‘Normalizing’ Abnormality: A familiar Nigerian tale By Al-Amin Abba Dabo

In summary, a pre-requisite for any proposed solution would be to change our mentality as a people, then change our system of governance and then expect positive results.

I am sure every Nigerian could write a book on our nation’s ongoing problems. We are all tired, frustrated. When will things change in this country? What is wrong with Nigeria? However, I have come to realise that Nigeria is not the problem. In fact, Nigeria has served us very well indeed. The problem is NOT Nigeria. The problem is spelt just like Nigeria, but with two consonants (n and s) added at the end. The problem is NIGERIANS. We have dragged Nigeria’s reputation in the mud, shamed our motherland and been our own worst enemies. So what is the basis of my rather clichéd statement?

In the past few weeks, two events have kept me up at night. Not much does that, by the way. Nevertheless, these events ought to keep any Nigerian awake. Firstly, scores of students were massacred in Mubi, Adamawa state. Secondly, four students were brutally murdered by a village mob in Aluu LGA, Rivers state. I won’t discuss the reasons behind the killings because NO REASON, I repeat, NO REASON, would be good enough to warrant those heinous, mindless acts.

I relate to these events particularly because I am a student myself and share a lot in common with the victims that were murdered in both events. I want to address the first event. I am sure, we all deject and condemn all acts of violence at whatever scale; but this has blown off any scale. This is just inconceivable. It’s beyond my ability to even imagine how traumatizing it must have been for those students, being called by their names and being murdered in cold blood. Word has it that elections within the polytechnic might have triggered this despicable act. Elections? Are you serious? Wait! Wait! Wait! Let me rephrase that. Polytechnic elections?

Rather than asking what Nigeria has become, I say, what have Nigerians turned into? It is definitely an innate behaviour for humans to value life but committers of such crimes were clearly not born with it. How do the perpetrators sleep at night? Their eyes might close, but God does not slumber. In this life or the next, justice shall be done.

This brings me to the second event.

Four Port Harcourt university students were accused of theft. Okay! Accused of theft! No big deal, I won’t judge, one would say. ‘Innocent until proven guilty’. We’ve all heard that, either in movies, from our parents or friends or you might have just heard it from me. These students, however, were stripped naked, beaten out of consciousness and were burnt to death. If you need a reminder of the severity of this case, stick your finger in a naked flame to rediscover what being burnt feels like.

I can’t find the right words to express how disgusted I was to see pictures and videos of the killings. Yes, I saw the pictures and a video. We all did! It is not peculiar for Nigerians to whip out their phones and start recording moments of primitive, inhumane behaviour. They consider it ‘action-packed’ and invaluable social networking and Blackberry-broadcasting material.

One has to be scarred for life seeing such. The audience was chanting ‘ Dis one no die, hit am again’ and ‘Fire’ as a man was striking the head of one of the victims with a massive piece of wood. Women, children, the elderly were all present. NOT a single soul spoke out against the actions of the mob. To be fair, even if one thought it was unacceptable, to speak out at that time would probably have yielded no results. Again, there are conflicting stories as to whether the students were guilty or not but that is not important. No one deserves to be treated in such a wicked, vile and unforgivable way. Animals wouldn’t behave in such a way, and yet, some Nigerians do so.

I know we all have opinions as to what the causes of such acts in Nigeria are. Perhaps the most popular would be the ‘failure of government’ or ‘poverty’. There are numerous opinions on the causes of ‘de-humanization’ of Nigerians, and henceforth I bless you with mine:

‘Normalizing’ Abnormality

Eventually, living in a country where the definition of ‘normal’ has been severely distorted, you always stand the risk of generalising it to the outside world. We tend to accept things that would be regarded as completely outrageous in ‘sane’ communities. Picture these few random scenarios that we witness almost daily, but consider ‘normal’ in Nigeria:

· Killing and maiming of innocent Nigerians, by Nigerians.

· Kidnapping of innocent Nigerians and foreigners, by Nigerians.

· Children as young as four years-old with no shoes and clothing, roaming around traffic lights and residential areas (Almajiri). Its only normal isn’t it? I’m sure we would all be able to find food and comfortably live, if we were sent out by our families when we were four. No?

· The disabled (that can’t walk) getting on skateboards and dangerously manoeuvring between cars in traffic lights and junctions.

· Folding our arms, praying and hoping for change.

