Yesterday, on the heels of a rumored fuel strike (that never seemed to materialize) in the Federal Capital Territority, Abuja, my cousin – a recent university graduate – and I sat down to engage in a time honored Nigerian tradition: discussing the politics of our fatherland behind closed doors.
We talked about everything, from the exemplary strides that some states in the federation, like Lagos and Cross River are making. We talked about how the governance style and policies of current governors like Babatunde Fashola, and past governors like Donald Duke, should be emulated by their fellow chief executives at the federal and state levels. We made reference to Dele Momodu’s Saturday, August 11th and 18th articles, “My Dream Team for Nigeria” (I and II), and how even with weather-tested leaders such as Fashola, Duke, El-Rufai, Oshiomole, Utomi, Amaechi, Okonjo-Iweala, Akunyili and Akpabio at the helm of affairs of the country, we still need our people to alter their present ‘It is what it is’ mindset.
And so, we spoke about ourselves. About Nigerians, and how we are always quick to publicly shower compliments on those in power, yet slow to brazenly criticize them when they go against our collective wishes – the will of the people. We also spoke about how it had just been less than two weeks since Abuja had experienced a fuel scarcity – which was the inspiration for my previous pieces: ‘Nigerians, Take the Wheel’ and ‘Odeshi’ – and how no one seemed to understand that if we do not speak up and speak out, inconveniences like the ever-unpredictable fuel scarcities that plague us at the pumps, and the rampant power failures that hinders the growth of our economy by giving investors second-thoughts (which we seem to look at as ‘minor infractions’) will continue to occur, and occur, and occur. And we, as everyday Nigerians, who bare the brunt of the burn, will continue to complain, and complain, and complain. Not on the phones with our representatives, or on the streets with other likeminded compatriots, but behind closed doors on our living room sofas. Out of earshot and out of sight. Where it does not matter.
More importantly, we might also choose to engage in another favorite Nigerian pastime, in order not to offend those that constantly offend us by taking our very existence for granted with their inexplicable policies, never-completed projects, and full Ghana-must-gos of our collective funds: we pray. We pray that our tomorrow will be better than our today. We pray in our various languages, in our various styles. We pray to one God and to many gods, to spirits and to ancestors. We pray as Muslims, Christians, Animists, and whatever else we choose to call ourselves. Some of us might even utter a silent plea to nothing as Atheists, or to an unnamed higher power as Agnostics. All the same, we pray and plead. On our knees, standing up, lying down, on the bus, in our offices, it does not matter. We pray, we pray, we pray! Out of earshot, and out of sight. Behind closed doors, where it does not matter.
And, as we pray, many of us simultaneously suffer. Or watch our family, friends, and neighbors, suffer, suffer some more, then die. Suffering from everything, from the ‘perceived’ negativity of the differences that drive wedges between us and stop us from pushing forward collectively, to the open disregard for our shared well being, which is shown in the lack of substantial development in many of our once-great cities, and a majority of our rural areas. And then, die. Dying from our indifference to all the negativity that we constantly perceive. Many of our people degenerate physically, mentally, and sometimes even spiritually – losing their faith in the existence of higher powers, because we choose to suffer in silence, as we wait for help to come. Yes, and though it can also be said that we all suffer together – in our varied degrees of suffering – again, we all do this where it does not matter. Out of earshot, and out of sight. Behind closed doors, with unrivaled skill.
I say ‘unrivaled skill’ because the notion of ‘complaining in silence’ requires ample training. Maybe we acquired it from our parents growing up: “do not question authority.” Or from the kobokos that stung us, and today, still sting the hands and backsides of our young children when they speak out against authority (whether they are right or not) in our secondary and primary schools. Or, we could have mastered it during our days of military rule, from Abacha, Babangida, maybe even the disciplinarian, Buhari. I do not know, and it does not matter. We learnt this from somewhere, we have become good at it, but things need to change.
