We shouldn’t limit our concerns about life merely to whether our compatriot still has breath in him or her or not. Life goes way beyond that. The psychological wellbeing of a man will to a large extent determine the quality of life he’ll enjoy. Let me give you an illustration. A man given to kleptomania because very obvious signs of sticky fingers as a child were not sufficiently checked, may never truly enjoy a good quality of life, no matter how many trappings of wealth he surrounds himself with. Does this sound vaguely familiar? Have you never wondered why some of our people, especially those in public office continue to steal so voraciously, even when several generations of offspring cannot possibly exhaust the heaps of cash they’ve misappropriated? In whose book is this normal? With all the mansions scattered across the globe, harem of wives and concubines, they remain avaricious. Contentment just continues to elude them. The mind has without doubt been abused somewhere along the line. Satisfaction and contentment remain a pipe dream as they will always want more. Especially when they see others with more. Contentment cannot come from what you own but from the state of the mind. That’s why those who were sexually abused as children are far more likely to abuse other children when they grow up. Boys who witnessed their father using their mother as a daily punching bag are far more likely to batter their wives when they grow up. Their mind has been abused so their normal is far from normal.
Regarding the matter of unfortunate individuals with deformities who roam our streets begging for alms, Oyinbo will not allow it. Not because they don’t care but on the contrary, to preserve their deserved dignity. Secondly, to protect the psychological wellbeing of all their citizens. This is because Oyinbo is fully aware of the possible trauma that beholding such a sight can cause. And of course, just as adults are confronted with this daily, so are children. Can this really have an adverse effect on our individual and collective psyche over time? I believe the answer is yes. To me it’s a form of psychological abuse which may lead to a diminishing capacity to feel or be sensitive to others. This, in many ways affirms my observation that Nigerians are incredibly proud of their toughness and ability to withstand anything. We tend not to complain about such things but just take it in our stride, not realizing it actually leaves it mark on us. I liken it to a soldier who sees it all at war. Quite predictably, this will harden him somewhat. Coming back home he may find it difficult to fully relate to the distress bloody civilians feel. Being tough is not always a good thing. Where you discover soft and flexible can absorb a surprising amount of force and is not fragile after all, hard and brittle simply shatters.
Some of you may be able to relate to this. One Oga who you desperately need to see for one favour or the other tells you to see him at his office. Apparently conscious of the fact that you may have several other appointments on that day, he gives you a specific time to come, so not to keep you waiting unnecessarily. As the one in need of assistance you arrive a few minutes early so to avoid any story that “Oga just stepped out”. So you wait in the reception area in anticipation you’ll be called in at any time. And you wait. You continue to wait. And you wait some more. Others come way after you, see Oga and leave long before. At intervals, you ask the secretary to remind Oga you’re still around as he may well have forgotten and with as much empathy as she can muster, she assures you Oga’s aware and will see you soon. As Oga waltzes out of his office several hours later, he sights you, offers an apology of sorts and asks you to come the next day as he’s off to an important meeting. Oga sees little wrong in having wasted the better part of your day. It’s normal. After all, similar treatment was meted out to him while he gradually moved his way up the ladder so what’s the big deal? Truth be told, bigger Ogas than himself still do the same to him till this day. This therefore means, whatever respect I may or may not have for your time depends on who you are, your level, your status. As heinous as physical abuse often is, the damaging effects of psychological abuse are usually longer lasting as it doesn’t terminate with the direct victim only but exponentially piles up victims from one generation to the next, as unsuspecting victim after victim continues to pass it down on. A mind aware of an anomaly, if so inclined, can make a conscious effort to make sure it ends with him. A mind that is not aware will most likely do the same.
So why have we become so impervious to the pain of others? I don’t believe our leaders drive around blindfolded so they must see the suffering of the people. Neither do I believe they perform surgical operations to ensure they hear nothing for the period they spend in office which means they must hear about how people die on our pot hole infested roads every day. They must also hear about the unnecessary deaths government hospitals record every day due to lack of drugs, lack of equipment, overworked doctors and nurses etc. Surely, they must hear about the increasing number of university graduates that give potential employers migraines from just trying to understand what applicants are trying to say in their job application letters. So why does this not impel them to urgently do something about it? Their hearts appear to have been calcified. Subtle abuse of the mind from childhood, whether by parents or teachers as they hurl insults and rain curses, or even by society itself, ably supported by the neglect of successive governments, has deformed our mindset to the point where we’ve collectively accepted that if it doesn’t directly kill us then it’s okay. Sadly however, it does kill us. Though it doesn’t take our lives, it gradually takes away our God endowed ability to empathise and our sense of humanity, just as it also takes away our dignity and even any expectation to be treated with such. Nigerian lives do matter too.
When a global survey adjudged Nigerians as the happiest people in the world some years ago, I for one didn’t regard it as complimentary at all. If anything, I perceived it as poking fun at “these black people” because it implies we continue to smile and adapt, much to our detriment, even in the face of naked tyranny, dehumanization and oppression, instead of doing something about it. Forgive me but I don’t see how this can be celebrated. It’s a typical Oyinbo mockery cleverly sugar coated as a compliment. If you’re not discerning enough you may well end up laughing with them as they laugh at you( rather than with you).
The insidious nature of most forms of abuse, whether it be physical, sexual or psychological, means it comes in barely noticeable drips and drops as supposed to a deluge, often leaving the victim non the wiser of his or her sorry state. Sadly, unaware of his abused state, he inflicts this abnormality on others too. A mind conditioned by repeated abuse is highly likely to mete same out and the cycle continues. We should all endeavour to remember one thing though, Nigerian lives matter too.
Changing the nation…one mind at a time
Dapo Akande, a Businessday weekly columnist is a University of Surrey (UK) graduate with a Masters in Professional Ethics. An alumnus of the Institute for National Transformation; with certification in Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence from Case Western Reserve College, USA and author of two books, The Last Flight and Shifting Anchors. Both books are used as course material in Babcock University’s Literature department. Dapo is a public speaker, a content creator and a highly sought after ghostwriter.