A continuation of a love letter to the Nigerian people
By Kola King
Indeed, this unique person is a living paradox. He is exceptionally religious and attends church services and calls to prayer in the mosque on a regular basis. Despite sanctimonious exhortations from pastors and Imams, he tends to cling to his traditional beliefs. Some are ready to swear or take an oath at the ancestral shrine at the drop of a hat. For example, the Ulasi Shrine of dubious infamy. This shrine, located in Okija, Anambra State, is believed to be a powerful juju. Nigeria’s National newspapers reported in July 2003 that the then governor of that state, Dr Chris Ngige, was abducted by gunmen suspected of being agents of his political godfathers. Before his ascension to office, the governor was believed to have sworn to an oath at the Ulasi shrine, along with his political godfathers, with the aim of redeeming his promise to his sponsors.
Apparently that oath was believed to have been violated, hence the kidnapping of the governor. At the root of all this is the corrosive influence of money in politics. They had bankrolled Ngige’s election and were now asking for payback. But Chris Ngige was no longer as good as his word. In this atmosphere of skulduggery in Anambra his home state, Africa’s foremost literary giant Chinua Achebe rejected national honours conferred on him by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, accusing the central government of complicity in the Governor Ngige saga.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that Dr Chris Ngige is a staunch Catholic and thus the Ulasi Shrine in Okija is emblematic of the duality of the Nigerian psyche. Despite the influx of Christianity and Islam, practically every community has its own ancestral shrine. Still the shrines are routinely patronized and the ancestral spirits provide quick-fix solutions to myriad human problems.
Despite his strong religious convictions, The Nigerian is at heart a superstitious being. He believes in ancestral spirits and submits to their rituals. He is a slave of tradition, taboos, custom and rituals. Still he believes in incubus and succubus — evil spirits. He also accepts as true the existence of witches and wizards. He blames his misfortune on them, while paying scant regard to the laws of cause and effect, which the holy books describe as sowing and reaping. The truth is you cannot sow yam and then reap cocoyam. He attributes his afflictions, such as the loss of a job, barrenness, sickness, and even the deaths of loved ones to the evil machinations of enemies back home. This is called “home trouble” in local parlance. Generally, there is a thin line between modern religion and traditional worship. Some easily cross the borders between traditional and modern religion; some even combine the two together. That is, they are neither fish nor fowl.
Regardless of the fact that he is religious and wears it on his sleeve, he is more of a hearer rather than a doer of the Word. He hardly practices what he preaches. Outwardly, he is religious, on the obverse, the tenets of his religion are mostly observed in the breach, as his actions negate what his faith preaches. He is more interested in the letter rather than the spirit of religion. He waxes eloquent about religion, but he is not a shining model of what he accepts as true. However, this does not detract from the fact that the majority of Nigerians believe in the efficacy of prayers.
The typical Nigerian loves to pray, and it would not be out of turn to conclude that prayer is a national pastime. He is very serious when it comes to observing his prayers and very devoted to his religion. Those engaged in traditional worship do so with devotion and fervor, making the usual sacrifices and rituals to propitiate the ancestral spirits for peace in the land and for good harvests for farmers. This clearly explains why Nigeria has been able to surmount numerous crises and challenges which otherwise would have consumed some lesser praying nations or societies. Because of this seeming ability to overcome serious crises, some foretold, many have come to believe that Nigeria is the land of God. For Nigerians, God is one of them.
In some ways, the Nigerian could be considered a split personality. Psychoanalysts would have a field day trying to unravel his persona. There is his blind devotion, unthinking self-humiliation, trust and belief in leadership, which is simply unfathomable. This aspect of his attitude to those in authority is a moral mystery. Perhaps this explains why some political and sectarian leaders have had such a mysterious stranglehold on their followers. At the nod of their masters, these followers unleash mayhem on real and perceived enemies. Regardless, the Nigerian is at once good and bad. He can be kind and generous while simultaneously greedy and self-centered. He is both straight and crooked. He can go to great lengths to welcome and entertain strangers or visitors. Basically, he is a combustible mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly.
For instance, the story of Josephine Ugwu, a cleaner at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos who found a bag containing 12 million naira (60,000 USD) and returned the money to the owner. This story continues to reverberate all over the country. Josephine earns a paltry 7,800 Naira monthly (40 USD). Being an honest and upright citizen she preferred money earned rather than money found. She walked the path of honesty and honour, and as a result, she has been celebrated for her integrity. Furthermore, there are many taxi drivers who have found millions left behind in their cabs only to return it to its owners.
ThisDay newspaper reported on September 20, 2012 that Mr Imeh Usuah, an Abuja-based cab driver found the sum of 120,000 US dollars (24 million naira) in a bag inside his cab after finishing work. It was left behind by a foreign national who had visited the country on a business trip. Imeh Usuah later returned the bag of money intact to its owner. He was later rewarded with national honours as Member of the Federal Republic (MFR) in 2014 for his honesty and integrity. Thus, great and heroic acts like these are often reported. Such acts by good folks like these speak to the goodness of Nigerians. Yes, there are scammers, crooks and fraudsters among us, just as there are in many societies. But they do not define Nigerians.
The real Nigerians are the silent majority who are hard working, reliable, patient, honest and longsuffering. Before the rains come, farmers are busy clearing the land in preparation for planting, while artisans rise up early waiting for jobs on construction sites. Farming is the biggest employer of labour since it provides employment for the majority of the rural population. These groups of people earn a living through the sweat of their brow. As diligent workers, no matter the field, the true Nigerian often lives as though he is captain of his own destiny. Generally he strikes one as a bundle of entrepreneurial savvy, a risk taker and an innovative spirit. He rarely waits for governments to do things for him. He can literally squeeze water out of stone.
Robustly competitive, creative and dynamic, Nigerians are making waves in music, the film industry, fashion and football. The ingenuity of Nigerians has translated into Nollywood, Nigeria’s movie industry, being rated as the third largest in the world after Hollywood in the USA and India’s Bollywood. Nollywood produces about 200 movies every month. Nollywood provides employment for about a million youths. Some notable movies produced in Nollywood include Domitila, Glamour Girls, Living in Bondage, Osuofia in London, Scores to Settle, Blood Money and October 1 among others. Nollywood is telling the story of Nigeria in a different way. Nollywood is the new voice of Africa. Africa’s story needs to be told by Africans.
Musicians like TuFace Idibia, D’Banj and PSquare are changing the face of music within the continent. Films produced in Nollywood are all the rage. This music sells like hot cakes all over the Africa and is very popular among the African Diaspora. These artists project a positive image of Nigeria to the world. They have done more than any government to put Nigeria’s image in good light. Indeed these artists are great cultural ambassadors of Nigeria.