INSIDE NIGERIA: When Individualism becomes a Curse

Posted: July 25, 2014 in Articles, INSIDE NIGERIA
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by Okoye Chukwudi Charles Ezeamalukwuo

They picked Akanni up one morning
Beat him soft like clay
And stuffed him down the belly
Of a waiting jeep.

What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

—Niyi Osundare (Not My Business)

Mr Bassey is a man like you and me, that feeds and bleeds and sleeps like any other. He is a husband and father of five, an okada man with meagre income and meagre importance. He has been on “Awaiting-Trial” for the past 3 months for a crime he knows nothing about…for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Today was supposed to be a good day.” he says to no one in particular.
He stands at the small aperture of his cranked up cell; a window of some sort, and lets the moon pour its silver upon his wavering frame, to illuminate and fill something as dull and broken as his spirit.
“Today was supposed to be a good day.” he repeats to himself again.
Surprise at the loudness of his thought, and at the force with which each syllable echoes back his woes. The sight of his six cell-mates soundly sleeping at his feet on worn-out mats with no care in the world, brings a flood of emotion over the dam of his perseverance.
“I should have been home by now.” he continues, silently sobbing to himself, “I should have been home to my wife and kids by now, if not for this strike.”
Mr Bassey’s case was to be tried today, being monday, and he was sure he would secure bail this time. He has already made all the necessary arrangements for his homecoming.
Finally he would hold his wife again in his arm, and watch her fall asleep with her head on his chest. Finally he would be able to see his kids again, watch them laugh and cry with equal measure…or so he thought.
Fate in the form of Nigerian Union of Judiciary (NUJ) had other plans for him. The strike began that monday, and it has been rumoured that the strike is because of government’s unwillingness to raise by 40% the leave-allowance that the NUJ has been advocating for its members. Now Mr Bassey has to wait till the strike is called off, and for a new hearing date to be fixed, to regain his freedom, which might be 1 to 2 months from the date the strike ended. One more month of captivity at least so that judges would have more money to flex with. 30 days more of penance and purgatory…he sighs as he lies down to sleep, praying that this nightmare would only be a dream.

Nigerian jails are filled with lots and lots of Mr Basseys, who though to the simple accident of birth in this area called Nigeria have found themselves as collateral damage of the individualistic ambitions of a few people.

Excessive Individualism is the greatest problem of the Nigerian Society, not corruption, not illiteracy. Individualism is the state of living for one’s self and one’s interests alone. It is a state where an individual will always place his/herself first before the common good. A state where an individual would set the whole community on fire just so that him could have warmth on a cold night.

I had an interesting chat with a fellow last week. The man should be in his early thirties. He was loud, funny, and had a weird sense of perception. He told me that since the government of Anambra banned MASSOB and other similar associations that used to terrorise law-abiding citizens, his financial status has become dire. He condemned the action of the government, saying that kidnapping and extortion from the rich or semi rich are not bad. In fact according to him, it was the duty of poor people like him to extort money from those who they perceive as better of, by any means necessary.

I need not tell you what kidnapping has done to the economy and development of South Eastern Nigeria. But this has not deterred the few people who do it, even in the face of the great misery it has brought upon the region as a whole.

The standard of Education is poor in Nigeria, but who cares; the man who can’t afford Private School tuition for his kids. I know a principal who runs his government secondary school like a cattle ranch. Everyone is admitted and everyone is promoted to the next class provided the right amount of money is exchanged. This principal has his children in private schools that pays up to N50,000 per term for each child…while the children of the poor who are in his charge are left to stray in the grassland of pure folly.

It is now an unspoken agreement that Nigerian Government is a hive of limitless honey. Often times have I heard Nigerians say that when they get into power, that they would surely steal their share. It is now a norm to steal while in government. In fact failure to do so might lead to excommunication by one’s family and kin, or even death.

Nigeria is dying right before our eyes. People are suffering untold hardship in the midst of plenty, but those of us who sleep soundly and wake up knowing that 3 square meal awaits us, are immune to this plight. We look at their pain-ridden faces, but we have scaled our eyes, lest we see and feel compassion for them.

On my visit to Abuja this year, I saw a full grown man stretched forth on the grass beside a gutter by the road in Utako estate asleep (or dead), for he neither stirred nor moved even though it was a hot afternoon and the cars were honing pass. I know that a lot of people had seen him lying there, but no-one cared enough to ask if he was asleep or dead. I had to report this to the security men stationed in the house beside where he was lying, before anyone made an effort to lend a caring tongue.

