A few weeks ago, a police raid happened at a popular nightclub in Lagos where a lot of scammers were arrested. The ensuing conservation on Twitter was not surprising, at least not to me. Apologists tweeted in their droves, sympathizing with the fraudsters and humanizing them, with arguments along the lines of “after all they’re people with families to feed” and “they’re contributing to the GDP of the country”.
All of us on the other side of the moral divide quickly descended war on them with threads and videos extolling the virtues of good hard work, and emphasizing that the hardship in the country was not responsible for fraud, but rather the individual (honestly, it’s a bit of both). It’s the same with many other arguments on Twitter, where a large number of people defend ideals and ideas that are so dangerous and dated, but actually reflect society, no matter how “surprised” we act every time.
Nigeria breeds bad values, and the majority of us go ahead to build our lives on those values. Those apologists are just regular Nigerians, and they would clone some credit cards if they were brave enough. It’s in the water. It’s in the air. It’s woven into the very fabric of our society. The choice to do the wrong thing is more readily available than that of doing the right thing. For example, people driving hardly turn on their signals before changing lanes. Once there’s even a little space on the other lane, a lot of people just aggressively switch lanes. Combine this with badly planned roads and potholes everywhere, and you’ll realize you cannot drive by the rules on Lagos roads. Them go bash your car. You have to drive by the rules of Lagos roads.
Nigerians are, by default, terrible.
Recently, I’ve found myself telling anyone that cares to listen that I don’t like my country because of the people. What I’ve found myself saying is “Nigerians are terrible”, otherwise said as “Nigerians are terrible, but I’m not”. A lot of people say this, usually based off the laughable conviction that we’re better than the society. A few days ago, after I made that statement to yet another person, I decided to count how many terrible Nigerians I know personally, and after I queued up family and friends, I realized I could not objectively call them terrible people. So, who are the terrible Nigerians then?
I recently watched Jide Olanrewaju’s History of Nigeria, and at the end of the chilling expose into the rather consistent corruption in the Nigerian government, I took some time to reflect on something: What are our Nigerian values? What does it mean to be a Nigerian? What do we represent as a people?
For example, I believe that one of the reasons America is unraveling now is that one of their core values (pillage and conquer) requires a homogeneity of people and thought that no longer exists. Learning to co-exist with other people rather than control them is seemingly hard for them as a country.
On this side of the world, Nigeria has from the onset been a power tussle, a Frankenstein where all the individual parts want to wield control. It has “evolved” into a deeply religious, intolerant, individual wealth driven, dog-eat-dog society where power prevails over justice. The vast majority of Nigerians are poor, both economically and ideologically. I summarized Nigeria’s core values as:
- Get it however you can
- Keep it however you must
- Above all protect yourself
Those are the only rules. Ready, set, survive. There are no good in-between values, like hard work or kindness. There is no loyalty to country. Instead, the in-betweens are fraught with religious and ethnic intolerance, with a dash of disregard for other people *cue salt bae*. Every Nigerian can be good but it has to be the only choice. Once there’s a more self-rewarding choice, we’ll take it.
The vast majority of us play dual roles — victims and perpetrators — in a society that has no true identity or values. Across class, the only difference is that the richer, more powerful, more educated ones among us have more of a choice to do things right. But we’re all optimizing for the same things so the right choice be damned.
An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an outside force
With the full backing of Newton’s first law, I daresay unless something clashes with Nigeria, nothing will really change. It’s not pessimism, it’s just the truth. There’s no incentive for reform. We need something to veer us off this path, and nothing is forthcoming.
Regular Nigerians will need to take the wealth and the life they’ve created for themselves, and instead of flaunting it, give it back to a society that has done nothing for them. That’s a hard sell, and even I am not ready to sacrifice. The benefits of a broken system increase the higher up the chain you get. Would you invest your savings in civic advocacy when you can buy a Benz? Would you tell your police convoy to stay in traffic when you can drive one-way and get home in fifteen minutes instead of two hours?
This is a cohesive attempt at rationalizing my society, and deciding between one of three choices:
- Stay, blend in and stop complaining.
- Stay, double down on individual contribution to society (knowing it won’t really change anything) and stop complaining.
- Leave, and stop complaining.
My point is, complaining (and doing just that) is pointless, and I want to do less of that. I can’t keep complaining about the immense pressure put on young people to be successful, and also perpetuate that pressure on other people under the guise of “documenting my life”. It’s not just the thought that counts.
In the same vein, I don’t also want to keep complaining about the country. It is what it is, and if I’ve identified my society correctly, I should choose a path. It’s do-something-or-not-but-shut-up season.