For many years, Nigerians have gyrated and sang along to the words and tunes of ‘Suffering and Smiling’ by Fela Kuti, the ‘prophet’ who did not subscribe to any holy book but saw the impending doom which lay in wait for this nation, spoke about it and paid the price for his defiance of the then military government in the process. A 2011 Gallup poll found Nigerians to be the happiest people on earth. We have since dropped down on the rankings but the Nigerian optimism is not dead yet. A typical Nigerian believes ‘it is well’ and professes this even when paying inflated rates for common tomatoes. Nigerians believe it is well even while battling over who gets his keg filled up first with petrol on a long queue and at the mercy of the petrol attendant who is rude to you and deducts 50 naira for her pains. Nigerians believe it is well even when the cocktail of heat and mosquitoes ruin their sleep. We smile. E go better.
Consider this analogy: People travelling to Ibadan from Lagos pay for an air-conditioned bus and on the day of the trip a molue is provided for them. They are packed like sardines in this deflated yellow box which barely starts. When it finally hits the road, it gets stuck for hours in a ‘go slow’ and with every slow painful stride which the tire makes into the large death traps called ‘potholes’ there is a shaking. Some passengers scream in disgust, others rain curses on the driver who pays no attention to their wailings. The shaking pitches the passengers against one other as bodies violently rub against other bodies, feets are stepped upon, faces elbowed etc. Some zealous and agitated passengers begin to exchange punches and the peace loving ones try to quell the ruckus. The bus moves on and the driver puts on a blind and deaf show. The smothering heat leaves the passengers with discomfort as balls of sweat roll down their faces, their cloths covered with dust and sweat – they pray they get to their destination in one piece.
The bus breaks down several times on the road, about two or three passengers decide to end the journey forfeiting their pay for the comfort they desired and paid for. After a rigorous and unpleasant six hours for a ninety minutes drive, they get to their destination. As they disembark from the bus the driver tells them amid curses and shouts that their return trip will be better, that the vehicle promised will be available to ferry them back to Lagos. Fast forward to their return trip, they are shocked and dismayed to see the same dilapidated bus. Only this time it has a different colour and driver. After all disapproval and agitation for the promised bus, the passengers have no choice but to return back in the same condition but this time hoping at least they won’t have to fight themselves.
The bitter pill for Nigerians is that the above analogy represents the true state of our nation. We all have a feel of discomfort, promises by leaders are broken, time wasted, yet we still have hope that it will be well. Things are grinding at a slow numbing pace, the actions and inactions of our ‘confused’ government leave us fighting each other as witnessed in petrol stations, road rages, kidnappings, among others. We turn and notice our differences in tribe, tongue and creed, and then we fight ourselves some more, instead of turning against a leadership that shortchanges us. Ironically when this same political class beckons on us again for our votes, we entrust it to them. It’s time to stop believing that all is well and make it well instead by demanding for services being owed. Why should I pay for electricity which I barely receive? Why is my tax deducted to build roads yet it remains a death trap? Why should I be left at the mercy of myself and caring neighbours to look after my security? Why do I need to give out 50 naira for the mistakes of the government when purchasing petrol for my generator which in that is also another crime committed by our government. I think its high time we begin to ask questions and hold our leaders accountable for the promises made.
As we move along in that molue, an air- conditioned bus zooms pass us. In it a few privileged demigods ride in comfort. In fact, one of them is the man whose responsibility it was to arrange a befitting bus for us. They laugh us to scorn as their bus speeds away, enjoying a trip they did not pay for.