We are inoculated from shocks of any harrowing news in Nigeria, however convulsing. This perhaps, may have accounted for the reason we were judged by the World Happiness Report (WHR) as the happiest people on earth in 2003. We're yet to descend to the lowest rung of the ladder as the saddest people on earth, just to prove Fela Anikulapo Kuti wrong that we're not "Suffering and Smiling"!
It's our way of life to wake up every morning to the news that our mothers have been violated and butchered in their sleep or on their way to the market, fathers maimed and killed on their way to the farm, daughters and sisters raped, children sold for less than a quarter of a million naira.
The frightening trend is so nauseating and callous that you would wish that humanity swaps its place with the animal kingdom because the essential difference between animals and humans, which is the ability to self-reflect, seems literarily lustrated from Nigerians' DNA.
Two months ago, a man was slaughtered on his farm by Fulani herdsmen who came grazing with their herds of cattle over his farm in Ogun State, South West Nigeria. No arrest was made. Last week, in the same state, news of a woman who sold her baby girl came to light, while another lady was butchered by her yahoo plus/plus lover and her body parts such as eyes, breasts, armpit hairs and reproductive organs were dug out of her body!
Prior to that, three weeks ago, the news of Mr. Edward Kehinde Soje's suicide death seized the country. Mr. Soje was a Kogi State civil service who committed suicide for his inability to draw wages from the state government after eleven months! Another news broke on the 28th of last month that Mr. Biodun Bashir, a staff of Universal Basic Education (UBE) in Kwara State, Oyun Local Government Area, hung himself to death over failure of Kwara State Government to pay his salaries for six months.
Mr. Soje's suicide death is mind blowing, at 54! He was a director in the Kogi State civil service with a family without salaries for 11 months. But the Kogi State Government said it was owing late Mr. Soje only 8 months salary arrears! Before his death, civil servants in the state embarked on industrial action to protest the non-payment of their salaries arrears with some being owed for upwards of 21 months.
A friend of the Soje's family hinted that he might have taken his life due to the frustrations orchestrated by non-payment of his salaries coupled with the unsettling news that his wife gave birth to male triplets barely two weeks earlier.
In the suicide note, he quoted the scripture in Psalm 121:3, where the Bible says, “God will not suffer your foot to be moved: He that keepeth you will not slumber. Amen.” Continuing, he said: “You and the three boys, the God Almighty will keep you and prosper you, amen. I love you.”
Family sources said that Soje had before the incident been going through a lot of financial pressure due to non-payment of his salary for 11 months by the Kogi State Government. As a way out, he was said to have sold his only car and a three-bedroom bungalow he was building at Otokiti area of Lokoja.
The building, which was at lintel level, was sold by Soje at a giveaway price of N1.5 million in April to meet urgent family needs, it was gathered. According to the sources, Soje’s financial woes became compounded when the wife gave birth to a set of triplets through caesarian operation in a private hospital in Abuja on October 7th.
Nigerians of today are worse than the governments at all levels which use, deride, deprive and pillage their existence because they lack the willpower to demand and fight for their rights. It could be the uncanny reason Nigerians were adjudged as the most happiest people on earth in 2003 and beyond.
If a citizen's genetic propensity to happiness is measured by care, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance, then a nation almost always on the brink of a cataclysmic disaster, terrorism, poor leadership, poverty, joblessness, food inflation, and corruption can't be a happy people.
According to the World Health Organization, as of 2015, life expectancy in Nigeria was 53 for men and 56 for women, respectively – one of the lowest in the world. Nigeria has an ‘alarmingly high' maternal mortality rate and according to the Paediatrics Association Nigeria, as of 2017, one million children die annually from preventable diseases.
Despite President Buhari's face-saving or minor dent on anticorruption, Transparency International still ranks Nigeria as 136th out of 178 countries on the Corruption Perceptions Index with a score of 28 out of 100. Is that a pass mark? Poverty is rife as is inequality. In spite the growing youth population, the first ever Global Youth Wellbeing Index in 2014 ranked Nigeria bottom, making it the worst country, of those ranked, to be a young person.
Ironically, a backward-looking country like Nigeria changed that perception of fake happiness in 2011. A twenty-six-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi who had been the sole income earner in his extended family of eight, upset the apple cart in Tunis. He operated a vegetable or apple cart (the contents of the cart are disputed) for seven years in Sidi Bouzid, 190 miles (300 km) south of Tunis. On 17 December 2010, a female officer confiscated his cart and produce. Bouazizi, who had had such an event happen to him before, tried to pay the 10-dinar fine (a day's wages, equivalent to 7USD).
In response, the policewoman insulted his deceased father and slapped him. The officer, Faida Hamdi, stated that she was not even a policewoman, but a city employee who had been tasked that morning with confiscating produce from vendors without licenses. When she tried to do so with Bouazizi a scuffle ensued. Hamdi says she called the police who then beat Bouazizi.
A humiliated Bouazizi then went to the provincial headquarters in an attempt to complain to local municipality officials and to have his produce returned. He was refused an audience. Without alerting his family, at 11:30 am and within an hour of the initial confrontation, Bouazizi returned to the headquarters, doused himself with a flammable liquid and set himself on fire. Public outrage quickly grew over the incident, leading to protests.
This immolation and the subsequent heavy-handed response by the police to peaceful marchers caused riots the next day in Sidi Bouzid that went largely unnoticed, although social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube featured images of police dispersing youths who attacked shop windows and damaged cars. Bouazizi was subsequently transferred to a hospital near Tunis. In an attempt to quell the unrest President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali visited Bouazizi in hospital on 28 December 2010. Bouazizi died on 4 January 2011 and the president was chased away from the seat of power thereafter.
Where is the Nigerian's Bouazizi? Why the vocal collapse? Why did Edward Soje not commit suicide in front of Government House gate at Lokoja to ignite Arab-like uprising? Where are the Mohamed Bouazizis of Nigerian that brought down Tunisia and a few of other Arab countries?
Even with the statistics of terrible failures at governance, Governor Yahaya Bello and his Kwara counterpart are still shamelessly parading themselves as "Governors", after dismal performances and their failure to fulfil constitutional obligation to pay wages to workers and protect life and property. Yahaya Bello and Abdulfatah Ahmed's unregenerated primitivity is tolerable in climes such as Nigeria where the people elect to be "Suffering and Smiling".
Erasmus writes from Lagos. You can reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @ikhide_erasmus1.