Finally, we eased out of the sluggish-sweat-inducing traffic; it was the type of congestion that Lagos highways are popularly known for. We got to the part where the driver could now flex his speeding skills and I heaved a sigh of relief. At least the sweating can take a break, thanks to the rushing in of the wind as the bus sped by. I could even stretch my legs a little.
After moving for like 15 minutes, we slowed down at the sight of a broken bus, with all the passengers outside by the side of the road. This bus is the same type as the bus I was in – we call it Tata. It is the exact opposite of the BRT buses and a little higher than the former Molue buses. On days when I don’t have the patience and strength to join the long queue for BRT buses, I board the Tata.
As anticipated, the passengers started scrambling to get into our bus and with the help of the bus conductor, a few got in.
That’s how the insults started o. This woman who ‘lapped’ her daughter started it and others joined. In a loud voice, she insulted the conductor in Yoruba language “olóríburúkú… wèrè…”
She kept screaming that he wants to suffocate her in this bus o; this bus that’s already filled with people that were standing, and he’s taking in more people that’ll now come and block the little air she’s been getting.
Me and the person who sat beside me turned to look at each other and shook our heads in disbelief. We knew when this woman got into the bus – a bus that was already full. We saw how she frantically searched to get a seat and only got one for her and her daughter. How she tried to shame the conductor beats us.
“Aṣiwèrè, orí ẹ ti bà jẹ́ pátápátá…” she continued and others joined in the curses.
“You see people?” I said to my seat-mate, “These ones will go to church on Sunday and lift up holy hands…” and that’s how we got another topic to talk about.
This is what I have come to recognise… that people lack empathy.
On October 1st, when people were lamenting about the poor state of the country; about how the country is still plagued with corrupt leadership, lacks basic social amenities that are capable of improving the lives of the average Nigerian, and how the Independence Day isn’t worth celebrating. Someone on Twitter said Nigeria is getting better. She said she has lived in Nigeria for 7 years and as far as she is concerned, Nigeria is “consistently getting better”. I call that “False optimism”.
I have also realised that privilege, most times, causes blindness.
I totally understand when you claim Nigeria is getting better. I do not blame you. You’re privileged and oblivious to the sufferings the average Nigerian goes through to get by on a daily basis. And it’s painless to live in your world – a world cushioned by means – and then look at the rest of the world through optimistic eyes. You see opportunities and resources in abundance, you see talents waiting to be tapped. But you don’t see poverty. So when people complain and criticise the government, you question why. You have the “I don’t know about you, I’m good” syndrome.
How far does your empathy take you?
That’s if you’ve got any.
When you see a tweet about a missing person, do you retweet and say a prayer for the person to be found, or do you quickly scroll and thank God it’s not your relative? When you hear rape victims recount their gory stories, do you find a way to whip out your morals and lash at them or do you feel sorry for their plight? When you see someone sleeping under the bridge, looking scruffy in tattered clothes, do you ask yourself when last the person had a good bath and a meal or do you wonder how lazy the person must be? When someone comes to you for succour, complaining about a particular problem, do you add fuel to the fire by quickly saying your own story “hmm, my brother, it’s not only you o!”
You see, empathy takes you places. It places you right in the shoes of that stranded passenger – and you automatically make space in the bus. It places you in the heart of many underprivileged Nigerians. It makes you recognise that the government has a lot to do in tackling poverty and you want to add your voice in calling for change.
You are living well. You have access to proper medical healthcare. NEPA doesn’t happen to you. You don’t know what ASUU means. Your skin is popping, your hair is glowing and your stomach is flat like an ironing board. That job nko, you got it. You even have multiple streams of income. SARS has never arrested you unlawfully. Everything is fine for you!
I recognise your privilege and I’m tempted to ask “God when?”, but don’t you invalidate the bitter experiences of others. Don’t be like the young lady who claims she gave birth within 10minutes and went ahead to talk down on women who had painful childbirths. She said she didn’t scream or cry and the women who do so are “weak as hell”. I can’t deal!
The shoe doesn’t have to fit. You don’t have to be the rape victim. What empathy does is to make you feel the pinch. To feel where that beggar hurts the most, where that young man hustling to sell Gala hurts. It makes you see where that young mother with no husband, that couple whose house got flooded and lost everything, that victim of religious crisis and that girl selling pure water hurts… the world is hurting, don’t look away.
Imagine how differently you would act if that someone sleeping under the bridge is a lost relative who couldn’t find his way back home. Imagine if that stranded passenger was your spouse or that missing child was your niece. What if that young widow was your friend? If that student seeking funds was your child nko? You wouldn’t quickly scroll or walk by, you would pause and take action.
This is what empathy does. It makes you pause, listen, feel… and then swings you into action. It’s propelling. You don’t need to open a charity organisation. Start with your neighbour!
Now imagine when empathy jams love. Humanity go make sense die!