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Reuben Abati: Why Nigerians are Special



Reuben Abati - Bella NaijaWhatever problem we may have in Nigeria at this or any other time, this country is sustained by the fact that we are indeed a very special people. We have been described as the happiest people on earth, we have also described ourselves as resilient, gifted and determined, and in one report, Nigerians are said to have the strongest shock absorber against some of the deadliest diseases in the world. If anyone doubted this last point, well, recall that we won the battle over Ebola virus, and polio. The more you look at it, the more it seems as if there is something in the Nigerian DNA that defies defeat, that automatically deletes any virus that can result in system shut down, there is that X-factor in our affairs that rises when hope seems lost, and life seems tragic. Somehow, the Nigerian spirit regenerates, recreates and reinvents itself, turns failure into possibilities, pessimism into new expectations, and tomorrow into an anchor for renewal.

We are at such a crossroad, right now. But in the midst of the despair, the listlessness, the anxiety, the what-happened-to-us and what-the hell-is-going-on, you can’t miss the fact that the average Nigerian has not lost his bounce. The biggest tragedies that can hobble other nations happen here and we just shrug them off. Boko Haram alone has claimed thousands of lives. Hun hun. Herdsmen have killed men and women in their hundreds. Hun hun. More lives have been lost to vehicle accidents on our poorly made, badly maintained roads. Well, hun hun. Many fingers have been caught in the national cookie jar. Ha. What is this? Who dunnit? But, o ma se o. hun hun. The national leaky bucket has a thousand holes. Ha, no country can live with this? Still, hen hun hun. We voted and there were promises of a new spirit of the age. But that spirit is yet to manifest. So? Nothing good comes easy, therefore. No miracles in the new agenda. So, ni igba yen wa n ko? So, life goes on.

Whatever life throws at the average Nigerian, he protests, he complains, but he accommodates it. It is the reason why nobody will throw stones because power supply is at the worst level in years. It is the reason why workers who have not been paid for months after months will still see the same Governor who is responsible for their misery, after collecting Federal money to help them, and has refused to deliver and they will still scream: “My Excellency, sir.” When workers go on strike, someone calls them together, says something nice, provides something nice and everything falls nicely in place. The late Chief MKO Abiola was quoted saying “eto ni gbogbo e”, that is anything in Nigeria can be arranged nicely.

The June 12 debacle sadly could not be arranged nicely. It cost the Chief of native wisdom and martyr of Nigerian democracy his life, but many lessons have been learnt. And one key lesson is that in this country, the people are determined to live no matter what. They can grumble as they wish about the public space but Nigerians are not ready to give up their will to live, their right to live and their understanding of how to live. And if you put your neck on the line on their behalf, you will be shocked that you will the subject of memes and what’s app jokes. The people laugh at martyrs and heroes because they see no reason why anyone should commit suicide, defending Nigeria, when there is so much life to be enjoyed.

Nigeria is probably the global headquarters of enjoyment. The way the ordinary man has complained in recent times, about political change and the socio-cultural changes it has brought, you would think Nigerians are in serious trouble. But that is not the case. The foreign exchange market has gone into a crazy overdrive impoverishing the whole nation. Parents whose children are schooling abroad are afraid that they may no longer be able to pay fees. The manufacturing sector is abusing the Minister of Finance-what’s-that-her-name-again? and where-did-she-learn-finance-public-policy-and-economics, but I beg, look around, more businesses are actually springing up and all those foreign investors who are supposedly monitoring the Nigerian market are actually clinging to this market. Why do you think MTN wants to remain in Nigeria till death do them part? Why do you think all those foreign countries want President Buhari to visit? The banks have retrenched a lot of staff but the same banks have started recruiting again. In this country, what you see is not what you get. There is problem with foreign exchange but activities at the ports have not ceased. Wait till September, you’d be shocked the number of Nigerian children heading towards Europe, North America and other parts of Africa in pursuit of expensive, forex-backed education.

