This Nigerian Life by David Ogundipe

Have you ever thought about the cause of the national dilemma? I mean, why do we suffer what we suffer? Why is being a Nigerian is a “crime?”What are the reasons for corruption? Why does unemployment pervade the youth population? What is the cause of poverty? You know it? No! Don’t say that again. It is not the Government. For the purpose of this piece, the problem lies with you, the apparitions of pastors and imams in your places of worship, your unfair teachers and some insensitive parents. 

Life is unfair, but even more so if you are born in Nigeria. The problems are so many that one cannot help but think that his being a Nigerian is a punishment for an offence. The situation is so dire that even places that should be known for their pious nature, motivating objectives and decorum have turned out to be the opposite. Chinua Achebe of blessed memory once said that Nigeria is a place where nothing works. I agree with a slight modification – Nigeria is a place where nothing is made to work. Even in death, rest is not guaranteed in Nigeria, your tomb or body can be tampered with.

In spite of the open condemnation of abuse of all kinds, people – especially children –increasingly suffer abuse. These leaders of tomorrow grow up with this anomaly and eventually into sadists. Let us collectively review a common trend. A kid, of less than 10 years, has to go to school before 8:00 am every morning, the regular class ends by 2 pm. Then from 2:30 pm to 4:30 pm he must wait behind for school lesson. That is not the end, he will get home, tired and helpless only to meet his private teacher waiting to tutor him from 5 pm to 6:30 pm or 7 pm. After which there will be assignments for him to do before going to bed. The next day, he must wake up before 6:00 am. His parents would brave the never ending traffic congestion to drop him at school. Is that proper upbringing? No, it is abuse remixed!  Where is the space for self discovery? Where is the chance to learn that the demands of this world transcend school works and the mental pressure to excel? Did you notice there was hardly time for the kid to discuss with his parents? The hidden truth is that most children spend longer hours at work than even their parents. That is a form of abuse we don’t avert our minds to.

Have you ever been a victim of serious flogging where soft words and simple discourse would have sufficed? That is the habit typical of some Nigerian teachers, especially in the public schools. It has become a celebrated trend such that some teachers are contracted solely to inflict physical pain. They are celebrities when cane handling and thorough bashing are involved. When a child grows in such a hostile environment, it becomes difficult for him to develop a sense of responsibility. As he has been made to understand that force must be applied in doing anything, he lacks the ability to channel his thoughts to create solutions that will foster unity when problem comes. I witnessed a scenario where the result of a mathematics test was released; the highest mark obtainable was 20. The teacher entered the class with dozens of canes and stood in the presence of the visibly frightened students. After they’d all checked their scores, the teacher said “if you scored 20, sit down.” None of them did, he flogged them round and went back to the front, “if you scored 19, sit down.” Two did, again he flogged the others round. He repeated this till only one boy who had 2 was left standing. By then, the boy had taken nothing less than 18 strokes of the “beater’s” cane. Does study not depend on the goodwill of the student? Can that goodwill be achieved by force, threat or intimidation?  Why is our searchlight on abuse not directed towards this act? On several occasions, I have met people who narrated their ordeals in the hands of some teachers and this gave me the impression that going to school is where they got it wrong. To every general rule, must Nigerians be a negative exception?

An average Nigerian teacher at any level believes that academic excellence is achieved through addictive reading. Quote me, it is not. It is achieved through a mindset that is psychologically fit enough to ignore several unpleasant elements to grab the information of the moment and apply same. No amount of beating can create that psychological fitness. If it does, it won’t last. Before you beat that boy for scoring the least mark in your test, why don’t you understand what he is passing through? Did he leave home on an empty stomach? Did he witness any altercation between his parents before leaving home? Is your style of teaching fair to the academically less fortunate in the class? Is he confused by the trends of anomalies seen everywhere? Have you simply explained technical information to non-technical individuals in your class? Is he cut out for something easier than your imposition? Does he see the world through different lenses? Ask, do not flog. There is more to the elementary science you are desperate to let him understand. That he is unable to grab that topic fast does not mean he won’t lead the class in another. A teacher knows this; those in the habit of child abuse do not. A teacher once got so mad at one student who had 14 marks out of the 80 obtainable in an exam that he lamented in Yoruba “maa pa e loni, e bami wa egba!” (I will kill you today, someone should get me a cane). He did not kill the boy but he made sure the boy saw hell. If I were that boy, I won’t assume a Nigerian teacher can’t kill through beating. I would run away and never return to that torturing institution called school. Abuse could not have been something bigger than that.

