I was going through my feed on twitter one afternoon and I came across this tweet by a handle (@imoteda) that made me stop for a moment to think, and it says, “Nigerians survive insane situations because we’re literally bred to push through anything. It makes us ridiculously resilient but also unimaginably cruel.” A lot of things ran through my mind as I played it over and over in my head. I can think of a thousand things I can allude to that tweet, ranging from SARS brutality to bad educational system, to corruption, to armed robbery, to the victim blaming culture we have that forces the victim to pay for the sins committed against him with grace while the perpetrator goes scot free, etc.
I see the cruelty we are capable of in the world around me, from the way we treat those who are less privileged and the way we treat each other on the streets of Twitter with zero human empathy. It is easier for a lot of us to value the existence of our politicians than our relatives, neighbours and friends. People will tell you that they are afraid of being harmed by ‘their village people’ when they eventually succeed but same village people will respect a politician who benefits from their collective wealth, who is the reason their children die because of poor healthcare, and die from bad roads and lose opportunities because they don’t have the right connections. Is this a self-hate? Is this how pain manifests itself? Is this the price of our resilience?
A woman on twitter once told a story about how she witnessed an accident, between a keke and an expensive car. I can’t remember the make or the model, but according to her, the people around refused to allow the guy driving the car to be taken to the hospital despite the fact that he was in a critical condition and for no reason other than his financial status. An entire group of people were willing to allow another human being die just because he is privileged? Is that an idea of punishment for rough driving? We brag about how we can survive anything, but we don’t see what that is doing to us.
It shouldn’t have been that much of a shock to me, to be honest, we are the same people who will strip a person naked and set their living bodies on fire when they steal a loaf of bread. The anger that could have change bad governance is what we target each other with because we have come to accept that as a way of life. Because we have become so scared we would rather harm ourselves than risk a protest against the ones who made us this way.
We can rip each other apart, stab each other for the most basic of things because we have experienced things we shouldn’t have gone through. For one to survive hell, the body must be twisted into something that can stand the heat, something hard enough to go through it.
No one deserves to live this way; no one deserves to lose their kindness and empathy because of the selfishness and cruelty of a select few. No one deserves to go to bed with an empty stomach or watch their children die right in front of them because the hospitals do not have beds or drugs or because they don’t have enough money to pay for these services.
It is easy to desensitize yourself from things when they are a daily occurrence, which is precisely why our bodies do not tremble at the news of death. How can one afford to be angry when the mind is occupied with worry about how one can survive without a job or food to feed one’s body?
Everything has a ripple effect, the boys we throw on the streets, forced to beg and leave in inhumane conditions will grow up to bite us in the bum. The poor people we somehow think didn’t ‘work hard enough’ to leave their unfortunate situations will one day prevent us from being taken to hospitals just because we drive fancy cars. We keep forgetting that nobody makes a conscious decision to be poor, and that is not how the system works. Capitalism and corrupt systems like ours make sure that the poor remain poor and the rich get richer at the expense of others, and it has nothing to do with hard work. No one works harder than poor people, and most importantly, no one deserves to work that hard in order to survive.
According to the words of a Nigerian Poet Efe Paul, “corruption like death is an equal opportunity consumer.” No one is free from the system catching up with them, not even the wealthy or politicians. Because one day they will be put in a situation where the country that is supposed to serve them can’t because it has never been designed to serve anyone. Money and power can only take you so far.
I try to relate this whole thing with the victim blaming habit of Nigerians and it all comes down to the fact that it is easier to blame people for failing an exam they studied hard for and answered well than to admit that we have an entire system that is focused on repressing us and our abilities. It is easier to assume that maybe the person didn’t pray hard enough than admit that our country is an ocean waiting to drown all of us. Perhaps it is a man’s way of escaping reality. Maybe this is how we cope with a failed system.
On the 27th of April, 2019, about 65 women were arrested, beaten and raped by some policemen who are supposed to protect them. The policemen were alleged to have demanded sex for bail, which is rape. And those who had an amount of five thousand naira, were freed after paying to the police. As horrifying as this incident was, we had people on and outside Twitter justifying this inhumane treatment because the women arrested were said to be ‘sex workers‘. How do we expect our sisters, mothers, and daughters and even ourselves to be free when we think women deserved to be arrested unjustly and raped because they were sex workers? Until all of us are free, none of us is. Sex workers or not, nobody deserves to be dragged and raped just because ‘they broke the law ‘or because they defy our moral standards.
