You oppress me? I oppress you back!

Oladapo Akande

Oladapo Akande

“You kill me, I kill you back” my wife would retort in quite a commendable effort at mimicking a Chinese accent. Those who are conversant with the old, atrociously mimed Chinese kung fu films, where the whole storyline from beginning to the end revolves around one thing and one thing only, revenge; will know exactly what I’m talking about. She never fails to crack me up when she does that. Abi? Tell me now. How do you intend to kill someone who beat you to it by killing you first? Hilarious.

I was not only dumbfounded when some years ago, some so called elders and traditional rulers of one of our oil rich states asked our then President, Baba himself, to hands off their “Governor General”; a man the UK authorities had already indicted on money laundering charges; but I was disappointed and even more disturbed because I didn’t hear or read anywhere in the media where the “poor” ordinary indigenes of the state offered a contrary opinion. Should we take this to mean they were in agreement with their leaders who insisted this “Governor General” was their own, and should be left for them since they had no complaints about his alleged offence?

This man was reputed to have helped himself to more than a billion US dollars from the state’s coffers and all they could say was “Leave him alone, he’s one of our own”? Hmm. Very few, if any voiced out that he took “our” money. I wonder why many don’t see the state’s resources as our resources? Most seem to see it as belonging to nobody except those “lucky” enough to scoop some for themselves. I believe this may be an overhang from the days when the perception of newly independent African states was that this form of government was an Oyinbo thing and totally alien to us.

It therefore represented a cake which no-one in particular could lay a claim to, but was free to be plundered by anyone lucky enough to be given the chance. They felt detached from it somehow. Even now, there are some penniless people out there who barely see a connection between their pitiful state and the wanton profligacy of our leaders, and when they do, the rationalize it by attributing it to fate. God wasn’t sleeping when these leaders got there so it’s obviously their “time”. Their time to make it. So how can they begrudge him that? Certainly no more than they would expect others to begrudge them when it’s their time to also “blow”. I believe that’s still the current lingo.

Oppressor Consciousness. When “oppressee” looks forward to becoming an oppressor also. When individuals empathise with their oppressors despite the hardship they put them through. Sounds bizarre but it’s true and our society is a classic example. Am I the only one who hears those who should ordinarily be out in the streets protesting over sickening tales of fraud and callous looting, offer words such as, “they should leave him now. Shebi he has returned some of the money” in defence of their siren blazing oppressors?

I was so glad when I came across literature which categorized and shed light on this peculiar phenomenon of recycling oppression. At least, this meant we had company. For a Brazilian philosopher to have examined this to a point where he coined a term for it, meant it wasn’t peculiar to us. Oppressor consciousness is a highly destructive character trait which not only repeats itself from generation to generation but usually results in regression. Until I came across this, I erroneously feared the whole nation was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome; where our supposed leaders have held us all hostage, with some beginning to sympathize with their leaders’ “cause”.

Paulo Freire, the brilliant Brazilian philosopher who “diagnosed” this condition was struck by how often the oppressed adopt the oppressor’s consciousness and even admire and envy the oppressor. In Freire’s view, “we often even internalize the oppressor’s view even though we suffer oppression from that very view…when things get too bad (too oppressive), the oppressed often rise up and overthrow the oppressors. However, when they do this, it is almost always so that they themselves can now become the oppressors.” Precisely what 90% of African governments have been doing since their day of independence.

We often find ourselves imprisoned by our own inordinate desires or ambition. The desire to oppress by the average Nigerian forestalls any cohesive move to resist their oppressors or to eradicate oppression entirely. If that happens, who will they oppress when they too get there? Over the years, as the average Nigerian has become increasingly accustomed to being dehumanized and devalued, might has gradually become accepted as right. At least, that’s how it appears.

I remember having a chat with a friend, the owner of a popular supermarket in Anthony Village back then. He recounted a conversation he had with a mechanic when a government official’s convoy passed them by. My friend shook his head in total bewilderment, trying to understand why a supposed “servant” of the people would move around with so many vehicles when he can only sit in one. To make matters worse, the Oga saw nothing wrong with the way his police escort (also public “servants by the way)in the leading vehicle brandished assorted whips as a clear warning to motorists not quick enough to part way for their principal to pass.

As my friend looked back up from the ground, still trying to comprehend the need for such acts of barbarism, he couldn’t help but notice the look of excitement on the face of his mechanic. Confused, my friend asked him why he was grinning from ear to ear and he quickly responded with, “Oga, don’t you know who that was? It was so and so! Oga, na dem dey enjoy dis life pass. Kai! If na me, my motor go block everywhere. My siren sef go pass dis one. Dem go see.” As my friend stood there motionless, just staring at him, he wondered if this wasn’t a lost cause after all.

Where does one start from? While some us endure sleepless nights thinking of what we can do to rebalance this skewed society to favour the downtrodden, for want of a better term, some of them are thinking of they can get “there” to oppress us all! Including their peers. It’s crazy! Contrary to what one might expect, many have no interest in Nigeria becoming more egalitarian. Come to think of it ,where’s the fun in that? What a vicious circle.


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; certified in Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence from Case Western Reserve College, USA. 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.

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