The ‘God is in Control’ Excuse

Straws on the Camel’s Back: Part 3

I must confess my initial hesitation to write this final piece.  In a country dominated by so much religion, I am treading on dangerous waters by putting this issue to paper.  However, I am tired of being scared of upsetting people.  I could go on about the Nigerian fear of offence but I will conserve my 500 words.

If you’ve ever walked these streets, you would have heard variants of the dismissive phrase, ‘God is in control’, and its deceitful companion, ‘it is well’.  Don’t worry, this is not a rant against God or religious hope.  Nigerians, both believer and sceptic, recite these phrases as a way of deceiving themselves into a personal utopia where they are excused from being proactive and problems are expelled from their thoughts.  We don’t do anything about suffering and domestic abuse, saying, “God is in control”.  Government officials pocket money meant for the fight against terrorism: It is well.

When people ask me if I’m getting used to the excruciating Lagos traffic, I tell them quite bluntly, “No. And I don’t want to get used to it”.  I don’t want to settle down into something that shouldn’t be and just say, “It is well”.  I don’t see what’s well about a person spending four hours on the road just to travel two miles.  All the while, motionless motorists are being robbed.  You finally arrive home to find that there’s still no electricity, thus no running water.  After eating dinner in the darkness, you go to bed but your sleep is stolen by the symphony of generators from your lucky neighbours who found petrol in the fuel scarcity.  So, you use what’s left of your phone battery to read the news where you discover that yet another person has been kidnapped, a school has been set on fire and some person has bought a N2,000,000 Valentino dress with N135,000 heels to go with it.  All is not well!

We choose to live in an abyss of false hope, using pretend religion as an excuse for our lethargy towards injustice and corruption.  We have somehow managed to deceive ourselves to the point that we are now convinced all this is normal and that someday normal will somehow get better.  Tomorrow, you’ll wake up and everything will be bright and glorious without you lifting a finger.  Perhaps you are waiting for fire to fall from heaven because God is in control.  What use is your sighing and shrugging shoulders when you possess the ability to bring about change.  No one wants to be the one to make the difference.  Fast money and personal gain are of greater interest.

Maybe I am being pessimistic.  True, the Nigerian hope is rather romantic; but a line needs to be drawn between optimism and just plain foolishness.  What may have initially started as honest positivity has become a sad farce.

The fact that we love deceiving ourselves.  This is a straw on the camel’s back.

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Unlearning Sexism

Straws on the Camel’s Back: Part 2

From the first light of birth, Nigerian females are taught that life is unfair and there’s nothing one can do about it. You are taught to be complacent and subdue yourself before the male. They are stronger and more authoritative than women; therefore, they are worthy of all respect and servitude. Your mother, aunties and employers all knowingly or unconsciously subscribe to this philosophy: it is a woman’s job to be inconvenienced and a man’s job to reap the fruits of said inconveniencing.

I have always felt the inequality troubling but I learnt to label these feelings as premature teenage rebellion and tried my best to dismiss them. Over the years, my reasoning has evolved drastically and blossomed into something quite contrary to the Nigerian mentality. I now understand that the only difference between the sexes is anatomy – everything else remains the same. However, although the visible shoot of understanding has begun bearing sweeter fruit, the roots remain unchanged with its hairs sinking deeply into the core of my being. In other words, I – like many other Nigerian females – have been programmed to be sexist against my very self. Regardless of what I profess, this underlying sentiment still lingers. Returning home exposed an array of attitudes and automatic practices that I thought long defeated. I am now at war with my preconditioned mind to unlearn the so-called cultural values.

I say daily, “I am equal”. It is a dose needed to purge my psyche of the rotten parts of culture. I am not against culture. Indeed, it is impossible for a group of humans to coexist without a distinct way of life creeping up and taking shape. Nevertheless, cultures are forged by wisdom as well as ignorance. It is the cultural ‘values’ influenced by ignorance that are constant thorns in my flesh projecting microscopic hooks that make them difficult to pull out. Ignorance is a silent, parasitic affliction that twists and bends the lenses of one’s eyes to produce a distorted view of reality.

