By Raliat Oluyemisi Sunmonu
Nigeria may be home to more than 200 different ethnic groups, everyday may bring a new religious/ethnic strife and it may be next to impossible to find two Nigerians from different parts of the country who agree on any political point, but if there is one thing that unites us all, it's what is euphemistically called "The Nigerian Mentality" or TNM.
To the un-initiated, the TNM is that powerful, mystical force that any Nigerian who has lived at home for any period over a year quickly acquires. Even non-Nigerians who spend some amount of time in that country have been known to be afflicted with that dreaded disease. TNM distinguishes us from any other peoples. It is our excuse for the numerous maladies that affect our country, the reason why new, revolutionary ideas will not work because "this is Nigeria we're talking about, after all". No one is exempt; it permeates all aspects of our society and all facets of people. Observe:
The Attack of the Useless Committees, Endless Commissions and Trivial Panels
What? 200 people killed in yet another Ife/Modakeke feud? Huh? Hundreds of people killed and displaced in the latest ethnic/religious clashes in the North? Set up a commission immediately. Another oil shortage? Long fuel lines? Pipeline fire? We must have a committee to look into this. We will spend plenty of time, money and other resources to set up these panels and have them present their reports which no one ever pays attention to. At least then we cannot be accused of not doing something.
This particular manifestation of TNM is based on the time-honored rule that there is nothing that cannot be ignored with the help of a panel, committee or panel.
We are on Strike!
It used to be (a very long time ago, it seems) that industrial actions or strikes were the last resort. Now, it seems they are the answer to everything. Doctors are sorely underpaid so they go on strike; then just as they're coming back, nurses embark on their strike; then it's the hospital staff's turn. The same thing with schools. Students make a lot of noise, soldiers come in, kill a few; the students riot, the schools are closed. The lecturers go on strike, the schools are closed. The non-teaching university staff go on strike. The schools are closed…get the picture? Transportation workers are sick of being harassed by the police. They go on strike. Workers in the oil sector go on strike. The only people who never go on strike are police, soldiers and armed robbers.
I am not denying that conditions sometimes warrant it, but it seems that instead of being just one of the bargaining tools available to workers, it has become the only tool. Unfortunately, the people most severely affected by these actions are the common people who cannot afford to send their sick ones abroad for medical treatment, send their children to foreign schools or drive around in their luxurious cars without resorting to public transportation.
Party Till You Drop!
I doubt if anyone anywhere can match Nigerians in opulence and flamboyance, especially when it comes to parties. Where else can a person turn a public street (!) into his personal party hall, without anyone, least of all the authorities, batting an eye?
In a country where many people live in poverty, people throw lavish parties where money is "sprayed" almost indiscriminately on dancers.
It's Tribalism, Stupid!
Personally, I find this to be the most irksome aspect of the Nigerian mentality. In Nigeria, almost anything can be boiled down to tribalism. Just about any argument can be won by playing the tribal card. "They did this to me because I'm Ibo." "I didn't get the job because I'm not from the north." "We're sorry we can't offer you the position because we've already satisfied our quota of people from the south-east."
And on it goes. As people never tire of pointing out, Nigeria is an artificial creation of the British. This is true enough. It is also true that we haven't found the right formula for making things work together-the never-ending ethnic feuds, riots and clashes attest to that fact. Some have advocated that we go our separate ways. The only problem I have with that solution is that it hardly solves anything. All it ensures is people have a better chance of being oppressed, repressed and cheated by their own tribesman instead of someone from a different ethnic group. And can you imagine the fight for resource control? I shudder just thinking about it.
It Will Never Work in Nigeria!
Got an idea for doing something in Nigeria you think is brilliant, maybe even revolutionary? Great. Discussed it with other Nigerians? Not so great. The standard response many Nigerians seem to have to various ideas, innovations, suggestions, etc. is that, Nigeria being Nigeria, it can never work.
I am all for being realistic and weighing the risks and consequences of any line of action, but I am just so sick of hearing that. It seems to have become our excuse for why things work the way they do or why they don't work the way they should. Granted Nigeria is a terrifying prospect for anyone trying to do anything but we do ourselves a great disservice with our pessimism.
I could go on and on but why bore everyone? Better minds than mine have all written about one aspect or the other of this peculiar disease. If there is a bright side to all this, it's that at least now we can say to those who claim there is nothing that binds us together as Nigerians: ha! You are wrong!