Can Nigerians Adopt an “understand before I criticize” approach to life?

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The Past few weeks I have observed the whole hullabaloo and much ado about something called Islamic Banking. Interesting enough, I found arguments on both sides to be tinged with sentiment and not cold hard facts. I m neither pro nor against Islamic banking, I m for what is best for Nigeria. In fact, I have purposely decided to not comment on the topic because I feel I might not have enough information. Of course, the whole issue just reminded me of one of the biggest problems our nation faces today. No its not terrorism, its not corruption, its not power sharing/zoning and its not education. One of the biggest problems facing our nation today is Ignorance.

Now I know some of you educated folk out there are turning up your noses and saying, “You are right, those illiterates really need to be educated for this country to move forward.” This is partially right but ultimately you are wrong. There is such a thing as an ignorant educated person. There is such a thing as an uneducated educated person. How you say? I define ignorance in the context of the topic at hand as making up your mind about a topic and perhaps criticizing or supporting the said topic without knowing all the facts from both sides and weighing them objectively without much sentiment before forming your opinion and even expressing it to others.

Do you see how ignorance according to my definition factors into every problem we face in this country? Think about it, the religious extremist or whatever they are who bomb places and kill people are probably acting based on information tinged with religious sentiment and haven’t sat down to fully analyze the consequences of their actions. The corrupt official is only thinking about himself. He is not thinking about the bigger picture of what stealing money could mean for the society. The advocate or opponent of power sharing or zoning probably hasn’t fully looked at the valid points the other side of the argument has to offer.

If you think I am exaggerating, do a little exercise with me. Pick up a newspaper in Nigeria today. Anyone. If you like pick the most objective and balanced newspaper you know. You could also visit websites such as Sahara Reporters, Nigerian Village Square, and Nairaland. All I ask of you in each case is to look at the opinion or comment section and see what people think about current affairs. I bet you will find lots of one-sided views and demonization of other viewpoints without the courtesy of well thought out and factual reasons for a rebuttal of a viewpoint. It is also in such forums that you will find divisive, stereotyping and tribalistic comments.

If you think about it, tribalism is ignorance. Making decisions about a person based on his ethnic origin and stereotypes associated with said tribe is ignorance. You haven’t fully accessed the facts about the said person before you decide that the said person will cheat you of your money, is dirty and disorganized, is an uneducated fool. As with many things Nigerian, religion is not spared from the scourge of this ignorance.

I can speak from a Christian point of view. How many times as a Christian have you had a catholic vs. protestant discussion that turned into an argument because one person refused to listen to the other person’s viewpoint. You know the “you worship Mary” versus “you speak gibberish in the name of tongues” type of argument. Why is this ignorant? You have refused to understand the reason why a person believes what they believe and insist that your viewpoint is the right one and the person better join you or you insinuate that they will go to hell. You forget that as corny as ecumenism might sound to you, there is a fundamental thing you both share, Jesus. Of course, this also applies to the Muslim versus Christianity debate most of us have been having since we were in primary school fueled by our parental brainwashing and strict adherence to religious values that made us into little fundamentalists. Some of us grew out of it and became more accepting others didn’t. Go figure.

At the end of the day, as simplistic as this may sound, I believe that many of the debates we have as individuals and as a nation be it personal or in the media need to based on facts and not sentiment. It would be hard for our nation to move forward if we always base our decision on sentiment and not cold hard facts. The world operates on fact; we have been operating on sentiment for 50 years of independence. Committing coup after coup for selfish reasons without thinking of the wider ramifications, selling out our country to feed our pockets, spreading hateful and divisive messages, etc. A country cannot function on generalizations. In the fight against ignorance I believe the media and we as individuals have key parts to play. For the media, it is key that you report verified news. Don’t report hearsay, back up your information with cold hard facts. Don’t give us one-sided news, lets hear from both sides of an argument. We the individuals and citizens of this great nation have a responsibility in our daily dealings to always try to understand the other person’s point of view. It will help our nation and also make us better human beings. So next time before you express your opinion, remember to “understand before you criticize.”

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