Two weeks ago, I overheard a conversation between a man and his abusive brother-in-law. He cited the husband’s masculinity as a reason to restrain from hitting the wife. Really?! I never knew ‘masculinity’ was a deterrent against domestic abuse. He said the word as if to say ‘crowning glory’. No talk of love, peaceful conversation in marriage or even crime – just his majestic masculinity and her feeble femininity.

I am tired of being sentenced to certain tasks because I have breasts and not male genitals. I am irritated by people’s assumptions about my preferences because “every girl loves heels and long weaves, don’t they?” I am maddened when I’m repeatedly advised to find a good man to take care of me so I won’t have to worry about anything in life. Above all, it scares me when I find myself thinking the same.

The fact that my biology is still considered subordinate. This is a straw on the camel’s back.

The People Outside My Window

Straws on the Camel’s Back: Part 1

The people outside my window unsettle me. Their sun-scorched skin and pleading eyes proclaim the unworthiness of my own birth. Hawkers and beggars, my age and much younger, look through the separation of the car window with an aura of hope hanging heavily on them that I will consider their lives and alleviate their hunger.

Since my return home, I have felt the plight of poverty more deeply than ever before. In the West, well in the UK, poverty is not so obvious in its physical form. Desolation is well hidden within council buildings, welfare benefits and soup kitchens. Even the British homeless are healthy well-to-do people compared to the ragged hungry I see here in Lagos. And they go largely unnoticed in the heated chaos of the city. No one else seems to mind. No one else seems to notice their suffering. It is all normal life to them. Nigeria suffers from a severe desensitisation to suffering.

Where is the compassion? Among a people that profess so much religion, poverty’s grip still strangles many. Souls are littered on the streets gasping for air. With their suffocated breaths they call out in faint raspy voices for what little help anyone is reluctantly willing to offer. Their voices are largely unheard and suffering takes hold of their minds.

It is painful for me to watch my people bathe in poverty. People that could easily have been me if not for the cold decisions of fate. Life saw fit to birth me into affluence. It set me on a path of abundant nourishment, a steady luxurious roof sheltering me from tropical storms, strong brick walls providing refuge from the dangers that roam at night, a world-class education and countless other unjust blessings. All the while, others are perishing, struggling for their next meal and being terrorised by the authorities that should be protecting them. These people hunt me.

I do what little I can do. Sharing small change, giving a little food and clothes; but what am I, one unemployed person, in a multitude of 170 million? I can affect one or two people’s lives a day but regardless of how much I do, I am not enough. The Nigerian attitude towards life and humanity is diseased. There is no value for life, absolutely no appreciation for the human soul.

The fact that suffering is ignored. This is a straw on the camel’s back.

Straws on the Camel’s Back

Intro

I recently moved back to Lagos after spending my entire teenage life in the UK. I anticipated settling down and relearning the culture here in Nigeria would be difficult. It has been horrendous. I liken my daily experiences to someone carving out my brain and soaking it in boiling hot water. I am not adjusting well at all. Admittedly, much of my discomfort stems from me getting too comfortable with Western life and not seeing Nigeria as home. I am simply here because my passport says that I should be here. However, there are some legitimate issues I have with this country. I refer to them as ‘straws on the camel’s back’. Eventually this back may break. Well, unless I take off some of the straws and dump them on someone else. I feel myself descending steadily into a state of insanity. If I do not write, I will break down.

Most of this would not be new and probably sound like a repeat of other articles and would be embossed with clichés; but this exercise is necessary venting so I make no apologies for its unoriginality. I have limited myself to no more than 500 words on each article in this series to stop myself from unintelligible ranting. I am a reserved person by nature but on these topics I could go on for pages and pages.

The reader should also note that this is a result of personal reflection. I generally do not like writing in the first person but this was necessary in order to convey the inner workings of my mind. So important it is for me to express myself that several times during the course of writing this series I have had to caution myself on the excessive use of adjectives and conjunctions to tie in these adjectives.

Read and let me know what you think. Leave comments, advice or whatever. But do try to be nice.