By Rudolf Okonkwo
I just returned from a trip to Nigeria. Apart from dealing with a private family matter, the only question I wanted to answer on this trip was, “why nobody is saying anything about it.”
Absolutely nobody. Not even Rufai Oseni.
You must have heard a few Nigerians throw their hands up in the air in exasperation as they mutter, “And nobody is saying anything about it.”
I now know why.
Here is breaking news for you: You are going to die one day. Yes, you. You don’t know what day it would be. It could be today. Yes, say, tufiakwa. Even though you know it could happen as soon as today, you live your life as if you have eternity.
You, as somebody, do not want to say anything about it. And you do not want to do anything about you, either. Your self-preserving mood is to pretend that it is not happening, even though each minute that passes brings you closer to your grave.
Sure, I feel for you. There are situations where even forward-thinking, kiss-ass people capitulate. And trust me, that could be a beautiful thing.
Even though it has always been, it is now fashionable to say that Nigeria is a captured state. You must have heard that one, too. And again, nobody is saying or doing anything about it.
When people say Nigeria is a captured state, they mean that a truck carrying a 40-foot-long container without any harness tying it down on the truck is coming your way. Because the Nigerian roads are bad, nothing will stop the container from slipping and crushing the vehicles next to it when it goes in and out of the potholes that decorate our roads.
The fallen container will crush one or more unlucky vehicles. It may be a transport bus with ordinary folks going to work, a private Range Rover with a Nollywood star inside, or a government official on assignment. It has happened in the past and will happen in the future.
I often wonder, is it because anybody can be a victim, so nobody wants to say or do anything about it?
During my first few days in Lagos, I was very concerned about these ubiquitous trucks and the containers they carry. I saw them as a metaphor for our grave maladies.
Because I primarily moved around in shared rides, I could tell the drivers to slow down and stay away from these trucks. But after the first few days, I stopped saying anything when I saw these trucks. I mentally gestured the sign of the cross. With time, I stopped acknowledging them when they approached the car I was riding in.
For disconnected people, there is something wickedly beautiful, even desirable, about the fate that befalls a Nigerian.
A Nigerian sees a petrol tanker fall, spilling its products on the road. He joins the crowd that gathers to scoop petrol along the streets.
And as is almost always the case, one person comes with a cigarette and sets everyone on fire.
It makes headlines nationwide, going viral on all social media platforms.
On another day, in another part of town, another petrol tank falls. And another crowd gathers to scoop petrol along the streets.
And as is almost always the case, one person comes with naked light and sets everyone on fire.
For those far away from the scene of the incident, there is something wickedly beautiful, almost admirable, about the fate that befalls a Nigerian.
There is something enviable about how the Nigerian treats himself with contempt. Trust me, it is a beautiful thing.
You must look deep into their eyes to discover that our people at home are into a routine. It entails waiting for someone or something to rescue them or an opportunity to cash out like the people they quietly despise. If these two fail, japa becomes the last resort.
Right from the airport, you see them. They see you as the lucky ones who escaped. In their innermost hearts, they are the unseen people. The fatigue of living in a hopeless environment where swathes of unhappiness dot the landscape of misery has slowed them down.
What got reinforced in me was the belief that I owe them something. Why? Because I escaped – I think.
We must show empathy and kindness instead of exhibiting mild irritations or full-blown anger at every infraction. There is an ongoing argument on whether they know what they are involved in and how they live their lives contribute to the cruelty of their society. Like most things, it is a luxurious debate that most cannot afford.
More than being pissed, I found myself cheering for the Nigerian. Surviving that pressure cooker and remaining human is no small feat.
I get why they may not be able to speak up. I get why they may feel hopeless. I get it now. Trust me, it is a beautiful thing.
I’m not making up excuses for them. They do not just feel invisible; they have lived in invisibility until it became their default state.
They will need partners to muster the courage to say or do something. Only then will their ears open up, and they will hear the people on top of the mountain and those deep in the valley saying and doing something about it.
And that will be another beautiful thing.
Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo teaches Post-Colonial African History at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He is also the host of Dr. Damages Show. His books include “This American Life Sef” and “Children of a Retired God,” among others. His upcoming book is called “Why I’m Disappointed in Jesus.”