In a lawless country like Nigeria, where people commit the most terrible crimes, we do focus a lot on morality. Perhaps, what we need is a little introspection and courage to see ourselves as we really are.
A country that justifies this has no mouth to talk about unjust actions and murder by SARS, unjust extortion of money by people who swore to serve and protect us. No one deserves to have their fundamental human right so cruelly snatched away from them. The rights of the women who were forced (not in the presence of a legal practitioner) to confess to being sex workers were violated. It is against the law, according to S9 (3) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law, which provides that a confession must be taken by video and in the absence of video facilities, in writing in the presence of a legal practitioner of the suspects choice. All these are parts of a bigger issue and that shows just how desensitized we are in the face of injustice, forgetting that none of us is above being a victim to a failed system.
But our problems did not just start from SARS; it started from the rape culture we have imbibed into our lives, it started from years of trying to rewrite our history, rewriting villains as heroes. Burying down tragic experiences and pretending it didn’t happen; also repressing the voices of victims.
For instance, screaming one Nigeria and ignoring the civil war is a recipe for disaster, you don’t repaint a crumbling building and expect it to stand for centuries. Nigeria will never move forward until we acknowledge the horror of what was done, until we look at our mistakes in the eye and recognize the pain of those we have hurt. Our problems started way before then, but that is one significant step we can take. Can we ever heal? Maybe not but countries like Rwanda have moved despite the hurt, but only after they acknowledged the damage that was done.
Does this, however, mean there is no hope for us? Can we move away from all these hurt and pain and find peace? Yes, it is possible, but as much as I try to be hopeful, I don’t see this happening anytime soon. Until the day we learnt that we are all part of this and stop justifying the murder or bad things happening to others just because they share a different religion or tribe or political affiliations, we won’t even be remotely close to the right path.
And the truth is, learning is a lot easier than unlearning. Where will we start from when our minds have already been rigidly fixed on one direction? How can you convince people to drop every single thing they learnt from their childhood and embrace new ways of life? How can you make a person concerned with finding food to feed his stomach and his family that other things in life are important? That there is hope for a better tomorrow when all he ever hears are promises that never came true.
When you look at all these things not just as pieces and parts, you will realize that there is so much to be done, too much to be done. When you understand that things do not exist in a vacuum, you will realize that sometimes we are unnecessarily cruel because it’s the only life we know. That the junior police officers being underpaid is one of the reasons why corruption is so rampant in the police system . You will realize that the extremely poor left out to die, will one day be anchored to resentment.
A friend once said that it was selfish for people to leave instead of staying here and fixing things. But I don’t think leaving is selfish, I don’t think searching for greener pastures is selfish. I think people are only contented in Nigeria if they have connections or have no dream bigger than a nine to five job in an office.
In her poem ‘home ‘ , Warsan Shire, a Kenyan Somali poet said: “ no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark/you only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well.” And this is powerful. No one wants to stay and end up being a target for SARS or kidnappers, or bombed by Bokoharam or dead because there are no drugs in the hospital; because of potholes on the road; because of young men with guns over their shoulders. No one wants to become a statistic, a number read out on CNN.
Yes, we are not all bad. Yes, there is a part of Nigeria you don’t see on the BBC – neighbours gathered around eating from the same plate. People hiding others of different faiths or tribes in their homes at the time of crises, beautiful landscapes, talented people, people from all backgrounds laughing and trading at the market place.
And yes this is not just about the government. it is about all of us, the people that watched a boy bleed and refused to get him help; the people that burnt a child at the market place for stealing bread; the people that attack their neighbors in the middle of the night; the people on Twitter that spread fake news and hateful messages; the people who bypassed the system to get admission for their kids, to get shortcuts to life. All of us that somehow think this is okay. That push the narrative that we are not the problem but someone else that somehow believe that our brothers bleed differently from our neighbours.
Maybe there will always be a man by the roadside holding a gun, a politician who siphons the money meant for our schools and hospitals, possibly there will always be hate and policemen who extort money on the road. Maybe this article is more idealistic than realistic and will be read by few and forgotten. Perhaps I just raised more questions than solutions in this article, but I believe we all can do something even if it is by acknowledging that sometimes we are the problem and maybe just like the Tweet that prompted this article, someone is going to remember and will push it forward.