“Doesn’t being Nigerian make you immune to human suffering?” These being the words of Right Honorable Sir Farouk that were spoken once upon a chat. Now let us go into Nigerian movie mode and indulge me and take a flashback to an earlier point in time, circa when I first went to the US. Well maybe not exactly the first time but around the first charity event I could vividly remember going to in college. It was something or the other about Ugandan child soldiers and it was a documentary screening followed by a talk about the situation at the time and how we could get involved or donate to help these former Ugandan child soldiers get the rehabilitation they needed. Now while the documentary was going on, I looked left and right and noticed that the oyibo people were shedding tears or at least a tear dropped while they were watching the sad story. I maintained a pretty (or handsome) straight face, I was more of trying to figure out what the documentary was about and although it did make me a bit sad, I wasn’t filled the urge to adopt a million former child soldiers and no I did not shed a tear. Was something wrong with me? Of course there is the role that being brought up a man in Nigeria/Africa plays. You are supposed to be all strong and stoic, the perfect Robocop with little or no emotions. But that is not the crux of it, recently I realized that part of the reason that the suffering of these other people did not bother me was because I was brought up in Nigeria…
Yes, yes I went there. Shoot me or sue me. I m bullet and lawyer proof! So I have a theory to support my assertion that immunity to the suffering and plight of others can be linked to being brought up in Nigeria. In summary, my theory is that majority of Nigerians even those who live in the bubble of the upper class are witness to the suffering that goes on in our society and ignore this suffering so much so that they become numb to suffering. For example, in a lot of cities in Nigeria there are beggars on the streets, a lot of them with all sorts of physical challenges and so on and yes people do give them alms/donations but there is something detached about even doing that which prevents majority of Nigerians from truly empathizing with the plights of these less fortunate ones in our society. And of course you have stories of people disappearing once they hand one of these beggars money, stories how some of these beggars have mansions somewhere and were told by the babalawo to come beg or something, or the religious or tribal sentiment (I call this the “why should I give money to these dirty mallams who won’t hesitate to slit my throat if given a chance”) that prevent certain people from giving to these people. Of course there are those of us that feel these people are a nuisance and applaud attempts by government to get them removed from the cities.
I would be amiss to mention the also equally Nigerian syndrome of “I don’t care unless it directly affects me, my family or someone I know”. This attitude is not outright said but it plays out in the way we react to tragedy was a nation. The typical cycle is that some form of tragedy happens, people who are somewhat directly affected or know someone who is affected get sad and react, others feign sympathy and thank God that they or anyone they know did not suffer from the tragedy and soon enough they forget about the initial tragedy and move on their regular business, why? Because that’s the Nigerian way. This also plays a part in why we are numb to suffering.
I would remiss to not mention how once upon a time we were the happiest people on earth according to some poll or whatever. Well I think its not so much that we are happy despite all the poor conditions in our country, it is a case of the rich and middle class routinely ignore the poor unless of course the poor are related to them. The rich are too busy taking care of their constituency (their immediate and extended family, their village, local government, ethnic group or people from their state) to genuinely care about other poor people, the sense of duty to this constituency prevents them from empathizing with their suffering. They help them out and hence their poor relations and constituency pray for them to succeed while hoping to strike it rich themselves. The poor on their own end don’t have time to pay attention to the suffering of others poorer or on their level because they are hustling to make it and are probably highly invested in religion because of course our society glorifies the attainment of wealth through supernatural means (blog topic?) without necessary doing what the rich do to get rich. You see ask any rich Nigerian how he/she got their wealth and the popular refrain is “Na God o”. You would think God came down from heaven with a bag of dollars and gave it to them while the poor man must have been sleeping on the said day. So the poor pray to get rich and are not empathic to the plight of others.
Its my generalization to which of course there are exceptions that Nigerians (I included) are great and all round good people but we are set up to be immuned to the suffering of our fellow countrymen. For some reason we brush off death, suffering, poverty and the likes as part of God’s will. They probably are but damn, a lot of people act like life is continuation of the sperm race where we all hustled and pushed to get to the ovary first without any care for the plight of our fellow sperms to be born. Personally, I think I am numb to suffering because I live in a society where suffering has become a part of our daily life.
So is the cure for suffering being Nigerian? Does me theory hold water? When last did you cry for Nigeria and not because someone you know died of the Nigerian condition (accident, BH, etc)? Why are we so numb as a people? Are we truly the happiest people on earth? Or do we just ignore our problems?
Aboki Shine my Shoe!