I could go on and on about these sort of issues. The list is endless. No one thinks it is absolutely mind-boggling seeing kids beg for money to buy food on the road? We don’t lose sleep over it, do we? We occasionally give them N20-N50 to sort themselves out. Let them buy bread or something. They don’t need to find out what shawarma, suya or chicken tastes like. Hell, they don’t even need to wear shoes or have proper clothing. Harmattan is not that cold, they don’t need sweaters. Actually, they could light a camp fire somewhere if it gets chilly. No?

How about the physically challenged that ride skateboards? Those guys are very athletic aren’t they? It must be real fun to manoeuvre through cars at traffic lights, don’t you think? I’m sure if they put their heads together with the blind and crippled, they could come up with ways to feed themselves. No?

How about Cynthia, the daughter of retired Gen. Osokogu, that got kidnapped and murdered by Uni-Lag (Oh sorry, Mea Culpa, meant to say Moshood Abiola University) students? We’ve forgotten about her already? Surely not!!

How about the mob that killed the four students in presence of children? Even the children with the most incorruptible minds would be shaken, being witnesses to such. The gravest danger of all is for the kids to ‘normalize’ such an act.

How about the innocent students killed in Mubi? Imagine having your lifetime ambitions; surviving through all those boring classes/lectures; just for someone to needlessly end your life. Unthinkable right? I know.

In my opinion, the socially acceptable levels of insanity in Nigeria have gone through the roof. We have grown particularly insensitive about the plight of others and have become undisputed champions at playing the ‘Blame game’. We have managed to silence the voices in our heads telling us to change for the better or to act or speak up. We have become pawns, controlled and held hostage by our own inability to speak the truth and our cowardice to act upon it.

Nigerians are religious people. Whatever your faith, God listens and answers your prayers. What God will not do, is come down to solve your self-inflicted problems. However, being The All Kind, God will empower you to solve them yourselves. Folding your arms and praying will not change anything. Our Ancestors have been praying long before us. To move Nigeria forward, we need to change as a people and quit lamenting. Nigeria needs all hands on deck, so do the little you can. Do what is within your power, as I have just done.

But what good would telling you what you already know do? I wouldn’t be practicing what I preach if I left this article right here. Yes, I have highlighted the obvious problems we all know about. Everyone can do that right? I would be ‘normalizing’ the abnormal if I just state the problems and offer no solutions.

To proffer solutions, it is paramount to effectively define and understand your problem and its causes. I am sure we can all agree that the ‘failure of government’ is a factor to blame. Yes, we have severely under-achieved as a nation but even more so, as a people. We have allowed ourselves to be subjected to such unfair, ludicrous and farcical leadership.

We clearly do not trust the government enough to rely on it to solve our problems. If track record is anything to go by, that of the Nigerian government is laughable. In fact, I can boldly state that the government cannot solve all our problems. The solutions lie with us. It is worth noting, that a government is a reflection of its people. Serious people have serious governments. So why is Nigeria lagging behind? What have Nigerians been doing wrong? What is the way forward?

The answers to those questions vary and are subjective. We can all offer guidelines and propose solutions that we believe would change things for the better. Hold your thoughts for a second. Let me first highlight our biggest problem as a people and offer this vitally important pre-requisite to your proposed solutions.

Let us think ‘Nigerian’

Our main problem is functioning as one people. We have divided ourselves along religious and ethnical lines. We can’t/don’t think as Nigerians. Unless we put all our differences aside, think of ourselves as one, then we should not expect any positive changes. What sort of future are we building when we have no tolerance for anything different from what we are used to? Imagine what impact the elimination of religious and ethnical sentiments would have on governance. I will let you digest that.

Undoubtedly, the government would have a significant role in helping us achieve unison. There is dire need for accountability, transparency and more effective governance. Most problems would have to be tackled at the grassroots. The fundamental reason why we were/are subjected to bad leadership is due to our obvious weakness and fragility in thinking and acting as one. If we really want the changes we feel we deserve, national cooperation is an absolute sine qua non.

In summary, a pre-requisite for any proposed solution would be to change our mentality as a people, then change our system of governance and then expect positive results. For us to achieve this, we would need an overhaul and reform of our education systems, regulation of religious dogma and even supervision of parenting traits. It is certainly a lot of work but our perseverance will get us there, eventually.

God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria

Al-Amin Abba Dabo wrote from Preston, United Kingdom. He can be reached at daboalamin@yahoo.com

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