Things need to change because it takes a lot of skill, and perhaps even strength (some might call it weakness) to consistently turn the other cheek when you are constantly being slapped. Slapped with shoddy health care – while our ‘leaders’ and their families travel abroad to the worlds best hospitals when they are ill. Slapped with third-rate power supply, while we settle for over-priced imported generators. Slapped with environmental disasters in the Niger-Delta as it deteriorates, while oil money is shared amongst those we elect to serve our nation, and the indigenes of oil producing regions are shunned.
Slapped with unsatisfactory security, as innocents are killed by guns and bombs; our daughters and sisters are kidnapped, drugged and killed in shady hotels; and our sons turn to thieving, ‘thugging’, and Scarface on television because they have no jobs. Slapped with criticisms about our criticisms: “I am the most criticized President in the world”, instead of focusing on the critical nature of the work at hand. Slapped with institutionalized corruption, as criminal cases involving past and present high-ranking government officials simply melt away from the courts, and our journalists develop amnesias from checks with “plenty plenty zeros.” Yes, we bare the pain from these beatings in silence, and we turn the other cheek. Constantly. Out of earshot, and out of sight, where it does not matter. And yet, we do not do anything about it.
Now, picture this. Imagine standing in front of a closed door, hoping for it to open. Hoping, pleading, complaining, and perhaps, even praying, that it will budge. You do not knock on it, or bang on it. You do not push it, or pull it. You are angry, because you are stuck on one side of the door, and you need to be on the other, yet, in your frustration, you do not try to force it open. And because of this, it does move. It will not move.
Ladies and gentlemen, complaining in silence about the problems that our country faces, is the same as having the key to a door that you need opened in your pocket, yet choosing to plead with the door to open. In the same light, choosing to pray – and only pray – for our country without taking any corrective action, is like holding the key to a closed door in your hand, and expecting it to put itself in the lock and turn. Without wanting to sermonize, from the humble understanding that I have of the holy books, in most of the stories, God always uses people to deliver people. Yes, it usually begins with some sort of prayer, but divine intervention usually ends with action, so get off your knees, raise your hand to the lock, and open this door.
When I say, open this door, I do not mean that we should all begin to fly, before we even know how to walk. To borrow a phrase from our friends on the other side of the world: “Don’t ask what Nigeria can do for you. Ask: what you can do for Nigeria.” Do not wait on a savior that will miraculously appear to part our red seas like in the days of the Old Testament. As far as I can tell, the only water that can be changed to wine right now is the changing of the mindset of our people from apathy to action. But first, it begins with the little things, by beginning to reflect inwards, to find the small changes that you can bring about in our great nation.
Do not constantly blame Jonathan, Yar’Adua, Obansanjo, the military, or if you are inclined to go that far – our colonial masters for our current predicament. Blaming them does not help you in any way, so, get this: it does not matter. Do not sit on the sofas of your living room as you watch the nightly news, hissing at the newscaster as he or she reports about another bomb blast, or another fuel scarcity, or another high profile kidnapping. Instead, start to understand that the solutions that this present generation needs, lies in harnessing our collective Nigerian spirit, and in the forging of individual and collective Nigerian goals. Goals that will enable us to take baby steps now – a simple and basic education about ourselves and the history and diversity of our great nation (perhaps you can start by reading the 1999 Constitution); walk somewhere down the line, by educating others; run in the future, by beginning to demand constructive change, based on a thorough understanding of our collective predicament and, eventually; fly, by starting to bring about positive change as we all hold our government accountable to all their actions (spending, or a lack thereof included). By committing to the aforementioned, I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that in time, we will burst through our mythical closed door, with the key in the lock, our love for country in our hearts, and our faith in God. And then, whenever we do choose to complain, they will strain their ears to listen, but they will definitely hear us, because at that time it will matter, because WE will matter.
-Let’s continue this conversation on Twitter. Follow me @OluOne. I want to hear your thoughts -