I beg, leave matter. And if you don’t want to leave it go to the nearest fuel station where many Nigerians are queuing up for fuel with power generating sets and jerry cans. The people are going through the hardship but they are laughing at their leaders. You think you can mess us up, na lie. If you people like, sell fuel for N150, we go survive. They stay in front of that fuel station and they review Nigeria’s history and lament the choices they have made, but their spirit remains strong. That is what makes them Nigerian. Go to the vendors’ stand. The crowd of poor people who cannot afford to buy a newspaper copy, have all the same listened to the news and the only place where they can compete as pundits is that roadside corner, where sometimes one drunken idiot loses control behind the wheels and sheds human blood, wasting those who have gathered not to buy any newspaper but to debate Nigeria. This special crowd knows it all. You don’t want to get involved with them. They will remind you that a Ph.D holder is actually a real idiot, and that nobody needs certificates of any type to be a Nigerian, and well they add too, that if you ever worked in government, then you are a confirmed idiot, and a professional trickster.

Nigerians are so inventive, they find every way of beating bad news, bad experience, or anything that tries to defeat them. Everyone says there is no money in town, they claim things have gone from bad to worse but the parties have not stooped. Go to any of the joints around Lagos, nothing has been spoiled. Isi ewu, nkwobi, asun, sawa, orisirisi, point and kill have all defied the Forex market. Yes, the price of staple commodities has risen, but that has not stopped the people from throwing lavish wedding parties. Nor has it stopped anybody from marrying three times when once is enough: our people do traditional wedding – valid, they go to the registry: valid, they rush to church- valid: rather than marry once, they do it thrice all within a week. Nor has the austerity in town stopped anybody from burying the dead as if the more money is thrown at the grave, the likeliest the possibility of the dead suddenly becoming a Lazarus of the 21st century.

Is there poverty in town? You answer that question based on the evidence of your eyes. What I have seen is that Nigerians are still living as if there is too much money in the country. Take a look at the garments Nigerians wear every week. We certainly don’t look like electricity is a problem or that money is in short supply. Soon it will be another Ojude oba among the Ijebus, for example. You go and check them out. As a teacher at Ogun State University in those days, (I served later as member of the Governing Council), we used to go from one party to the other, guzzling free food and quaffing free drinks. Today, those lavish parties have not ceased. Nobody eats like that in Europe or North America. When you go to all the old joints, in Agarawu in Lagos or Tarmac, nothing has changed either. The music still flows, the swag is on. Elsewhere, new buildings are springing up; new cars are being “washed”, additional wives are being acquired. Leave matter, I beg. Nigeria will survive, and these same people who are complaining about change, you’d be shocked, they’d still vote for their stomachs in 2019.

And that is why Nigeria is one country that beats all the textbook theories. We are just something else. There is more in the social arena that defines who we are, than in the theoretical arena. The same people who are complaining that they have not seen change are actually hoping for more. They are not ready to adjust. They are not ready to make sacrifices. If they have an opportunity to be close to government in any way, they will jump at it. The corruption that we talk about is not just in government corridors, it is in society, but the one inside society is so difficult to trap because it is amorphous and inchoate in so many respects. Invariably, the snake feeds on itself: mobius strip.

What we are left with is the image of the people laughing at government and themselves. Have you taken time out to check what happens on social media? Anybody who ever ventured into governance is easy game. The people design caricatures and mock them. Nigeria produces more memes and graphics than any other country in Africa not necessarily because of the events that happen here but because of the people’s consciousness, and if I may add, private greed. In that other world, political change is ridiculed, poverty is deplored, GEJ is becoming a saint and PMB a villain, but the people are still having fun, and blaming Nigeria and the politicians. I tell you, the problem with Nigeria is not the politicians but the people themselves. We are very special people, but we don’t really know what we want, and because we are like that, we confuse the politicians and the nation. But for as long as we can wear those impressive attires and throw those parties and dance to old music and pay our private bills, we see no reason to care enough. Pity is: no country can ever move ahead if the people do not care enough. For us, life goes on, no matter what.