Our excessive Individualism has made us indifferent to the dying cries of many. We are so caught up in our struggle, in our hustle to care. Some have even taken their individualism to the next step that they now derive pleasure in the plight of others.

I was in a bus one-day, when we passed a man being made to frog-jump by the military men. The man was obviously in pains, staggering, crying even, while they kicked him and flogged him with their “koboko-cane”. One of the passengers in our bus, busted out laughing, brought out his phone and started recording it, saying that he had gotten this exact treatment and no one came to his rescue, so now it is the turn of another, and he wouldn’t let the entertainment go to waste.

Indeed! Nigeria is filled with so many sick and deranged individuals. We have allowed the madness of a few organised individuals to affect us, to influence us, to change us, that we can no longer help others or be helped ourselves.

But shall we continue this way, as zombies marching forward with hand outstretched and eyes dead as the night? Is there no light at the end of this really long and dark tunnel? I do not believe that we have lost all our conscience, that we have slipped totally from reason. We can still affect positive change, if we start today to be our brother’s keeper. We can help make our yards, our streets, our schools, our workplaces what we want it to be, a place of brotherhood, if we could stop today and retreated our steps from this abyss which we are fast descending into.

For If we don’t, if we continue like the Man in Osundare’s poem; who sits and eat his yam indifferent to the plight of people around him, then the crises will continue. Yesterday was the turn of Akanni, Today is the turn of Mr Bassey, Tomorrow may be your turn, or your children, your lovers, your dear friends’ turn…and the jeep will be waiting on that bewildered lawn, waiting, waiting in its usual silence…because everyone else is so caught up in their individualism to care.
Okoye Chukwudi Ezeamalukwuo writes from Onitsha, Nigeria. You may reach Okoye Ezeamalukwuo on Twitter: @mr_charlze.

The statements, views and opinions stated in this article is solely those of the author, and does not necessarily represent those of Lyriversity.

Lyriversity — Liberty of Creativity

  1. timnwaobilo says:

    …This must be a spiritual telepathy.
    Pardon my seeming unusual choice of words. But it is not without cause. Just 10 hours ago, I was discussing something similar and raised the same examples you cited. One of the judicial workers strike, and the other the poor state of our eduactional sector. I had also added the troubles with our health sector to that particluar discourse.

    Indeed many Basseys abound because of the callousness occasioned by Mr Individualism. In Rivers, this story is not unfamiliar. Mr bassey is hoping for respite in a month from his incarceration, but anyone who was arrested and taken to prison on August 17 2013 in Rivers is still in prison today. Why? Cos since August 18 2013, there has been no Chief Judge in Rivers to assign fresh cases to judges to handle. Why? Cos the state executive and national judicial council are at loggerheads as to who becomes the new Chief Judge of the stste. What? INDIVIDUALISM. Both ‘persons’ seeking their own interests to the detriment and “sufferation” of the public/masses.
    Also ASUP just suspended their 10-day strike? No! Also ASUP just suspended their 10-week strike? No! Also ASUP just suspended their 10-MONTH strike? 10 months! That would be a rarity in other climes where Mr INDIVIDUALISM is dealt heavy blows. ASUU previously held their own strike for 6 months. Whatever happened to the students caught in the middle during these entire imbroglios was of no consequence to the warring parties. Why? Mr INDIVIDUALISM. Just recently some primary schools in the middle-belt called off their UBE strike after 8 months of children staying at home. Totally callous of the disagreeing parties. Mr INDIVIDUALISM instructed them not to sheath their swords, and for 8 months kids were out of school. I must agree that this is a really terrible trait that feeds off selfishness, inherent greed and inhumane tendencies.
    What more can I say about the current NMA strike! People are hopeless and dying, and their own strike is already in its 3rd week. No doctors, yet THERE are doctors! When a man or a group of people decide to pursue their own interest(s) without regard to the situation of those whom their sel-serving actions will affect, chaos is the next guest.

    Well done Mr Charles. I just couldn’t pass this article up without commenting.

