I often find that the analogies I use to convey ideas stem from my past conversations. I remember sitting in the backseat of a car earlier this week in Abuja, daydreaming, yet still conscious of the multiple-lane, mile-long queue that began at the gate of a closed filling station. I remember seeing all sorts of vehicles, from the relatively infamous, oft maligned, evolved Okadas – the Keke Napeps; to the Peugeots driven by chauffeurs that work for the federal ministries; all the way to Danfo buses that were only occupied by their drivers. Although the aforementioned vehicles were the most conspicuous in the random motorcade of motionless vehicles, there were a host of others, driven by all kinds of drivers that embodied the diversity of the Nigerian people.
One thing in particular that struck me on this particular afternoon, was the fact that although businessmen in Lexus’ waited patiently alongside commercial taxi drivers in Toyotas, and civil servant mothers in their parked SUVS, perspired next to spinsters in their beat-up 1999 Honda Accords, on this particular day, they all had one thing in common – their facial expressions spelled ‘frustration.’
As we inched across the motorway – which was congested because of the extra cars that congested the driving lanes, I began to think of Nigeria in terms of cars. Specifically, a Danfo, as a ride on such a bus usually involved passengers sitting next to a vast array of people – in other words Nigeria and its many interlocking, yet separate tribes. As I thought more about the analogy, and grappled with the idea of many of our leaders being uncooperative drivers and shady conductors, it dawned on me that the same rules that govern passengers that are being driven to unknown locations against their will, also applies to citizens who are held captive by the inability of their government to adequately provide basic twenty-first century necessities like constant power in our homes and places of work, clean water in our taps, tarred roads in our cities, and most importantly, security.
After a while, I played with the idea of the passengers assertively demanding that the driver take the right course, or electing one of their own to take the wheel. At that moment, I turned to the little 14-year old who was seated beside me at the back of the car and I portrayed the analogy to her, ending with the question: “What if we finally made explicit demands of the driver, instead of just waiting for him to comply? What if we finally take the wheel?” The 14-year old in question is a lot more politically astute than many of her peers, and when I was done speaking, she casually raised her hand and pointed out the window and said: “Really? How do you expect Nigerians to take the wheel if there is no fuel in the country?”
Honestly speaking, her response had me cracking up in the car that day, as it was hilarious, simple and true. Yet, it was not simpleminded. The 14-year old was right, there was definitely a scarcity of fuel in parts of the country, and even though in a literal sense, she meant that there was no gasoline in town, symbolically, Nigerians are still without an adequate source of fuel to propel them into action. This ‘lack’ of fuel clearly does not originate from a lack of problems in our country, but by the seemingly impenetrable resilience of our people.
What I mean by this is that almost at every turn, while performing even the most routine tasks in Nigeria, we are weighed down by unnecessary complexities ranging from our friends at PHCN taking light, to our friends in law enforcement taking bribes. It is as if these issues that blatantly plague us are not enough to have us stop, look around us, and carefully examine our individual predicaments, in an effort to demand practical answers and positive change. More than anything, it seems like the more hiccups and setbacks we experience, the more ‘Odeshi’ we become.
I use ‘Odeshi’ in the Bakassi Boys sense. In other words, instead of taking a bullet and bleeding each time we are hit by problems, Nigerians always seem to be unmoved by our daily bullets. Think about this for a second: picture our problems as a hunter in the forest with a rifle, searching for prey. As luck would have it, he stumbles upon a colony of rabbits. Each rabbit is close enough for him to shoot at point-blank range. This particular problem is great marksman, but, in order not to miss his shot and scare of all the other rabbits, he picks a target, steadies himself, holds his breath, and takes the shot. “Bulls eye!” he thinks to himself. But, once the gunpowder clears, the rabbit he picked, which should have been hit, remains unperturbed and continues about its rabbit business. Even more baffling, is that the other rabbits around it also continue about their rabbit business not paying any attention to the hunter. If you were the hunter, what would you do in this situation? More likely than not, take another shot. Then another. And another. Personally, I would keep on shooting until one of the rabbits in question gets the message. In other words, all our problems are interrelated.
Now, suppose all the huntsman’s bullets miss their target after his chamber is empty, what do you think he would do? I can only speak for myself, but personally, if I was the hunter, I would run back to the village, gather all my hunter friends (with their guns and extra ammunition), find the spot where I found the rabbits, and try to have a ‘rabbit free-for-all.’ Problems tend to magnify, when they are not dealt with.
Think of Nigeria as the colony of rabbits. We are peaceful people, who only want to go about finding our daily bread (or grass in the case of the rabbits). Suddenly, a big bothersome hunter comes along and starts shooting at us. From his perspective, the bullets are missing their target, but what we see on the ground is much different. To our left, one of our brothers has a bullet lodged in his little rabbit toe, but he just keeps on going about his rabbit business. To our right, another one of our sisters has also been hit, but she brushes it off and says: “Odeshi. It could be worse.” Then all of a sudden he brings all his friends, and they too start shooting at us – and eventually we all have a bullet or two lodged in our bodies, and they are still shooting at us. But because this is our little rabbit territory, and this is our land, we do not run away, we cannot fight back. I mean, after all, we are only rabbits. Or, are we?
Nigerians, how many more of the huntsman’s bullets do we have to take to understand that eventually, something has to break or bleed if he and his friends keep shooting at us? More importantly, what will it take to make us realize that we are not rabbits, but lions – that is why we can endure the pain of a few little bullets? When are we going to realize that yes, they have the weapons, but we have the numbers? If there were no prey, there would be no hunters. If there were no apathetic people, there would be no blatantly corrupt and shamelessly ineffective leaders.
Yes, we have all taken a lot more than our own fair share of bullets. As lions who often behave like rabbits, we have let a few hunters fire shots from weak weapons at us. Now that we know what we are capable of, now that we are frustrated about getting hit at every turn with bullet upon bullet – there should not be a scarcity of fuel to wake us up and ignite our latent but fierce fire. We need to come together and roar.
What will we do? Better yet, what will you do? Will you just continue to wait in line until the gates of the filling station open up so you can fill your tank and drive around anytime there is fuel scarcity? What is going to happen when you finally exhaust your gasoline? Will you do the same thing over and over again? Come back and wait in line, again? For a few more hours or days, like you did the last time, or the time before that. Or will you choose to do something different this time? Yes, you can say “Odeshi” and let this minor infraction slide, again. You can say, I will choose to deal with it tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow. But at the same time, you can choose to be proactive. You can choose to start by taking baby steps. This week, let’s challenge ourselves and spread this message. Let us all find the numbers of our elected representatives in the National Assembly. Let us pick up a phone and call, or even send a text message (if it is a mobile number). For those of us that are able to, let us (try to) schedule meetings with our elected representatives, and let them know peacefully but surely, that we are tired of them taking implicit, explicit, deliberate or unintentional shots at us through their actions or inaction. Let them know that it is time that they begin to see us as more than just bulletproof rabbits who can take a bullet, and more like lions that are ready to bare our teeth and roar, if they do not put their guns away and get to work.
Let’s start a conversation about the issues that affect us.
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