Seven years ago this October, the world woke up to the news of the death of the First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, just weeks to her 60th birthday. Nigerians most especially, were in shock. Did the elegant First Lady loose her life in the Sosoliso Airlines crash? No. Was she slain in a palace coup? There had not been a coup in Nigeria since June 12, 1993. Was she secretly managing a debilitating illness, or been unaware of some fatal heart disease that must have brought a heart attack? No. Did Mrs. Obasanjo repose in the midst of her slumber, perhaps, the rumors said, attacked by some demonic forces that began to inhabit Aso Rock since the days of the fetish googled General? If that is ruled out as well, then surely, she must have been clubbed to death in the middle of the night by her husband, in a fit of fury perhaps, over her utterances and actions regarding his numerous highly publicized extra marital affairs. Not at all. Stella Obasanjo was aware the day she signed the dotted line, that a crucial sentence, for the sake of decency, was omitted from her vows; “I do accept to share you with as many women as are pleasing to your eyes.”
After the rumour mill had ground to a halt, the truth was revealed; Stella Obasanjo, a healthy woman who had had the very best of life, died as a result of complications arising from a cosmetic surgery to remove fat from her stomach.
Incredible, Nigerians exclaimed. What manner of depravation would lead a 60 year old mother to want a Rihanna, Shakira, or Beyonce’s belly? Was she hoping to invite R-Kelly to perform at her birthday party and have him propose an affair afterwards? Or perhaps P. Diddy or Akon or Jay-Z? Stella Obasanjo died under intense pressure. The pressure to conform to some standards she had convinced herself she needed to attain and maintain. A highly placed government official of an East African country related her experience during a visit to Aso Rock as part of a government delegation. Mrs. Obasanjo personally conducted all the visitors round exhibition stalls of women traders who sold gold and diamond jewelry, Swiss fabrics, shoes and bags etc. According to the lady, her head did a summersault at the price of the numerous articles on display. “one shoe could have bought my flight ticket,” she exclaimed. What got her sad, however, was the First Lady’s comment that she changed clothes, shoes and accessories, sometimes three times day and that she never repeats an outfit.
It was that pressure to live up to some opinion of how a First Lady should dress and look that led Mrs. Obasanjo to Spain from where she could not return, but in a box. In those days – yes, seven years ago is now those days - the manner of the First Lady’s death was largely unfathomable to the Nigerian culture, which despite the onslaught of several negative Euro-American values, still held out a measure of respect for women regardless of the size of their bellies, buttocks and upper arms. Unfortunately, this culture is fast being eroded across the country. Nigerian women are now under intense pressure from themselves, their peers, the men in their lives and the general society to conform to a certain standard of outward beauty in order to feel fully accepted by society.
That pressure that killed Stella Obasanjo is gradually leading several Nigerian young girls and women to their untimely deaths. This is a pressure that shines out of that box called cable television, from MTV, Channel O and E! and such shows as the Kardashians (whatever it is called), choreographed and severally rehearsed Reality TV Shows and other crap presented in the name of entertainment. It is the pressure that is churned out in movie after movie produced by Nollywood, and these days, in several songs produced by highly talented Nigerian musicians. It is the pressure that oozes out of what Nollywood stars portray as a fulfilled life – designer clothes, shoes, bags, make-up, looks etc. It is the pressure that the tabloids and the numerous fashion magazines - on sale across Nigeria - present to citizens as the ideal, the lifestyle that all people must aspire towards.
The pressure that killed Stella Obasanjo is exactly the same pressure that our male folk in Nigeria today are increasing bringing to bear on the women in their lives. Pornography is now free and just a click away so men feed their eyes on plastics and return to call real women fat, shapeless and old. Women are increasingly snubbed and sneered at for not taking on the shallow, cosmetically procured likeness of Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez and Naomi Campbell. This is the pressure imposed on young university students by shameless sugar daddies who lure children, young enough to be their granddaughters, away from their academics into a materialistic lifestyle.
It is scary that there appears to be no safe zone from this pressure across the country. In offices - managers, supervisors, officers, youth corpers, interns, messengers, cleaners are all involved in a race to outdo one another. In religious organizations and social groups, one’s acceptance is based on one’s car, dressing, place of residence, how westernized one’s accent is and other shallow yardsticks.
There is a race towards the elusive across the country; a generally accepted desperation to be anywhere, but where one is, to be anybody, but who one is. The pressure manifests in Brazilian wigs, Peruvian extensions, shopping on Oxford Street or New York, owning the latest iPad, Blackberry, latest model cars and all other false trappings of modernity that have kept Nigerians and Africans as the hewers of wood and the drawers of water in global political economy.
The resultant effect of this pressure is a younger generation less concerned with building character, but under intense pressure to measure up to vain standards. Who cares who you are in Nigeria these days? When people meet you for the first time, they want to know what you do before they ask your name. Even if you have the most beautiful heart, are serious minded, intelligent, humble, respectful and mindful of the feelings of fellow human beings, the sad reality is that you might not be hired by corporate Nigeria if you do not present that false image of a “happening chic or Big girl”. You are shunned socially, and even in the religious institutions you will hardly be recognized as a member of worth.
The quality of Nigerian marriages are at an all time low due to this same pressure. The pressure to travel to the United States to have children, to go shopping in Europe for one’s wedding, to look 16 after four children, to wear the latest and most expensive ‘stuff’, to speak with a European or American accent (note : the Chinese and Indians hardly speak English and they are taking over the global economy, by the way).
Shallow children without values are now being raised across the nation, children who are more concerned with their next summer vacation or designer outfit than about being good, respectful and studious.
The existing reality in Nigeria today is a radical departure from the ideals subscribed to by the different societies that make up the country today. Pre-colonial Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Ibibio, Tiv, Nupe, Ijaw and others were communalistic societies where the African Ubuntu philosophy was enthroned. Self-respect, character, values, community ideals and other positive attributes were upheld. Human beings were respected for being human beings, plain and simple.
As Nigerians, we must as a matter of urgency depart from this overriding Western philosophy that is only skin deep, vain, selfish, highly individualistic and devoid of any depth. This is not an exercise at pontification to a supposedly condemned generation, but a clarion call to every Nigerian to immediately begin to take decisions to reverse the same mindset that killed Stella Obasanjo. Otherwise, there will soon be an epidemic of emotional, psychological, intellectual, biological, institutional and systemic deaths, all brought about by that same pressure.