By Tabia Princewill
WE keep making excuses for bad behaviour, particularly when it occurs amongst the rich and the powerful. Anyone else is vilified, swiftly condemned without so much as an afterthought. Our reaction to the plight of the migrants compared to our willingness to quite literally kill ourselves in defence of politicians who sell themselves government properties at a fraction of the cost, therefore cheating the state out of revenue, shows just how far personal ethics, public morals and human compassion have fallen in Nigeria.
In our quest to make excuses for the same people who are responsible for the sorry mess Nigeria finds itself in today, we never fail to pull the ethno-religious card: we are quick to say “he or she is being accused/victimised because he or she is Igbo, PDP, etc.” depending on where our bread is buttered or on whatever side of the man-made and therefore fictional, ethnic, religious or political boundaries we believe we ought to place ourselves. The concept of truth has been virtually destroyed in Nigeria. Critical thinking, the ability to honestly analyse situations or events without sentiment is possessed by very few public commentators so dangerous ideas have virtually taken over social media. Anyone who dares to have an opinion contrary to the excuse-giving-victimisation-logic is treated as an enemy, someone suspicious simply because they don’t seem to be a part of the game everyone else is playing.
It is distressing to find that even in seemingly clear cut situations, the tendency is to ask “why him” and not “what are the facts”. After nearly a week of Christian vs. Muslim propaganda in regards to “hijab-gate”, the arrest of the Innosson Motor’s boss was also read through the lense of primordial sentiment, with some choosing to believe that he was targeted simply because he is Igbo. Anyone who bothers to read the charges Guarantee Trust Bank (perceived as the “Yoruba attacker” in this farcical story of ethnic delusion) might quickly get lost in the layers of more than questionable actions allegedly undertaken by both parties: unfortunately business practices in Nigeria are steeped in malfeasance which the public only gets to hear about when one party feels betrayed, cheated or short changed by the other, otherwise it’s business as usual and the only person who pays for this is the consumer.
Most of us never stop to think that while we waste so much time defending whatever side based on sentiments which aren’t reciprocated, no bigwig would defend us in the name of our shared religion or ethnicity if any of us were to be accused of committing a crime nor do they go out of their way to assist the common man faced with the myriad troubles he encounters living in Nigeria, most of which said “big man” is directly or indirectly the cause of.
We don’t realise that the dispute between the bank and Innosson, like the quarrels between cross carpeting politicians who prove at every major event (children’s weddings, chieftaincy title ceremonies, etc.) that they are united despite appearances, will be resolved one way or another, perhaps quietly with no real explanation as to what really happened despite so much already being in the public domain, and the average Nigerian will still, in the meantime, know the many discomforts and indignities associated with life in this country when one isn’t of the “level” of those who can “quarrel” or visibly “fall out” with either a major organisation or the big men whose interests they represent.
The average Nigerian can’t even complain about the many injustices of which he is a victim, nor has he been trained to know how to do so, or to know he has the right to demand for better public services in the first place. We continuously fight the elite’s battles for them, we are cannon fodder in their disputes, collateral damage, yet we get nothing in return except a country further and further destroyed by our own myopic tendency to support or to make excuses for illegal, criminal behaviour: we don’t seem to realise that the catalogue of offenses allegedly committed by the high and mighty have a social cost which is born only by the common man.
Our society is more and more unequal and unjust as a result of corruption, bad performing loans taken out by pseudo-businessmen etc. In the latter case, when depositors’ funds are callously handed over to business men without them providing collateral in exchange, it is the mysterious and unending bank charges regularly taken from all of our accounts (despite the Central Bank’s directives telling the banks to desist) which shore up the bank’s funds. How easy is it in Nigeria to get a loan for a legitimate business if one isn’t somehow connected to someone in its top echelons? Yet, every time debtor’s lists are published, the names featured are some of our most prolific businessmen celebrated by the media and society as a whole, who in essence, it turns out, are simply living off of the bank’s credit lines.
The notion of what it means to be a businessman in Nigeria needs to be re-examined: we grant people lofty titles and celebrate them not understanding that all they have basically done is connived to fraudulently use government money or shareholders/depositors money to enrich themselves at the expense of the larger society. That is called being a profiteer, a racketeer who exploits the system rather than an entrepreneur for instance who is meant to add value by creating products with tangible benefits to society. The Nigerian elite’s solidarity is legendary: ethnicity and religion is only an issue on the pages of newspapers. In business and in politics, the elite remains a cohesive unit exploiting the masses into defending their own enslavement. We cannot keep allowing ourselves to defend a system that doesn’t work for us, where all involved are guilty of one crime or another: when will we wake up to this fact?
National Bureau of Statistics’ recently released figures on unemployment are terrifying particularly those detailing unemployment in the North-East. In Yobe for example, out of a labour force of 1,037,277 people, 602,535 are unemployed. Defeating Boko Haram without tackling unemployment and social issues in the North will prove near impossible until state governments truly tackle child marriage, child abuse (children amongst the poor are often considered an unproductive expense), sexual violence rooted in male anger at being unable to prove their “maleness” as providers and heads of the house, drug abuse amongst women and young people due to hopelessness and depression, etc. The social malaise in the North is a ticking time bomb. The Nigerian society as a whole is exploitative and pits men against women, Christians against Muslims, tribe vs. tribe, etc. all in a bid for survival. Nigerians fight for the crumbs left over by parasitic forces, unfortunately, too few see the part they play in enabling this rat race to go on unhindered.
THE Presidency has asked religious organisations to be weary of public statements inciting hate. Religion (or rather, manipulative cliques masquerading as religious bodies) plays too big a part in public discourse for peace to be possible. As I said last week, Nigeria is not a secular state and cannot evolve into one if we keep hoping that out of the kindness of their hearts people who profit from mutual suspicion between diverse faiths, will suddenly decide to stop inciting us against one another. Why would religious organisations who are already so powerful and who retain control over their followers by teaching them to trust no one or nothing but the word of the organisation’s leaders, suddenly decide to act in ways which could jeopardise their hold on people? We have a serious problem on our hands: Nigeria is a country where factories shut down and churches spring up in their place. We’re not bold enough to tell the truth about our problems.
Tabia Princewill is a strategic communications consultant and public policy analyst. She is also the co-host and executive producer of a talk show, WALK THE TALK which airs on Channels TV.