Life as a Nigerian: The Dark Side by JJ Omojuwa

At the receiving end of all that happens or does not happen to Nigeria is the average Nigerian. It is a tough job to be a Nigerian. Things you ought to take for granted as a bonafide human being are deemed special, and abnormal realities have become so normalised we even at times become overly conscious of the normal. Almost every Nigerian can relate to this; when you have electricity supply for a three-day stretch, for instance, you are left wondering, “What’s going on?” and you start hoping “They don’t decide to take it and not bring it for a while” as punishment for the unusual stretch. We have essentially got so used to the abnormal, in reality, the normal has since changed. When you really think about it, you’d see the average Nigerian does not expect to be treated right. We have been so abused; by the government, by service providers, by one another, that, to be treated even normal, without any special privilege, we feel like we’ve got a rare privileged treatment. This reality is at the root of why almost everyone gets away with maltreating the average Nigerian.

Millions of Nigerians have become slaves inside of their own country. In Nigeria, it is not unusual to see multinational companies maltreating their Nigerian workers. These workers are placed on contracts that depict nothing but a slavery agreement. There are multinational companies that hire their workers on a month-by-month basis. You are technically a labourer who can be used and dumped at anytime. In this sort of working condition, most of these companies use technicalities like “outsourcing” and the probation period of hiring contract staff to abuse the laws. Some of these companies operate globally and adhere to global best practices elsewhere but they of course adjust to the normal depending on what the normal is wherever they operate. The normal in Nigeria is the abuse of workers, laws and processes. Most of these are done through other Nigerians who are like the “House Slaves” during the slave trade era when House Slaves assumed they were better than other slaves because they fed from the crumbs off the Slave Masters’ tables and slept in the house even if sleeping in the house often meant sleeping at corners or spaces that ordinarily would be taken by the house pets.

These Nigerian “House Slaves” are the ones who actually help to mete out the abuse on their fellow Nigerians. They make statements like, “Ah! That is too much for them o. That is not how we do it here.” We are indeed our own worst enemies. We generally agree that our leaders are mostly bad but have we even taken the time to think it through; will a group of doctors hire a carpenter to lead them? Like my mentor said, will a group of pastors hire an Imam to lead them? A group of armed robbers will always be led by an armed robber, in the same way, the characteristics we see in most of our leaders is the exact same one in most of us Nigerians, the difference only being that power helps to amplify character. Our leaders are not worse than us; they are us with the magnifying force of power and money. Nothing else.

How is it that companies and brands that do the right thing elsewhere, even in other African countries get away with evil in Nigeria? It is because across the chain that makes sure these companies do the right thing, there is a Nigerian that sacrifices our collective interest for a personal gain. The accumulation of that is the Nigerian reality of “anything goes.”

Where do you even start? Governors have their personal names on state projects; some are even shameless enough to have their names on wheelbarrows and kegs. What can you say about a leader that sought to empower his citizens who decided handing them one wheelbarrow each was the way to go? What can you then say about that same man if he goes ahead to have his name on such wheelbarrows? There are many ways to describe this madness but at the root of it is an emptiness that no amount of power or money can fill. How can a governor have his name on wheelbarrows? Pure madness!

Of all the interrelationships within Nigeria, the worst one is the one from one Nigerian to the other. Tragically, we have subconsciously accepted that we are sub-humans. We burn fellow citizens for stealing food; we beat fellow citizens to death for daring to steal goods well below N1m but we practically worship the big thieves whose actions meant that children who ought to have been in school drop out of school, and with that grow into armed robbers at worst or unemployable members of the society at best. We curse the consequence yet worship the effect. We think we hate stealing and corruption when in reality what we hate is those who dare to steal small. We really believe we hate poverty and would want it eradicated by all means but all pointers show that what we really hate are the poor themselves. We cannot begin to change this if we do not at first look at these anomalies and immoralities and admit, this is really who we have been.

We can change! It begins with one person. Kindness can be taught through conventional classes, but kindness is better taught through experience. A woman or man who is used to being respected is less likely to treat others with disrespect. A citizen who is treated with dignity is less likely to treat others differently. Those of us who know better – or think we do – should at least do better than just talk and complain, we need to show better examples. Until we change the reality of the average Nigerian that expects to be maltreated, even when spending his or her money at an average shop, we really cannot make the necessary and persistent demand that’d force the change we need in the way we are governed. Here, we are expected to bow to our leaders when of a truth, our leaders are our servants. They earn our respect by virtue of their work not force respect out of us by virtue of their position. This is the reason a lot of people have since lost the respect they thought they had once they left power.

We have a long way to go but we can at least start by admitting that this is not the right way to go forward. We cannot build a country where the Nigerian is not valued; wherein many companies and places, the Nigerian is indeed a second-class citizen. We cannot get foreign governments to respect our citizens abroad when back home we treat one another like animals. The National Orientation Agency is a waste, if not, it would have been such a great tool for change. It would not exist in a country that indeed works but now that such an agency exists, it should at least get to earn its budget. Having said that, we the people must commit to being different, to understanding that ultimately, the Nigerian reality is the aggregation of our collective thoughts and action.

Japheth Omojuwa is Editor of

This piece was originally published in Punch newspaper of 29/05/2017, republished here with permission