Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of India’s independence movement, is famous for many reasons. Most people remember him for employing nonviolent civil disobedience in India’s fight against British rule. Some remember him for his dedication to the ‘discovery and pursuit of truth’ in a movement that he called “satyagraha.” As revered as he was, he argued that the most important battle that he had to fight was the battle to overcome his own demons, fears and insecurities. In pop culture, however, he is famous for articulating the seven deadly sins: “wealth without work, science without conscience; science without humanity; knowledge without character; politics without principles; commerce without morality; and worship without sacrifice.”
Thinking along that line, there are seven deadly sins killing Nigerians. They are: generalization, stereotyping, grandstanding, narcissism, hypocrisy, greed and lack of curiosity.
Oh, this one kills me. And it is the single most important thing killing Nigeria. People generally generalize. But Nigerians generalize to a grievous fault. For a multi ethnic and multi religious country still learning the ropes of establishing a modern state, it is a very dangerous trait. Alexander Dumas wrote that, “all generalizations are wrong, including this one.” When you start a statement that says, one group is… you are already generalizing and already wrong. There is nothing that you can say after that that would be right. The Yoruba are not behaving one way. The Igbo are not reasoning the same. The Hausa are not reacting alike. Neither are the Urhobo or any other group. Eliminate that and see how your perspective changes about any group – even if it is the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Nigerians who claim not to generalize are those who usually pull out random figures from their heads. For example, they will say that 80% of Igbo people supported the sit-at-home ordered by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). Meanwhile a scientific study may take whatever figure they quote down or even further up. It is okay to say that we don’t know, rather than hide our ignorance in stark generalization.
Closely related to generalization, is stereotyping. In fact, generalization is the fountain from which stereotyping emerges. China Achebe wrote that, “Stereotypes are not necessarily malicious. They may be well meaning and even friendly. But in every case they show a carelessness or laziness or indifference of attitude that implies that the object of your categorization is not worth the trouble of individual assessment.” That laziness, that lack of generosity, cost us more than corruption. In fact, it is a form of corruption of the mind. There is nothing that all Ijaw people are other than distinct individuals in their own rights. There is nothing that Igala people are other than uniquely created children of God. I bet you, all Igala people don’t even eat Ogidigbo. Even self-selected groups do not share common characteristics. For example, not all Redeem Christian Church of God pastors are humble. We know this because the general overseer of the church told us. Never mind that he said that those who are not humble were not ordained by him.
Because of the mix of people in Nigeria, the environment is very competitive. And because we have strangled fairness, merit, and humility, we have elevated the next logical alternative to the top – grandstanding. Everyone wants to be important. In a society where premium on importance is high, exaggeration follows. The struggle to stand out in the midst of the multitude therefore depends on false presentation of false premise. Most of the noisemakers in Nigeria’s social-political scene are mere experts in grandstanding.
Let us not go into undiagnosed mental health issue rampant in Nigeria. But what is clear is that the league of narcissists in Nigeria is enormous. They are not just running around free, they are running things all over the country. In other parts of the world, the enforcement of law and order puts a check on them. But in Nigeria they run amok. If you can imagine a house full of kids armed with scissors without an adult in sight, that is Nigeria
We all are guilty of this. Now that is a generalization. That is wrong, even though it sounded so true. But hypocrisy is one so common. Hypocrisy is when you see the sawdust in another person’s eyes but not the log of wood in yours. In fact, the moment you don’t see anything wrong in your group but everything wrong in the other group, you are a hypocrite. Those who are not hypocrites- free quickly identify that “there is a lot that is good about the worst of us and a lot that is bad about the best of us.” The same way no one can achieve a state of nirvana, no one can also achieve a hypocrisy-free existence. The blatant display of hypocrisy in Nigerian life betrays a society that places low value on moral authority. On the other hand, false moral equivalence is often brandished as a justification for hypocrisy in Nigerian life. More than anything else, hypocrisy erodes trust needed to partake in honest engagements and productive discourse.
Greed is good. The Hollywood movie, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” declared that “Greed is Good.” It got internalized in Nigeria. Because of the screwed up value system that recognizes “wealth without work”, the quest to acquire unlimited wealth has near universal acceptance. Since this wealth is also devoid of any responsibility, it is an open season for millions of people who have no way of distinguishing the different levels of the Abraham Maslow’ s Hierarchy of Needs. So in Nigeria it reigns, in a state that has not figured out how to use tax policies to control runaway human instinct to accumulate endlessly. We see this everyday. It is the reason why former NNPC Group Managing Director, Andrew Yakubu, hid millions of dollars in a house while people all around him suffer. It is the reason why former Goodluck Jonathan accumulated personal items he did not need and would never use, locked them in a house where they were stolen without his knowledge. It is the reason why the Sultan of Sokoto accepted N700million from Sokoto State government for the purchase of a guest house in Abuja when he owned a big mansion in Abuja and is fully aware of the better use that money could be put to if spent on the poor people of Sokoto state.
7. Lack of curiosity.
Why? Why? Why?
This, my friends, is the most heart breaking. It probably goes back to the theory that Africa, being the cradle of civilization, has been one of the most hospitable places on earth and as such there are no natural pressure for Africans to be curious. But Africa is quickly becoming uninhabitable. Climate change is at the heart of most crises the continent is facing and will face in the next 100 years. The tight grip of superstition has severely limited Africans’ ability to ask questions and show desire to know why things are the way they are. Of recent, superstition has been replaced by an even stronger grip of religion. In Nigeria, even the universities have become closed space where students and professors regurgitate old ideas that have since been abandoned for emerging knowledge. This lack of curiosity in some cases is instilled in the young ones by parents who give preference to obedience to the old order rather than advance the virtue of adventure, critical and independent thought. Social media is forcing Nigerians to come face to face with a world different from theirs. The generation coming behind will hopefully find a back door from which they will escape their restrictive environment that stunts growth and limits imagination.
Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo is the author of “This American Life Sef.