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The pursuit of happiness

By Tabia Princewill
We need to talk about the Nigerian society: Let’s focus on bettering the pool from which our politicians and leaders are born. The study of politics (including, of course, public policy) and social commentary are tied to understanding human beings; that is, to analysing why we act the way we do, to discern how societal shifts and transformations occur, and most of all, we must understand the forces that impede said alterations. I came to the conclusion, long ago, that Nigeria is a series of constant humiliations for those who are bold, brave, honest and hard working.

While in other climes such qualities are rewarded—America’s national ethos is built on these virtues and successful business people all tell stories of how these qualities lifted them out of poverty or turned their lives around—in Nigeria, one is very often side-lined or hurt if one does not possess the qualities of the perfect sycophant. In fact, anyone with a sense of self and an identity that goes beyond the shallow yearnings of crowd pleasers, or who is not overtly selfish and greedy is quite honestly doomed in today’s Nigeria. What a country: rather than celebrate, encourage and reward talent, we often ignore it and promote instead those whose primary interests are get-rich-quick schemes and the fraudulent acquisition of money.

The ineptitude of some actually serves to impede the progress of the vast majority. What is even more interesting is how every Nigerian, irrespective of his or her background and educational level, contributes to this problem. Whether one works in an office, or whether one is self- employed, one must resort to harassing, begging and cajoling aunties, uncles, a “big man” (if one has access) to do this or that because the system does not work for ordinary people. Everything in Nigeria is broken and I see no attempts made to fix this, either from us the people or from those in government.

Every time I see people being made to demean themselves because they need this or that favour without which neither they or their loved ones can move forward or live decent lives, I ask myself when, finally, will it be the turn of ordinary people to thrive? If one is not willing (or able which is perhaps even worse) to indulge in calculations and the “hustle” it takes to survive, one must accept to live without even the most basic comforts which in other nations citizens take for granted.

Every Nigerian is a government unto himself: We provide our own security, our own electricity, our own water, our own education, as even the poorest Nigerian will scrimp and save to send his child to a so-called “private” school which might just be a one room edifice to which the “private” tag gives some sort of credence. Yet, despite the suffering we all endure to whatever degree, we persist in supporting this dysfunctional system with our apathy (many don’t vote) or with our greed (many support the people who are the root cause of these issues because they hope for crumbs) forgetting that this situation is untenable and is bound, at some point, to blow up in all our faces.

In today’s Nigeria, it is almost a crime to want to be happy or to live and not just survive. The pursuit of happiness is enshrined in the American constitution and there is a reason for this: everyone deserves to wake up in the morning and feel good about themselves, to go to school or to work without fear and uncertainty knowing that if one does his or her best, things might not be perfect but they will work out somehow and that society is receptive, encouraging and understanding of not only one’s minimum expectations of food and shelter but of one’s desire for more. The audacity to dream of greater things, of a better life is not just allowed but encouraged, in other climes. Nigeria is quite the opposite: being true to oneself here quite often means being alone.

To begin with, one can never admit one’s true hopes or motives for fear that someone will “jinx” them. I don’t want to go into the Nigerian paranoia over “juju” and Black magic, or into the intolerance some religious institutions preach when they speak of the dangers of mixing with people from other faiths. So we live in constant fear of each other, therefore allowing the powerful to manipulate these fears to cover up their own angst. They are afraid of us, truth be told, and of those who can wake us from our slumber because, we, the good, decent and hard working people of Nigeria, outnumber them, parasites in all forms.

So they cover up with pointless pontificating over certificates and lack thereof. Some people in this country cannot afford for there to be a level playing field and for everyone to work for what they have and legitimately earn what they gain. They cannot afford true federalism or any sort of competition even at the micro-level because that would reveal their inefficiency. Yet, it is time, because the whole world cannot go one way while Nigeria persists to go the other, for each one of us to take responsibility for this society and make the changes we know we deserve. This is now not about political parties or politicians.

This is about each of us as Nigerians: Do we really want change? Will we support it? There are so few opportunities to go around so we are in constant competition with each other and therefore sabotage all our chances at success. “If it won’t be me it can’t be you” is a very Nigerian thought process. Some would even say this is why the elections were postponed. Needless to say, going about one’s business in Nigeria, one must often accept and be comfortable with the fact that many will despise you for  thinking differently and going against the grain.

The cost of being yourself is dealing with other people’s fears and angst about it. We are afraid of those who tell us the truth, of those who are not compromised, that is, those we cannot control. So, we resort to bigotry and offensiveness because we would rather wade through shallow waters and mud than dig deep and look at the real reasons behind our fears and actions. Charles Tilly, a renowned American sociologist, political scientist and historian, wrote that every social interaction crystallises into an identity. So, everything we do and say to each other sets a precedent in society and dictates future social boundaries and behaviours.

June 12 set a precedent that is being repeated today. The institutionalisation of corruption under the military changed social norms which we now adhere to, so common greetings and phrases like “enjoyment minister” or “chairman” show we only respect money, position and confuse this with legitimate authority. Things must change. Nigerians march on.

Different strokes for different folks

The governor of Oregon, in the United States is resigning over allegations that he used his position to benefit his girlfriend’s consultancy firm. I am sure readers can think of many Nigerian politicians who have used their position to unduly influence the fates of their proxies. Why is this unacceptable in America but perfectly normal in Nigeria? Social norms. We all wait our turn to be chosen and benefit from corruption, so we are all to blame. Governors and ministers can be caught on tape discussing rigging an election and nothing seemingly happens. This would signal the end of one’s political career anywhere else. Food for thought.

Buhari’s bow tie

Gen. Muhammadu Buhar
Gen. Muhammadu Buhar

Apparently, the sight of him in a bow tie has sparked a religious debate. Is a bow tie the mark of a fundamentalist? Let’s get serious. More issue based campaigns, less senseless divisiveness please.

 


Disclaimer

Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.