I called home the other day. I was told that as Christmas approaches, Nigerian men are now reluctant to shake hands with strangers out of fear that their manhood will go missing.

The earliest record of an instance of missing manhood was in the 70s during the first oil boom. Those who could not get their hands on the oil reached out for something with which they could mint their own money. That was when a handshake first led to the disappearance of a man’s penis.

It soon became part of Nigeria’s urban legend. Year after year, especially towards the month of December when the quest for quick money is usually at its peak, instances of missing manhood increased.

In 2001, over 12 people were lynched in one weekend in Osun and Oyo states over such incidents. It was the climax of a mass hysteria that swept through Ife and Osogbo.

It is often a very simple phenomenon. An encounter between two individuals ends with one man screaming that his manhood has disappeared.

At the height of the spate, police and government officials took out public service announcements on radio and TV urging people not to take the law into their hands over allegations of missing manhood. In some major cities, police sent out plainclothes detectives to patrol the streets and help rescue suspects under mob attack. That was how a woman was saved after a mob had placed a tire on her head, poured petrol on her and was about to set her ablaze.

This year, instances of missing manhood have been reported as far away as Abuja, Niger and Zamfara states. A journalist, Saminu Ibrahim, narrowly escaped lynching in Gusau. As in every case, the suspect is accused of stealing a man’s penis for use in preparing voodoo that will bestow wealth and power on the kingpin who sent the suspect on the mission. 

Of course, nobody has ever asked the accuser to drop his pants and show his missing manhood. Nobody has shown us a picture of a man with a disappeared manhood. To say that we have not seen such a picture in this age of digital camera is odd, especially when we have been shown a video of a man immediately after he was cut into two following an okada accident. What is so difficult about taking a picture of a man with a missing penis?

I brought this urban legend up because I see it as a metaphor for something bitter and more devastating about us.

Our manhood is truly missing. Not that thing between the legs that has no bone. I am talking of a bigger manhood – our humanity, our life, and our essence. I find it ironic that we can organize, in a flash, and execute instant jungle justice on a suspect who is accused of stealing one man’s penis, but we are helpless in the face of men and women who steal our commonwealth, our human rights, and our common humanity.

The manhood of a people is in their wellbeing. That can be measured through a look at the indexes of their human development. In every index of human development, Nigeria is at the bottom of the list.

According to the 2010 UNDP estimates, life expectancy for a male child in Nigeria is 48.4 years. At 51 years as an independent nation, Nigeria has outlived most of its children. Eight percent of Nigeria’s 150 million people are malnourished. Nigeria spends about 1.7% of its GDP on the health of its people. Adult literacy in Nigeria is 74.8 %. Less than 53% of school aged Nigerian children are enrolled in school. For every 1000 births in Nigeria, 186 will die before the age of five. About 16 people out of every 100 Nigerians have access to the internet. Our government spends less than 0.9% of Nigeria’s GDP on education. Nigeria’s GDP per capital is $2289. Income inequality stands at 0.246. For every 100,000 women that give birth, 1100 will die. Amongst all the nations in the world, Nigeria stands at 142 out of 186 in overall development index.

That is our manhood. It is so miserable that it could as well be regarded as having “disappeared.” Almost all of these statistics were a lot better 40 years ago.

Countries like Kenya, Togo, Cameroon, Benin, Egypt, Tunisia, and Gabon are all ahead of Nigeria. In Gadhafi’s Libya, life expectancy is 74.5 years. Libya spends about 1.9% of its GDP on the health of its people. Adult literacy in Libya is 88.3 %. Over 95.8% of school aged Libyan children are enrolled in school. For every 1000 births in Libya, 17 will die before the age of five. Libyan government spends 3.4% of its GDP on education. Libya’s GDP per capital is $16,999.

Yet, Libyans did not close their eyes to the abuse of power and nation’s wealth by Ghadafi, his children and their cronies. They did not set the standard of what they want for themselves low. They aimed high. They did not say they had it better than Nigeria so they should allow the Ghadafis to govern without their consent; to spread the nation’s wealth without accountability; to punish without fair trial; and to sell propaganda as a substitute for societal progress.

As Nigerians, we are not doing ourselves any favor by embracing low standards. Low standard breeds low standing. Those who are easily tickled are easily tricked.

Why is Nigeria’s outlook this bad?

The World Bank estimates that Nigeria has earned over $350 billion in oil export in the last 40 years. During that period, Nigeria, according to the Global Financial Integrity group, has lost over $165 billion to looting by government officials. That is about $1000 for every Nigerian. Africa as a whole loses $150 billion each year to corruption.

The cost of mismanagement and ineptitude is unfathomable. Just between 2004 and 2007, the NNPC manipulated the price of domestic oil and failed to remit over $2.0 billion to the federal government. Each year, illegal bunkering costs Nigeria hundreds of billions of Naira. For 20 years, the account of the NNPC was never audited. Three companies, Vitol, Hysson/Carlson, and Trafigura, that have lifted 40% of Nigeria’s crude oil in the last 10 years have never paid taxes in Nigeria because they were registered in Bermuda. Carlson alone made over $3.8 billion in Nigeria.

Professor Collier of Oxford University estimates that Nigerian nationals have over $107 billion stashed in foreign accounts worldwide.

In January of this year, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and many other African countries were in the same situation. Their human development indexes were unsatisfactory while the tribe of political elite running these countries was feeding fat on the wealth of the nation. The masses of these countries saw their manhood disappearing. They took action. The action they took in the spring of 2011 is on track to restore their humanity. 

Each time I read about a penis snatcher, I think about Mr. Tony Anenih and the N300 billion naira he wasted as minister of works. I think of the number of people that would have been alive today if he had used the money to construct solid roads. Each time I read about a penis snatcher, I think of Demeji Bankole and the billions of naira he stole as the speaker of the House of Representatives. These are funds that would have been used to provide basic healthcare to millions of our people. Each time I read about a penis snatcher, I think of Boni Haruna and the billion he stole from his state. These are funds that would have been used to provide clean water for millions of people in Adamawa.

These men and many in their tribe of politicians are the real penis snatchers. They are stealing our manhood each and every day. In our own eyes, our manhood is diminishing. It is disappearing.

What are we going to do about it?

Next time, before you place the tire around the neck of an unlucky fellow; before you pour petrol; before you strike the matches; think about our bigger manhood that has been missing for a very long time. 

Please correct me if I’m right.

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