I have observed that most Nigerian educational institutions – primary to tertiary – are only concerned about churning out academic graduates and good students. They are not in the business of producing graduates with the understanding of the basic rules of life and principles of responsibility. They produce outstanding students in law, engineering, accounting, philosophy, medicine, history and other fields. Yet, most of these outstanding students become national worries because they are finding it hard to be responsible citizens.  The point is we’ve had enough outstanding students – some doing good for themselves and others adding more to the problems of the nation. We need outstanding personalities. This extends beyond knowing the whole of modern Biology offhand, getting acquainted with all mathematical formulae or mastering the entire rules of concord. Good citizenship demands more than that. This cannot be achieved in the type of academic environments illustrated above where knowledge is acquired in the hard ways without minding what could become of such forceful learning.

Few days back, I came across the lamentation of a friend on Facebook. He was enraged by the treatment he got at the Central mosque in Ilorin all because he wanted to worship his Creator. My friend was neither drunk nor dressed in a manner worthy of being a security concern, but he was not allowed to enter the mosque. In his account, a Senator arrived after him and all the gates were opened while he and other “ordinary” men were eventually left with no choice but to observe their Jumaat (Friday prayer) on the road outside the mosque. I do not know if the Chief Imam or anyone in charge authorized that or were made aware of it, but it tells of the abuse common men suffer everywhere. I may not know much about the life of Prophet Muhammed (S.A.W), but with the little I have read about him, I can say inequality is a vice he detested and strongly condemned till His death. How come we want to further his mission through inequality? La ilaha illallah…

A couple of days later, another friend through the same medium related her observation at a Redeemed Church. This time, a man who was staggering to enter the church was pushed away by a woman at the entrance. Again, he struggled to rise, maybe drunk or weak, I do not know but he still got pushed and he fell. I inferred that the man in question may not have known anything, but he was certain that he needed to enter the church- he needed that moment with God. My friend proceeded to the market on her mission. The disturbing part was that, on her return she saw the man denied access to God sitting beside the church and weeping uncontrollably. Was the gathering not meant to celebrate the Jesus known as the “friend of sinners?” Was it not the same Jesus that ate at Zacchaeus’ place? Was Jesus not the man that pardoned a prostitute? Even at death, He ensured that the thief at the right hand saw salvation. What a friend we have in Jesus, what a fate the man suffered in trying to meet Him!

Our parents as the presidents in our homes, should create enabling environments for their children to develop good interpersonal skills, sense of diplomacy, high self esteem, mutual respect and honesty. Most parents have failed in this duty; they are as bad as the government of the day.  Our teachers are the governors in the schools; they should know the concerns of each student and ensure there is fairness in the distribution of intellectual wealth. Most teachers have failed in this duty; they beat pupils and students, insult their reasoning and create inequality by licking the boots of the children of those with better social status. A place of worship should be a sanctuary for all persons who seek God – the poor, the weak, the tempted, the worried, the sick and the repentant. There is where their strength waits. Today, our religious places make the poor poorer, the weak at heart get weaker, temptations abound and worries keep growing. The keepers of faith and religion have failed in power. They have abandoned their primary calling for worldly missions. In fact, a church recently asked people to pay before they can enter and pray to the Lord that supposedly receives anybody regardless of status. The government may build roads, they cannot build our individual character, the government may maintain railways, they cannot maintain our attitudes to the next man, the government may provide free education, they cannot guarantee knowledge, there may be enough health facilities but without a healthy relationship and sense of responsibility, all is a waste.

Attitude is the key; our lack of a positive attitude is the problem. As long as most of us, if not all, will go through some or all these forms of abuse in life, national danger looms. The products of today’s anomalies are the presidents, governors, senators, clerics, judges, legislators, teachers, parents and common men of tomorrow. By then, what will they offer since one can’t give what he does not have?

David Oluwasegun Ogundipe

Oluwasegun is a Nigerian.

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