Nigerians’ dependency mentality

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PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan handed out so-called national honours on Monday. It was a glittering affair that was preceded by the grubbiness of the selection process. The ceremony lacked the dignity of a food queue in a crowded refugee camp. Refugees are not leeches like many people in Nigeria. It is only in Nigeria that a magnificent medal is awarded for mediocrity or even for murder.

Corruption is premeditated murder. A child dies when a contractor in collusion with a corrupt government official delivers adulterated drugs to a hospital. But corruption and lethal inefficiency are not punished in Nigeria. Some countries garrotte dishonest officials, but Nigeria garlands them.

Nigeria is a country of unexceptional deeds and many misdeeds. Nigeria is a hyena of laziness and leaping opportunism. Its contribution to technological civilisation is nil, but it uses the products of other people’s triumphant ingenuity with peacock-like ostentation. The rich, many of them nabobs of moral noxiousness, consume luxury goods with a vile conspicuousness.

Nigeria imports everything, from crisps to cars. So on what basis does the government award national honours? Honours should be given for rare achievements. Aristotle said: ‘Dignity does not consist in possessing honours, but in deserving them.’ In Nigeria, some people may be honoured for donating imported bags of rice.

Many Nigerians shamelessly seek freebies. They have a dependency mentality. Some of them are catered for by the state from comfortable cradle to ornate grave.

I attended the inauguration of a British Council library in 1992. There were disgusting scenes after the library was inaugurated and it was time for refreshments. Well dressed men and women, many of them elderly, rushed towards the tables on which snacks were arrayed. Elbows shot out like battle pikes to stop other guests from getting to the tables before them. Serviettes bled and sagged under the weight of storeys of snacks, a sight that would have astounded a magpie, which is known for its indiscriminate greed. But a magpie is only a bird. These were human beings and ordinary pastries had reduced them to the level of grunting lower primates.

One of the guests was a well-known city figure, a man of professional accomplishment and wealth. The snacks he and others had made a disgraceful dash for could be afforded by a labourer.

I hear that some Nigerian diplomats also scramble for food at parties hosted by junior envoys of foreign embassies in Nigeria.

Many people freely make demands but say nothing about duty. One man who correctly predicted the result of the 1986 World Cup final between Italy and West Germany whined that he had not been rewarded by his employers. He was a sportswriter on a government newspaper. He was given his prize by the organisers of the competition in Nigeria, but he still wanted his employers and the state government to give him a handsome gift for bringing ‘honour’ to the state. The man had merely correctly predicted the result of a football match. He saw a mere guess as the crowning of a heroic quest.

One actor who starred in a television serial complained to a newspaper that the federal government had not adequately recognised his importance. He said he should be living like a king, but was having trouble making ends meet. He said the government should know that it was its duty to pay his bills.

The man was paid for his role in the serial, which some people found entertaining. But he was not an employee of the government. He had no claim to a special consideration.

It is offensive when people make demands when they should be making a humble appeal for assistance. It is supposed to be the right of those who served the government ‘meritoriously’ to be taken care of when they are sick or when they are old. These are not people who have found a cure for sickle cell disease. They did not undertake a dangerous and self-sacrificing mission to ensure the stability of their country. Some of them were mere cogs in the wheel, people who performed unimportant, uncomplicated duties.

They were paid a salary, sometimes for doing nothing. Employees are expected to earn their pay. Those who do not work hard, or are crooked, are sacked. But government employees hardly get fired in Nigeria. A government job in Nigeria is better than a sinecure; it is more secure than tenure in American universities. Nigeria is perhaps the only country in the world where the competent performance of a duty is seen as an extraordinary achievement.

They do not come more accomplished than the great Joe Louis. Perhaps the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time, he died in virtual poverty. He was compelled by straitened circumstances to become an usher. His relations did not rudely ask the American government to pay his bills when he became ill.

Only a tiny percentage of the population works for the government. Government workers are paid a salary until they are 60 years old and then begin to receive a pension. Salaries are regular, but pensions are not promptly paid, which is not right. Pensions are sometimes delayed for months and this is cruel.

But the vast majority of Nigerians must fend for themselves. Many of them earn a living of harassing uncertainty. They live in inner cities or in malarial slums by the sea. Some of their children live on the street. They are the Artful Dodgers who may become armed robbers.

These children and their parents who are unable to earn a decent living because of poor infrastructure are more deserving of attention than those who had the opportunity to work ‘meritoriously’ for the government. But the government itself is a beggar. It is always begging foreign countries for help. It seems it will take some doing to destroy Nigerians’ demeaning dependency mentality.

Nosa Osaigbovo, Friday, 18 November 2011

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