I am a very independent soul. Independent of what people say or think, or what the society deems proper or right. That is why, a lot of the times I am often appalled by the many Nigerian sensibilities that I was raised to revere and uphold. I am firstly very respectful and polite. My parents taught me to always respond to elders or greet them with a “Sir” or “Ma”. If you ask how I am, I will always respond with a “very fine, thank you”. I also think that, ‘sorry’ ‘please’ ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’ are very important words and phrases in every one’s diction. But beyond that, a lot of the other things that we hold dearly in this country are mere gibberish and completely uncalled for.
The other day, I had a business brunch in Maitama, Abuja; before then, I had an early morning meeting with another client. I was already late for the brunch when I hailed a cab to take me to the cafè. Traffic was light, but I was 15 minutes behind schedule – which I absolutely abhor. It was a pleasant drive, I got down amidst the hurry and struggled to pack my stuff into my purse when I handed the cab guy the fare we agreed on. To my surprise he said, “I no go collect am, use your right hand give me” Lord, was I shocked. Why did it matter to him that I gave him the money with a left hand. Was I obligated to hand him the money with my right hand? What if I was left-handed? A lot of things went through my mind, the driver was obviously older, but I refused to be bullied into doing what I did not see the need for. I damned the meeting and stood my ground. Told him he could either take it from my left hand or forget it. A minute later I alighted and made my way to the cafè when he came running for his money.
I am constantly wondering why it is inherent for Nigerians to push down their ideals down the next person’s throat. I believe ideals are personal, and should thus remain a personal conviction not a moral standard for every other person.
I visited a church last month and while the service was on going, a man stood up from his seat which was really far from mine to tell me to “sit well” – to bring down my leg which I had involuntarily crossed. “Sit like you are in the church and not your father’s parlour”. I was short for words. For the first time my mouth failed me, I simply looked on as he went back to take his seat, feeling stoned and assaulted. I defiantly remained seated that way, even when it started hurting. Minutes later I saw him point my way as a church security came to warn me to either bring down my leg or leave the church. I smiled, and shamefully brought down my leg when the loud church security was quickly making a scene.
I didn’t understand how my leg-crossing was ungodly, how it stopped that man from listening to the sermon. I wondered that day if it was really the crossed legs or my Burberry shoe that distracted him. Why did it matter so much to him, to the point he had to take it upon himself to call the ‘church corps’ on me?
Every day I come across some very Nigerian things that I feel are really bizarre. Like how my 40 year old friend thinks that it is not in my place to ask older people how they are doing, or stretch out my hand for a handshake first, or call them by their names when I could always attach an uncle or aunt as a pre-fix. “You’re after all only 21” he would always conclude.
Because of my kind of job, I get to mingle and meet people that are decades and years older than me. Most times I am the youngest person in the room, and the proper Nigerian thing to do would be to either remain quiet and listen or be the last to speak, of which I have never regarded, especially when I have something insightful and relevant to say.
I’ve always wondered why even during official gatherings we always try to bring in so much familiarity into our discussions. We tend to address each other as “my brother” or “my sister” when the appropriate thing to say is “Mr” this or “Ms” that. Back when President Goodluck Jonathan was in power, he had a media meeting of some sort. And while addressing one of the female reporters I remember him starting with, “My sister”. As well meaning as that was, I could not help but wonder. Your sister? How? Since when?
Or how you meet a person and the first thing they ask you is, “where are you from”, for which I always respond with a “I am from Nigeria”. And they get frustrated or irritated (as the case maybe) and ask, ” I mean, what tribe are you?”. I remember a particular instance where I was introduced to a record label boss who was interested in hiring my services for a couple of videos his label was working on. We met over launch, and the first thing he said after the pleasantaries was, “are you Igbo or Yoruba”, I smiled and said ” I am neither of the two, but I am a well meaning Nigerian”. I was disturbed at how he expected me to be either of the two tribes, like there are 250 ethnic groubs in Nigeria, why did it have to be those two that I should come from? It was as if he desperately wanted me to be from his tribe.
My question is, is it not enough to just be Nigerian? Must I be something else? And of what significance is my tribe or region to how you relate with me?
A lot of times we are very intrusive with a disturbing sense of societal obligation (like the need to chastise the next person even if what he or she is doing is none of our business). But, everyday the world is getting smaller, and a lot of Nigerians are beginning to realise the need for personal space and boundaries, and until we all learn to come to terms with all these, we will continuously irritate and intrude and disrespect each other, on the assumption that we are only being Nigerians.
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