By Chukwuma Iwuanyanwu
Read this carefully. In the early eighties, the students of one of the old generation universities in Nigeria rioted and burnt down buildings and cars as they spleened their anger on the university authority. The reason was that the officers working in the kitchen reduced the size of meat in the egusi soup served to the students. There was no justifiable reason why the size of the meat was reduced. The school was closed down and students sent home to their parents. A public plea from the traditional rulers, the general public and parents persuaded the minister of education, who asked the vice chancellor to open the institution with stringent conditions. Each returning student got a letter from his or her parents for good behavior and a payment of N50 then (good money) for damages caused.
After one week, the same size of piece of meat was served to the students again. Murmuring started, each student looked at one another and Fela song was hummed; not up to a couple of minutes, the students started breaking the plates and chairs and police were called immediately and the school was temporarily closed. An American trained sociologist advised the vice chancellor to tackle the cause of the students' anger. The vice chancellor fumed that how could a piece of meat caused such recalcitrant and foolish behaviors from the students, but he listened to the advice of the sociology professor and peace returned to the university. The lesson learned was that never treat the symptoms of a disease but the causative agent.
Nigeria is abysmally sick. The sickness is found in our characters and none us is free from this influenza. It seems, it is a generational sickness. Each ethnic group has its own brand of sickness. Back in time, we thought that there was no collective malady ravaging Hausas judging from their humble way of living, which the Southerners, especially the Igbos called “baa kwomi” until we discovered the “Ibu Alhaji” (Alhaji's Baggage), the original fraudulent practices of making quick money aka 419. But if the truth must be told, only a handful of the Hausas are engaged in this sharp practice.
When I was growing up, my father played a vinyl record, and I can only remember a portion of it in Igbo. “Ogbonye enweghi onu okwu makana ya enweghi ego. Oburu na mu nwere ego ihe obula mu kwuru g'ab u ezi okwu”. (A poor man has no say because he has no money. If he has money, anything he says will be true). In Igbo land, with the passage of time, everything has money tag. Money can buy anything imaginable, chieftaincy title, truth, respect, traditional ruler chair, any position, love, marriage, land, death and live, name it. If you have no money in Igbo land, you had better die than to live. People can do anything just to get money so as to buy prestige, respect, live large, build big house, buy big car and suppress and oppress others in the community. Whatever a rich man says in Igbo land, it is the golden truth and a poor is a beggar, he has no place in the scheme of things. Sweet Breeze, Dallas, Ikeotuonye and Co. of the old captured the mood of the society then in their song “Mr. Beggar has no town's man”.
What we though as the exclusive turf of the Igbos has for some time now ravaged the nation. As a matter of fact, the Yorubas, the Hausas, the Itsekiris, the Nupes, the Kalabaris, the Ibibios, the Tivs, the Fulanis, the Ijaws, the Ogonis, the Binis, and the rest of all others are on fire for time now I cannot remember. Igbos have now been displaced in this rat race. It is a race that will consume all of us. It is a race that is gender friendly and age appropriate. The pinheads in Abuja , the federal executives and the state executives have it now as a past time. We are greedy, we are not disciplined, and we are thieves of different classifications. We like showing off, we have unbridled tastes and we always dwell on my Mercedes is bigger than yours. Our ladies travel outside the country, to sell themselves for money, gather the little they could and come home to show off. The money stolen from Nigeria is channeled to unproductive luxuries. Privileged Nigerians like to see their neighbors suffer. It is in our blood, we live in it, we act it out and we believe in it. A Nigeria will like anything that can stand him or her out from the rest of the people. “I live in a place that has twenty four hours running tap water, electricity, good roads and greenish environment”, hear the fool speak.
A Nigerian driving his or her car will like to splash puddles of water seen on the road on a poor pedestrian. This is our lifestyle and this is one of the reasons why the country cannot develop. How can Okeke have the same good amenities that I am having? After all Okeke did not go to school, the son of a palm wine tapper and I went to the university, hear the fool speak again. The vogue in Nigeria now is that during summer period, the so called “big man” will gather his family, spend up to $40,000 on air fare to overseas. By time he is back with his family, he has spent closed to $200,000. He has to stand out from the rest of the folks who cannot even find the roads to the overseas embassies. Check this man; he has people who cannot afford even one meal a day in his kindred or community. Nigeria does not know charity. The rich men in Nigeria prefer to lock up the helpless if they make noise instead of sponsoring them to the universities. This is why we cannot develop and make meaningful progress.
In the country that I live now, USA , the light shines for the poor and the rich. With constant supply of light, industrial production is sustained and employment is created. Give me $16 billion dollars and as an engineer, I will guarantee twenty four hours power supply in Nigeria , but Obasanjo squandered it without qualms. They knew what they were doing and they will pay one way or the other. Let me be the president of Nigeria and I am blessed with the resources available to Obasanjo during his time, I would guaranteed water supply, good roads and employment generation. The only things it will cost me are the love of my country, the love of my people, the fear of God and living a modest life. We will never live forever for dust we are and unto dust we shall return.
If the evils of our character are not uprooted, we will not inch anywhere. If we do not stop accumulating wealth we cannot spend in our live time, we will not go anywhere. Our attitudes are the problems why Nigeria stinks to high heaven. Indiscipline is our major challenge. At one time, we had a chance to address this endemic sickness by the honest duo of Buhari and Idiagbon, but Babangida caused us that opportunity. The war against indiscipline is a war that cannot be overlooked if we desire to make progress in our nationhood. Indiscipline is the spring well of election rigging, kleptomania, the worship of wealth, prostitution, armed robbery, kidnapping, child trafficking, corruption, fake drugs, embezzlement, contract cost falsifications, not taking turns and all kinds of deviant behaviors.
We are losing our culture too fast and in time to come, there will be no identifiable culture for any ethnic group in Nigeria . Despite the myriad of churches and mosques, Nigeria is still the front runner in wickedness, corruption and the neglect of the soul brother. We are Africans; we live in communities, clan and close. We are known to be our brother's keepers. Some of our culture have semblance with the bible. Forget about what is happening in America now; they will get over it, because the country has established laws and President Barack Obama has defined mission. In Nigeria , anything goes. These are not the ways we are supposed to live. No matter who we elect to rule us, if there will be fair and free elections, it will be the same, because of the causative agent that pressed us down with incurable sickness at all times. Has any Nigerian paused and asked questions why Ghana and even Rwanda are better organized and prosperous than we do? Go to these countries, the level of greed is somewhat reduced. What brought peace in the university I stated in the beginning of this essay was professor's advice that the size of the meat should not be reduced? I think we can beckon on that professor to tell us that the cause of decay in Nigeria is indiscipline, and if we tackle it, the country will move forward. No sane Nigeria can forgive Babangida and Abacha. May God preserve the life of Buhari.
Chukwuma Iwuanyanwu is the Executive Director, Harcourt Foundation, Inc., Los Angeles , California