George W Bush,then president of the United States,used the phrase “soft bigotry of low expectations”, against the democrats in 2004.Clearly,Bush used it as a riposte against the type of racism that masquerades as liberalism.Paternalistic,this type of liberalism views the black man as a child,whose needs are to be met,but who is not to be trusted with any great responsibility.Unlike the “hard” variety,which simply says “to hell with them,nothing good will ever come out of Africa,” soft-bigotry says “it is our duty to take care of these people,they certainly cannot do it themselves.” Both varieties are racist,founded on the idea that the black man is incapable,inferior.If you are black,this must make you angry,and sad.
It is sadder still that we,Nigerians,seem to agree with this racist assessment,a form of self-racism,self-directed bigotry.How else do you explain our talent for travesty and mediocrity.?We just cannot seem to do anything right.We have an aptitude for adulteration and bastardization.We have set the moral and ethical bar so low,that anything goes.Mediocrity has become our aspirational norm.We have come to expect so little of ourselves.And all this,because we have such low self-esteem.Such low self-confidence.Typically camouflaged in aggressive posturing,our low self-esteem can be seen in our crab-like acquisition of power and it’s symbols:money,titles and women;we seek validation in the amassing ,and ownership,of “objects”.
We feel bereft,denuded,undeserving and unworthy,unless surrounded by status symbols such as cars,houses,titles and plenty of money.Feeling so innately unworthy,we are willing to accept any condition.We would just “manage”. The worst part of it all,is that any attempt to be different,and insist on your right,makes you a target.You see this everywhere.If you have ever used public transport in Nigeria,then you know that protesting that a cab,with seating for only three passengers,should not try to squeeze in an extra person,makes you “wicked”, in the eyes of fellow passengers.You go to a restaurant that is near-empty,you take a seat at a clean table;the next guy that walks in,would probably make a bee-line for your table,rather than make an effort to get one of the many free tables cleaned by the steward.You dare not protest.If you do,then you must be very “selfish”.You end up eating with your elbows in each others sides and breathing into each others food.
Nigerians expect you to take “it”. Especially when “it”, is dished out by the government.As someone put it, “if the government tells Nigerians to climb a tree,people would simply comply.” Protesting will make you few friends.Instead,for your trouble,you will get a huge dose of abuse from fellow suffering citizens.I remember a few weeks ago,when Okey Ndibe,a professor and public commentator,protested about his “treatment” by the Nigerian immigration and security services,he was slated by a section of the comments on Saharareporters,an online newspaper.His critics were miffed that he dared to protest,when other Nigerians had passed through experiences that were much worse than his .Meaning that for suffering to be legitimate or valid,it must be unknown,novel.So novel that you can take out a patent on it.
So instead of protesting,our people take refuge in social emulation.It is all right as long as there is someone worse off than yourself.As an example,take power supply.Rather than insisting that the government should provide adequate power,our people prefer to take their chances with generators.There is a particular mini-generator,whose claims as a source of power are so feeble,so puny,that Nigerians re-christened it “i-pass-my-neighbour”, in recognition of the fact that it’s main value is social: it’s ownership differentiates you from your neighbour.This ability to find consolation in the fact that there are people worse off than we are,together with the fact that we think that unless we are “big men”,surrounded by “objects”, we are somehow unworthy,constitute a political anaesthetic,leading to lethargic citizenship.It is this unwillingness to exercise our rights as citizens,that underpins poor governance in this country.
Make no mistake about it,the government you get is the government you deserve.The protests in the middle-east prove that governments listen,and respond,to the messages sent them,by the people.If the people are lethargic or supine,they are sending a loud and clear message,which reads,”we do not care.” And if the people do not care,why should the government?If we want change in Nigeria,we cannot be so passive.We have to demand for it.In economics,demand means desire for a product or service,backed by the ability,and willingness,to pay for it.In other words,sacrifice.Politics is no different.Demand for change will have to be backed-up with willingness to sacrifice.Then the government will hear a different kind of message:”Change”. As things stand now,we have suffered plenty,at the hands our governments.But perhaps our suffering is not novel enough?Is it?