Nigeria is a hilarious country. Not hilarious in the pure form that comedy can exist in, where it is true joy that draws out deep laughter from our soul but in the way that we tend to apply comedy, as a mask or filter for pain. Nigeria is the sort of comedy that needs to be a comedy because otherwise, the pain of the tragedy would be too much to bear.
It is clear to me that our desire to make light work of our situation stems from a deep seated feeling that we are effectively in a state of perpetual pain, it genuinely feels like hell. In Viktor Frankl’s astonishing book, Man’s Search For Meaning, he details how many of the prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps coped with the intense dehumanization; comedy was one of these ways. An incredibly powerful tool, it prevented many minds from breaking and he writes, “It is well known that humor, more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.”
Of course, as a Nigerian, I recognize that. I recognize how we attempt to rise above the threatening insanity of Nigerian chaos because otherwise, we could very well lose our minds. This week alone, we have found comedy in a scenario that would otherwise raise alarms and heighten fears. In a tragic comedy, members of the Nigerian Army shot and killed a number of Police officers who were transporting a notorious kidnapper in Taraba State. These members of the Nigerian Army ‘rescued’ this kidnapper and set him free and to turn this entire scenario from comedy to farce, the official Twitter handle of the Nigerian Police Force wrote a response from the Police in an attempt to either shame the Nigerian Army, the Nigerian Government or to try and get Nigerians to rise in protest, to which Nigerians mocked, “in defense of the police?!”
This is not a unique occurrence. Repeatedly, our news cycle is inundated with stories that are fundamentally terrifying in what they reveal about Nigerian society and yet we are so deeply traumatized by the Nigerian state that we find the humor in them. This is perhaps why we do not treat the curtailing of Nigerian lives with anything approaching reverence. 100 lives in Zamfara? Thoughts and prayers are all we [can] offer.
Yet, I understand it. There is a pain that comes from seeing things too clearly. A darkness that forms perpetually in your mind when you are no longer able (or willing) to see the funny side. I am unable to see the humor in my country anymore because I can see the very real and very present evil that hides in the shadows and now that I can see what lurks beneath the curtains, laughter does not come as easily.
It is there, in the shadows, that our sensibilities are dulled and the true ideals of the enlightened are perverted. There, we are enamored with objects, erroneously mistaking them as true measures of our worth, blinded by the frivolities of existence. There, we deny reason so that we may craft a reality to suit our worldview. There, we manipulate our natural human tendency for hope and we corrupt it.
In our relatively short lives, we have had no shortage of hope. We have seen darkness descend on our young Republic. Unprotected and left to the ravages of the shadows. In 2015, we crystallized our hope into raw power and for the first time in a long time, a generation felt the intensity of hope and the inevitable crushing despair that followed. It was in 2015 that the Nigerian middle class millennial generation truly experienced the encompassing nature of politics for the first time. And we were burned. Many of us are still yet to escape the sunk cost of supporting our preferred candidates, preferring instead to remain in the shadows of dogma, ‘safe’.
As fairly well off members of the middle class, we are somewhat insulated from the issues that plague the average Nigeria. The somewhat-quality education and healthcare that we have received in our lives and taken for granted are luxuries for the vast majority of Nigerian citizens.
A few months ago, as a journeyed to Kogi state by road, I happened upon a vicious accident. An interstate bus had flipped over, spilling its contents, both human and inanimate, aside; it was lodged firmly in the bushes, on its side. Windows smashed, it was clear that more than a few people were injured and some passengers may have even been killed on impact.
My eyes wandered further forward and there she was, laying on the ground, in a pool of her own blood and broken window glass. She was dying in the middle of the road, pedestrians had paused to take in the spectacle on the side of the road and some were crying, others were praying. I asked a fellow passenger where the nearest hospital was and he sighed and replied that it was too far for it to matter.
I looked around, not pained by death itself, for death is inevitable, but the nature of it. I wonder about that day often and all the ways the Nigerian government conspired to kill that woman. Why are the roads so narrow with so many curves? Why are there no emergency services on routes that interstate buses are known to ply? I believe that more people die from the lack of immediate care after these accidents than from the accidents themselves and I am currently not in the state of mind to provide data. I wondered how many lives have been lost because of these tiny, seemingly insignificant things, these very solvable problems.
I have always believed that Nigerians have been handed the short end of the governance stick for 60 years but on that day, I experienced the fatality of it. We do not have, as our foundation, a respect for life, for liberty, dignity and justice. These ideals escape us and it shows, not only in our government but in our people as well.
And so, the question must be how do we change the Nigerian reality? More than that, how do we begin to see Nigeria more seriously than we currently do? Comedy is our weapon, a potent weapon, it is not just how we navigate this treacherous society but how we attempt to assume control over the Nigerian situation, if only to placate ourselves. Overused, there is a danger that we are using comedy not just to cope with our society but to numb ourselves to its pain.
We cannot afford to hide behind this anymore, we cannot afford to hope that our deeply broken society will change all on its own without our help. We all have expectations of a revolution, a fundamental, violent revolution but we must not forget that these “violent delights have violent ends” and we must seek better, sustainable ways to transition our republic from what is to what ought to be.
This is why I have brought Vision before you as a conduit for our beliefs. I believe that society begins with ideals and that we must make our way towards those ideals; that we construct laws and build institutions to push us closer to those goals and that together, we can aspire to reach our vision of the republic.
This vision intends to completely redefine the playing ground. Politics is not optional for us; as the method by which our society is molded, it is an unavoidable tool for fundamental change and we must not make the mistake that many made in the generation before us. That is why this Vision exists. To take us from where we are to where we should be, to establish and disseminate the essence of a democracy, of the ideals that should form the soul of our society. We want to grow grassroots influence in one state for half a decade and then build enough will with the people to influence voting patterns.
Once in power, our candidates (governors, state legislators and so on) will pursue our ideals with speed, executing our plans as closely to perfection as possible.We hope to raise our chosen state as a model of our belief in our ability and a beacon to the rest of the country that it is indeed possible to not only change the political landscape but positively change the Republic as well. Running on the back of the success of our one state, we will then run for the office of the President and the seats at the National Assembly and other state Governors as well.
Once there, we will begin the process of breaking the current system we have and rebuilding one that represents the true ideals that our society should run on. I know this seems simple and straightforward in theory, but the reality is far from it. Even now, the political wheel is moving to install faces in 2023 and 2027 and we will contend with dark, troublesome forces that are drenched in a terrifying lack of humanity.
But, it is possible. And it is possible in ways that require no extraordinary effort from the vast majority of those who are willing to see our country truly change. It means making small but significant commitments to a cause that unites us. Whether it is the time we take to visit communities, or small, significant donations for campaigns and verifiable causes, or using expertise to create tools to boost effectiveness; there are ways, concrete and specific ways to make a lasting impact in the reformation of our society.
I know that it will take sacrifice but freedom often does and there is a strength that comes from not just knowing that a thing is right but in doing it as well. The only way to be brave is to be brave. The only way to be wise is to be wise. In every case, the onus lies on us to be, to take our destiny our own hands and mold it in a manner of our choosing. Our strength lies in our numbers and right now, it is of utmost necessity that we lend ours to our frail and dying Republic.