This is one of my favorite pictures thus far that has emerged since the fuel subsidy removal. I like it because I think it clearly depicts two Nigerian problems that some Nigerians don't even realize are problems --they are humor and religion. It is rather unfortunate that decades after Fela sang suffering and smiling, nothing has changed --Nigerians are still suffering and smiling. The only changes that have occurred since Fela wrote his famous lyrics are that the rest of the world have noticed that we indeed like to fold our arms and smile in the midst of our escalating problems, and as a result, they have gladly dubbed us as a country with the happiest people. I’ve written about how troubling and self-defeating I think this dubious title that Nigerians like to wear like a war badge is, so I won’t bother boring you with my opinion again. The second change that has also occurred in the years since Fela produced his song is that Nigerians have allowed religion to have such prominent positions in their lives. And if the Boko Haram bombings, the retaliations, and the fact that a radical Sharia advocate and scholar holds an influential national position in our country are any indication, it’s safe to say that we are praying a little too close to the edge of religious extremism.
The danger of this potentially lethal combination of humor and religion/religious extremism is that they not only insidiously replace rational and critical thinking, but they also have a way of deceptively convincing suffering people that everything is fine and somehow working out in their favor. After all, Laughter is the medicine of the soul and faith is the belief in what is unseen. The smart ones among us have found ways to exploit these beliefs (does anyone have estimates on the number of churches, pastors, and other religious houses in Nigeria?), whereas the rest of us have bought in with unwavering and relentless fervor like drug addicts hooked on crack. So we laugh with folded arms and place all our hopes on the flawed religious premise that all we desire in Nigeria would magically appear simply because we have wished for it, paid our tithes, and prayed for it. We are no longer willing to put in the effort required to realize our dreams for Nigeria, think for ourselves, or ask questions about even our spiritual belief. Furthermore, we castigate anyone who disagrees with or questions our spiritual practices.
This type of attitude would be a problem anywhere in the world, but it’s an even bigger problem in a country like Nigeria, given that we already suffer from the resource curse. As a result of abundant oil revenue over the years, the Nigerian government has failed to effectively raise revenue via taxation of Nigerians, and as most Nigerians now realize, the government had also been subsidizing the cost of their gas consumption. The cumulative effect of the lack of tax contributions for the development of Nigeria by the average Nigerian is that there has been no demand for government accountability by Nigerians, leading to high rates of corruption, abuse of power, and the current situation with 70 percent of the population living on less than a dollar a day and more than 94 percent living on less than two dollars a day. So for a long time, Nigeria has already been a ask-no-questions/do-nothing country. The adoption of our “happiness” and religious cultures has only served to worsen our sit on your hands and watch from the sidelines culture.
In my opinion, the silver lining in all of this is that there are some Nigerians among us who recognize this problem. The sad news is that they all work for the government. How else can you explain or defend our president’s ridiculous budget or the money that was allocated for Nigeria’s 50th independence celebration last year? Our government no longer has to hide or try to cover their corruption. Corruption and incompetence is now blatantly waved in our faces because they know Nigerians will guess what? Laugh and then run to church or to the mosque to pray. They no longer have to pretend to be working for the good of the average Nigerian. They can remove the fuel subsidy and shrug like it’s no big deal because they know Nigerians will do nothing. So the problem has been me and you.
Laughter is great, and faith in an unseen creator is even more awesome when done correctly. But we need to take responsibility for our country. We need to get off our butts and go in the streets and demand better governance. A revolution will not happen just with faith. Corruption will not end by making stupid jokes about it. We have to fight to take our government and our country back. We have to let our government know that we are watching and that we will hold them accountable for inept governance and corruption. They must know that their terms are not guaranteed. We will protest and throw them out of office if they fail to deliver on the campaign promises. Enough is enough. Our government cannot be spending millions of dollars on food while the average Nigerian cannot even afford to feed a family of four. Enough is enough. Let's not just say it, let's make it happen.