in the long run? What if our lives actually depended on this, wouldn’t we be willing to make the necessary sacrifices?
So many “what ifs”, but it is clear that focusing on ourselves rather than the group is costing us more that we can accommodate. The world is moving on, and every country is adapting and finding ways to survive as species often do. Our failure to adapt is causing the “extinction” we presently face.
Whether we live or die is left to us but the solution is clear. All we need to do is to love our fellow man as ourselves and possibly more.