By Douglas Anele
Although there are current issues of vital concern in the polity that deserve attention – such as the inapt relentless vilification of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan by Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, the Nollywood-like abduction and return of the kidnapped Dapchi girls by Boko Haram terrorists, the larcenous emoluments of top public officials including legislators, and the deteriorating human condition nationwide among others – dwelling on them is an exercise in disappointment.
This is because, aside from the pachydermatous mindset of the ruling elite in Nigeria, the hardships Nigerians are facing daily as a result of the incompetent leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari can cause hypertension. Buhari’s sycophants oftentimes claim that Nigeria’s problems predated the current administration of the All Progressives Congress , APC, forgetting that most prominent members of the ruling party, including President Buhari, contributed directly in varying degrees to the crisis of underdevelopment we are facing right now.
More importantly, instead of confronting the onerous challenge of making Nigeria great again, Buhari and his cohorts are shamelessly piling up excuses, engaging in a futile blame game that is of no use to the suffering masses. To be candid, most times I feel that only those Nigerians who uncritically jumped into the messianic bandwagon of *sai baba* in 2015 despite repeated warnings that Buhari is incapable of leading Nigeria at this time, deserve the escalating suffering in the country today.
Of course, that is wishful thinking; for, as the Igbo people say, *otu aka ruta mmanu otezuo mkpuru aka ndi ozo* (if one finger is soiled with oil, the oil spreads to the remaining fingers). As it is, those that supported Buhari and those that did not are suffering so much that the very thought of the President contesting again, let alone winning, in 2019 must be a nightmarish possibility. Therefore, to help myself and readers of this column in the odious category of suffering Nigerians, I have decided to explore further important existential lessons from the exemplary life of Prof. Stephen Hawking.
As I stated last Sunday, Prof. Hawking’s greatest legacy lies in the fact that, despite the crippling Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) disease which caused the nerves that control his muscles to stop functioning, thereby paralysing him from the neck downwards, he continued to combine family life with his research into theoretical physics and cosmology. In other words, Prof. Hawking did not allow his very severe physical disabilities to dampen his spirit and extinguish his desire to contribute something of value to human civilisation. As a genuine hero, he defied the odds to the extent of becoming the most creative and bold contributor to his area of research engagement. Prof. Hawking believed that no matter the gravity of one’s physical disability, there was always something the person can be successful at doing, which indicates that there is always the possibility of achievement no matter the degree of one’s physical disability.
Human life, always, is full of challenges. It follows that there has never been a period in human history, or even prehistory, people everywhere did not face the vicissitudes of life. It is only in myths, like the story of Adam and Eve in The Holy Bible, that a fictitious idyllic paradise heralding a golden age of human existence can be found. The history of humankind, both individually and collectively, is largely the story of suffering, of emerging from one adversity to the next.
No wonder, then, that there is a preponderance of belief in a post-mortem paradise or heaven, a place of eternal bliss within the world’s most dominant religions, which is absent in traditional African religions. In Nigeria, there are so many stressors, so many reasons to feel frustrated, disillusioned and hopeless such that the rate of suicides has increased in the last three years. Poverty, disease, unemployment, insecurity, work related stress, family issues and a host of other anomalies have seriously weakened millions of Nigerians intellectually and physically.
On top of all these, the country is currently governed by a motley crowd of moral dwarfs without a well-articulated and implementable strategic plan for positive social transformation. Consequently, there is enough in Nigeria today to depress an individual without any physical disability, let alone those that are physically challenged. In what follows, I will suggest ways of overcoming adversity, especially physical disability, in the hope that someone somewhere will be inspired to improve his or her practice of life.
For starters, consider the experience of Prof. Hawking: at the relatively young age of twenty-one he was diagnosed with ALS, which progressively became worse as time went on. What did he do? Instead of wallowing in despair, in self-pity; instead of giving up hope after doctors told him that he had less than three years to live, Prof. Hawking plunged himself into productive work, during which time he formulated some of his boldest and most imaginative ideas in theoretical physics and cosmology. The lesson from this is simple but profound: no matter the degree of physical disability one has, giving up hope is not justifiable.
Whether one is blind, deaf and dumb, crippled – it does not matter the kind of physical disability one has – the individual concerned must recognise that there is always something she or he can accomplish successfully. The important thing is to acknowledge this fact and dig deep into one’s inner being to mine the inner strength within. It is disheartening to see disabled people all over the place begging for alms, when they could be encouraged to do something for themselves and engage their productive powers. Regrettably, government at various levels has neglected the physically challenged for too long, as if they are not part of the society.
This is not surprising anyway, because Nigerian leaders are a disgrace to humanity: they do not care about us, the suffering masses; they concentrate only on themselves, their families and acolytes. The nauseating aspect of this is that the so-called leaders are Christians and Muslims who believe that humans were created by some deity in his image. Yet, they repeatedly manifest inhumane disposition to the very people they were supposed to serve.
Meanwhile, in many cases families of physically challenged people tend to treat them shabbily, although poverty might be the reason for it. That said, I am convinced that a sizeable number of disabled Nigerians give up too easily by allowing their circumstances dampen their enthusiasm for life, for creativity and productive work. Certainly, it is not easy for the blind, the lame, the deaf and dumb to cope really well with living in a degenerate country like Nigeria where public spiritedness especially among the well-to-do is rare, and the more the living condition deteriorates the more tedious and challenging life becomes for those living with one physical condition or another.
But that is when self-confidence comes in: with unyielding belief in one’s ability to overcome all odds, adversity can be turned into an advantage, as Prof. Hawking’s life amply demonstrates. So, are you physically challenged in any way? Do not give up, do not despair. Instead, pick yourself up and do something. Look into yourself and discover the latent productive powers in your inner self. It does not matter how little or inconsequential it might seem to those around you; the important thing is to devote yourself to whatever productive work you genuinely feel you can do. You never can tell: life is full of surprises, and every achievement begins with the very first step.
Generally speaking, human life is a hard school, such that people without physical disability oftentimes feel disillusioned about life. Existentialist philosophers have thoroughly explored themes like anxiety, nausea, the seeming absurdity of life and other challenging dimensions of human existence. The conclusion one can draw from their analysis is that life is inherently problematic, and that the best way to live is to live “dangerously,” that is, authentically, by putting one’s best in productive labour, without obsessing about what others might think.
Most people are afraid to stand out, to be themselves, because they are afraid to be different. In my opinion, it is important to be different from others in a positive way, because the affirmation of one’s individuality is the foundation of creativity, innovation and, by implication, social progress. To conclude: are you disturbed by any adversity? Ask yourself, whether what is disturbing you would matter in the next ten, twenty, fifty or hundred years? Chances are that it would not, which means that you might have exaggerated the significance of the issue you are dealing with. In most cases, part of the strategy for overcoming adversity is change of perspective. Therefore, believe in yourself and live more productively. It is only by overcoming adversity that we develop and become more fully human.