  1. Tosin

    March 18, 2016 at 7:54 am

    Gistiful and masterful.

  2. jummai

    March 18, 2016 at 8:32 am

    So in a nutshell you are asking us to vote out Buhari in 2019…….OK noted but speaking of YOU, YOU also kicked your first wife out and married a new bride when you got to the Corridors of Power…..well you are also a Nigerian and that makes you one of us.

    • Chu

      March 18, 2016 at 4:11 pm

      Can we not always throw the baby out with the bath water. He is not perfect but he made a valid point. Nigerians do not care enough, and you validated his point by refusing to see the sense in his write up and critisizing his person. Is he part of our problem, probably, we all our, the question is when will we wake from our slumber?

  3. Vann

    March 18, 2016 at 9:17 am

    There is something in our DNA alright. Nigerians are all of those things because Nigeria as a country can’t help them. I guess the going ons in this country is the reason why we are tough and party hard. Before i drop my mic, all hail Nigerians. We too much!
    Ps: hun hun? Really?! What’s with that?

  4. Anne1

    March 18, 2016 at 10:58 am

    Once again, Reuben Abati is on point with this article. The problem is not only with the politicians per say, but the Nigerian people who still carry on as if nothing is happening and still throw lavish parties and speak with both sides of their mouth (today they blame GEJ for all their problems and the next day it is PMB) – not sure of what exactly it is they want. Well done sir! Fellow right-thinking Nigerians, we need to go back to our drawing boards and amend our ways.

    • ElessarisElendil

      March 18, 2016 at 1:38 pm

      There is no such thing as a right thinking Nigeria, we’re all Nigerians. Such veiled elitism is part of the problem with American democracy right now.

      Of course they’re Nigerians we temporarily disagree with, but we will all eventually find the right path.

      The drawing board involves a completely new political party campaigning on a new constitution and with completely new faces front and center driving policy. Ideas?

  5. Indianna Jones

    March 18, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    I have a problem with the entire article (it’s Rueben Abati, how can I not?) especially this bit: “Nigeria produces more memes and graphics than any other country in Africa”.

    Ok Oga sir, you got your facts and figures from where, the air? Did a statistician conduct a survey and say “wow these Nigerians sure do like their memes”? Or is this statement pure conjecture? A guesstimate of what you think is going on in Africa and the world? If it is why should I take anything else you are saying seriously? If you don’t have solid facts and figures then don’t keep writing articles based on half truths and half baked facts to enable you remain relevant. Instead, engage in farming/agriculture like the government has been encouraging young people to do. I hear farming is the new “oil well”.

    By the way, I’m not pro Buhari but the electricity in my town has been way better, these last few months, than it has ever been in the past.

  6. Jamila E

    March 18, 2016 at 4:18 pm

    Reuben Abati is such a beautiful writer.
    I think what makes Nigerians special is that combination of complacency and the ability to accept mediocrity or maybe they have just become immune to the actions of the government.

  7. Chu

    March 18, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    Nigerians can be do filled with hate that they can’t be objective. Reuben disappointed us when in govt but it doesn’t mean his points aren’t valid. I agree totally with him, our problem is not the govt its the people,. Yea things are worse off but it’s a product of years of neglect and unfortunately the present govt is still trying to get a hang of things. The light tariff was increased despite senate saying it shouldn’t be but we have no choice but to pay despite the fact that the light has worsened. We say we are tough and can take whatever comes our way but the truth is that we are just to lazy to fight for ourselves. We get pushed to the wall but instead of getting fighting back, we break the wall and keep going back.
    I get tired of talking about Nigeria cos what’s the use of complaining with no solution to proffer, no single person has brought forth a solution, that is why it’s all man for himself, each person just wants to amass what he can for himself while the house is falling down. Sometimes I get weary for this country and my hope is almost diminished, but where there is hope…..
    Btw, think I shd change my name to epistle alert as I always end up writing long posts, sigh.

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