    • Ezeamalukwuo says:

      Mr Tim, your comment is really apt, and conveys all that I wanted to write. The Nigerian Situation really breaks my heart…honestly, I wonder really what the fates of those guys in awaiting trial. I really wonder honestly, how the Judiciary, the so called last bus stop of the masses could afford to strike for a day, talk less of a whole 2 weeks now and counting. This is really heartbreaking. Even Doctors are striking as well…imagine a Poor man who is in need of justice and as well in need of medical assistance…that one na double death be that…Death after Death…I wish I had a big gigantic microphone that could reach the length and breath of Nigeria, I would reallyt really scream, yell, shout at the loudest tone to all Nigerian, to pause and ponder…to have compassion for each other.

      Thanks Mr Tim, for your contribution…it is really really necessary.

    • LegendaryCJN says:

      Tim Again!
      Is this a different atticle without sub-title?
      You are so on point bro.
      We shall get there some day.

      • timnwaobilo says:

        Na comment I comment o.
        Solar s piece was the bomb, appropriate,incisive, intelligent.
        I only chose to lend my voice to that pertinent issue.
        lemme stop here before I write another Article-sans-Title…

  2. Sheyzznote says:

    I read and I became speechless… The question is WHY! Why don’t we care?
    Is it in our nature to be evil and selfish, or we just chose to tap into that aborminable reservoir that will destroy what’s left of humanity in us?

    What happen to conscience and reason, like Asha song “fire on the mountain”, indeed nobody seems to be on the run (careless) because we are so bent on INDIVIDUALISM, and we detaste the path of charity and unity.

    “Who cares!” I hear them say, “as long as it does not affect us and our houses.” Same piece of cigarette they careless dropped started the inferno that raze great and small, and because nature is a respecter of no man, the wind changed course and brought the fire they refuse to help stop upon their roof; just a matter of time. What goes around comes around eventually.
    To whom much is given, much is expected (responsibility to others). This is what I thought should hold, but in a country like Nigeria its never so, to whom much is given, much is expected (corruption)

    Mr. Charles you’ve done a wonderful job to figure out this staring truth, I hope we all read it and take turn to start a movement of goodness- CARE!

  3. This piece touched me to the depths of my soul. Humans are naturally selfish, but our own (Nigerians) level of selfishness is something else entirely. I’ll share this article and I hope me and every other person who reads it understands and applies the message in our daily living.

    • Ezeamalukwuo says:

      I pray that we change and become far better than we currently are today. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  4. Onowu itego says:

    Nice one.. thumbs up

  5. Anene Francis says:

    Ah! Again, that Niyi’s poem I love so much. More example of Individualism : Persons vandalize power lines, the whole area is thrown into darkness for only God knows how long. Persons burst oil pipe lines, the whole community’s farms and water are polluted… Many see it as survival of the fittest to a monstrous degree of feeding on the flesh of others as the choicest means of survival… Ok those are the ‘big’ ones. How about the ‘small’ ones I overlook: Selling substandard goods as quality ones, covering up for a friend or relative that committed a crime in exchange of a cut or favours, etc. Let’s look inward first and push for change from inside out. So help us God.
    * Nice write up as usual. Keep it up mr Solar.

  6. LegendaryCJN says:

    I’ve always seen life as a tragedy; human tragedy. It’s actually tragic that these things are happening. Niyi’s poem is so apt to the core of our situation in Nigeria today. Individualism or what we normally call, ‘I-dont-care attitude is eating away the human in us. You know, most Nigerians don’t really know the different between ‘human being’ and ‘being human’.
    The story was told of a man whose only son was hit by a car and as he was passing, people were begging him to stop and help take the boy to hospital, but the man simply hissed and accerelated only to reach his house and receive call from the hospital to come and take his son’s dead body. Had it been he stopped, who knows, the boy may have survived.
    The situation is affecting the poor masses more, but somehow, someday it’ll affect those ‘ogas at the top’ directly or indirectly.
    I’ll rest my case here, but not without commending Mr Solar for this artticle and for the human spirit he showed to that woman at Ozomagala Onitsha, whose ware fell inside water…I witnessed it. My good man, you are indeed living what you preach.

  7. shomykolad says:

    It’s just so pathetic and disheartening that we have faltered to this level. It’s just the truth- here(Nigeria), the most precious letter is ‘I’. And we the commons are not helping matter because we are also divided amongst ourselves.

    But there’s a way. I believe we can get out of this. We can’t control what happens in life but we can choose the way we respond to it. We have a choice. We have to be united with ourselves and this can only begin with a change in ATTITUDE. That’s it!

    Good thought sir Charles.

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