Shame and pride in Nigeria

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By Kole Omotoso
MOST Nigerians, in speaking, pyro-technically about the country’s problems – shouting and daring any one to contradict them – say that we no longer have a sense of shame.

Things that other peoples of the world would be ashamed of, we find all sorts of rationales to take pride in them.

Talk about Nigeria’s fame for 419 scams and you will be told that it is the fault of those other people who are scammed. Why are they so greedy to harvest where they did not sow?

Or you mention the habit of fabulous houses fronted by open sewers and pot-holed foot paths turned into highways for SUVs? You will be told immediately that this was Nigeria, love it or leave it!

Or even worse, “get used to it!” After all what better vehicles to drive in jungle cities of Nigeria! Sometimes the crookedness of the thinking makes your head spin. All you can think of is what Krishnamurti said: “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

Someone has defined shame as a social emotion to do with feeling foolish, stupid, ridiculous, inadequate, defective, incompetent, awkward, exposed, vulnerable and insecure. Shame has to do with ‘internalizing’ how we imagine that others see us.

From childhood we easily learn to be ashamed of ourselves if and when we are told that some particular behaviour of ours was not acceptable and for that reason, our parents are ashamed of us and would insist that we should be ashamed of ourselves.

Shame and its opposite pride are the bars “through which we are socialized so that we learn, from childhood, to behave in socially acceptable ways and we also learn conformity in adult life.”

So, what happened then that we in adulthood have lost all sense of shame. Is it because we do not have parents who would rebuke us and feel that we have shamed them and we should be ashamed of ourselves? It used to be said that we have lost persons and institutions that we could take as our arbiters, be they elders who have lived longer than us and so know the world better than we do.

Or brilliant minds who have experienced the world through lived knowledge or acquired knowledge and can point us in the right direction. Or even institutions that we ourselves have set up which we then respect and ask to arbitrate between us on what is good and what is bad.

Fathers help their children to forge certificates. Brilliant minds panel-beat our intelligence to accept what is unacceptable. And our institutions have been compromised to such an extent that they are not worth the keyboards that typed them out in the first place.

We have created a society in which each of us attributes his or her success to her abilities and exports our failures to external factors or even worse, we insist that ‘amuwa Olorun ni’ it is the will of God.

As inequality has grown in Nigeria, so has status competition increased. As social mobility has stalled because of the collapse of the public educational system and the rise of privately funded education there has increased the threat of losing one’s social position. As a result, egos have had to be propped up by “self-promoting” and “self-enhancing” strategies. Take a look at the daily newspapers.

Nigeria is a republic – a country that the people and their government/s are opposed to monarchy. It must be a source of great amusement to our friends and enemies alike to see the number of kings, queens, princes and princesses, kingdoms and principalities that co-exist with our republican declaration!

There was a brief experiment years ago where it was decided to address everyone as Mr or Mrs or Miss no matter their what titles they were born with or have acquired. It was a brief experiment.

I interacted with a group of highly intelligent Nigerians during the Abacha years. At the end of a meeting I suggested that when writing to participants I would disregard their titles, not because I disrespect them, but to keep our republican attitudes alive. Protests forced me to withdraw my statement. Of course, I never wrote to anyone after that.

What happened to liberty, equality and fraternity? The French Revolution captured in this slogan something that humanity had valued all through human history but which had never been so vividly captured in words.

Enslavement and inequality corrode the much needed fraternal bond that makes us human. To promote inequality through fancy titles and incredibly designed garbs that go with them is to endanger our common humanity. It is to destroy our social capital, that sum total of our involvement in community life.

A man was once made to feel awkward when a receptionist he had asked: Do you know who I am?, picked up the public system and announced: There is a man here who does not know who he is. Can anyone who knows him come and identify him?

 

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