Throw a coin in the air on a Sunday or a Friday in any hamlet, village, town or city in Nigeria and it will likely fall on a person doing their homilies, bowing during Jumu’ah, speaking in new tongues, or engaged in ablution. The nights are never silent, but filled with the voices of the Christian faithful, raised in countless vigils and marathon prayer sessions. Without fail on a daily basis, the early dawn is heralded by the Muezzin, calling the faithful to Fajr, the first of the five daily muslim prayers.
Talk of God never leaves our lips. Spiritual verses are liberally served up in our conversations. We allude to God in every discussion about our conditions, our hopes, our aspirations, and even our private deprivations. Our leaders, even those most enmeshed in the vilest throes of cultic depravation, who reek of corruption in very marrow of their being, mouth their subservience to God. Their every sentence is punctuated with references to God’s providence. Their victories, won through devilish contracts, voter manipulation, the elimination of opponents and the subversion of the political process, is celebrated with hymns and thanksgivings, with generous donations to the churches and Mosques that serve as event centers for their perfidy.
In a former time, the corrupt embezzler would squirm through a worship or prayer service. Every word spoken from the pulpit or altar would be as darts, piercing mercilessly with the sting of truth. Today, such offenders would have front row seats in the carnival that our worship has become. They would be publicly acknowledged for their generous donation, and held up as models of generosity and philanthropy. When did we lose the fear of God so completely, that we find it acceptable to bring ill-gotten wealth, proceeds of corruption and blood money into a house of worship believing that it is possible to subvert the justice that must surely follow? When did we become so arrogant as to believe we can bribe God? When did the speaking of truth to power become a rare commodity, even in the house of God? When did our hypocrisy become so brazen?
The same pocket that holds the prayer bead is the one that houses the bribe. The same hand that is raised in worship and folded across the chest in supplication is the one that signs the fraudulent check, and squeezes the trigger on a defenseless soul. How did we become this whore mongering people, this nation where majority of our daughters, even those who cannot blame need or deprivation for their actions, are only a phone call away from sexual trysts with men they do not know. Where students can sleep or pay their way to high grades. How did we become this nation? How did we descend down this path to perversion so quickly?
How have we become a people that are able to see the perversion and corruption in our leaders, yet fail to recognize that the same greed that animates them to steal in the millions and billions is the same one that motivates our corruption and greed in the lowliest of places? How have we come to believe that the thieving politician or Permanent Secretary is any different from the clerk who charges a thousand naira to discharge a duty which he is paid to perform? When did we become this nation that has elevated relativistic morality to a religion? A philosophical and spiritually confused place where corruption is justified and scales of equivalence are applied to moral absolutes of right and wrong.
When did we become a nation where everything and everyone it seems, can be acquired for a price? Where uprightness is mocked and scorned and those who are patient and law abiding get no bone at all. A nation where those who maim, steal and kill are celebrated and praised.
A nation is the sum total of its people and Nigeria’s moral compass cannot fare better than the collective morality of its people. A nation may not always get the leaders that it deserves, but the way we know that a people are more deserving in the leadership that serves them is to see that they, the people, are far nobler than those who lead them. Can we truly say today, that we are nobler than those who lead us?
The struggle for Nigeria’s soul begins with the most difficult protest of all, and in the language of the moment, that would be the Occupation of one’s own self. We have many problems as a people. Some we can solve, others we are powerless to change. The occupation of one’s self is well within our power to achieve. If we fail in even that most fundamental of tasks, then we will, as we have done for the last fifty years, simply continue to lament, what could have been. The occupation of Nigeria must start first with an Occupation of oneself. Occupy yourself, then we can Occupy Nigeria.