Last July, while travelling from Onitsha to Oshogbo via commercial road transport, I was once again treated to the unsettling greed of the Nigerian people. That a driver would hike his fare outrageously without cause didn’t particularly come as a surprise. In a country with no price regulation whatsoever, everyone has long since learnt to live under the tyranny of capitalist whims. However, the fact that the driver failed to deliver anything close to average service despite charging a treasonable sum came as a rude shock to me. My relative unfamiliarity with the perculiar dynamics of inter-state road transport in Nigeria was shamelessly exploited for the first time ever when I, not knowing that there was no direct bus plying the Onitsha-Oshogbo route, fell mugu to the voracious conductor who harried me into a Lagos bound bus, dutifully promising that the bus would actually make a stop-over at Oshogbo.
While I was still pondering in bewilderment how exactly the bus was going to navigate the unreasonable detour, more passengers came in, all heading for different destinations; some Ibadan, some Lagos, others Akure. Of course, prior to the journey, I had been warned about the duplicitous and seedy charisma of the Onitsha metropolis. Many of the indigenous friends I made during my stay in Anambra had even adviced me, with ominous ceremony, to clutch my luggage religiously, keep my phone hidden and shun strangers asking for help. However, no one seemed to have remembered to warn me about fraudulent transporters even in the registered parks. To cut the long story short, I was dumped at Ore, and with my travelling bag resting heavily against my feet and dust coating my sweaty brows, I must have cut a sad figure of helplessness amid the bustling industry around me. Confronting the driver proved to be a waste of time, my impassionate objections were chased right back down my throat by his curt rebuttals. To his credit, the driver was magnanimous enough to jam a thousand naira note into my pocket (supposedly as transport fare from Ore to Oshogbo) and bid me safe journey.
So with righteous fury seething coldly in my belly, I heaved my luggage and marched on to take the next Ore-Oshogbo bus, my deadly glare sending a gaggle of Fulani kids scurrying from my path. A similar pattern of event repeated itself when the Ore driver dropped us at Ife, announcing that he was going no further and loading us into another bus bound for Oshogbo. At that point, I had given up that there was any justice left in the world.
As it stands, I have come to the realization that the average Nigerian (if I can borrow that cliché term) is extremely greedy and selfish. The citizens are very irresponsible, yet we blame the government as if the political class are exclusive of the society, when in actual fact, it is the society that produces its leaders. A society so rife with corruption and all manner of toxic habits can not experience any significant progress no matter the effort of the government. A prime example of our unruly behavior can be seen on display as the year rolls to an end; the prices of everything, from food to clothing to transportation will continue to increase without any reasonable cause, aside from the fact that everyone wants to make ‘Christmas money’. The pepper seller will add an extra fifty naira to every plate of fresh pepper, same goes to the transporters, and even artisans.
Let us talk about the price of the most consumed staple in Nigeria. A bag of rice is now significantly costlier than a barrel of crude oil. Many Nigerians blame the closure of our land borders for the rise in the price of rice, but what about the unscrupulous middlemen who buy rice cheaply from local producers in the North and bring it down South to sell at jaw-dropping prices? What about the obnoxious rice millers who are taking advantage of the border closure to charge exorbitantly for the commodity? Are they not Nigerians?. It would appear that Nigerians have cultivated the habit of blaming everyone else but ourselves. We take selfish decisions, not minding the effect such decisions have on our society.
Oil marketers collect subsidy and proceed to divert the subsidized petroleum products to neighbouring countries where they sell for double the Nigerian price, making the products scarce in a country that actually produces crude oil. Landlords increase the cost of rent every year for no just reason other than the fact that it is their house, tenants who refuse to pay up have the roofing sheets dismantled and removed over their heads. All the hikes and artificial inflations sets off a chain reaction and culminates in a society where life becomes unbearable for everyone. Yet we blame the government. We blame the government for the people who litter the streets with sachets, who dump waste into rivers and gutters despite the availability of public waste disposal systems.
Even children are not left out. The rampant habit of parents openly paying bribes for their children to pass exams or gain admission into government colleges is now taken as a norm. Oh, it happens in advanced countries too, but at least they know it’s a thing of shame and are quite discreet about such things. Private universities churn out thousands of half-baked graduates every year because no parents expects his or her ward to fail after paying steep tuition fees, so they can’t afford to fail anyone. The doctors and professors who we look up to and celebrate as shining examples of moral and academic excellence have been found culpable in the decay of our society, apart from selling compulsory handouts for the purpose of making ridiculous profit, many of them who are called to serve as Resident Electoral Commissioners and INEC ad-hoc staff, see it as an opportunity to collect bribes and abet electoral fraud. Yet we place our youths into their care to instill learning and character into them. The irony. Is it then such a surprise that those youths grow up to become bigger criminals?
When we see pastors flying private jets and driving exotic cars with money contributed by poor church members, we pretend as if they are not part of the society. After all, the church isn’t the government, right? But the politicians are Christians and Muslims. They listen to sermons preached by corrupt clerics and follow in the footsteps of their spiritual leaders. How can a thief tell another thief to stop stealing? It is no wonder that despite our religiousness, we are a race of wicked people. I remember vividly that Onitsha driver praying as we crossed over the Niger bridge, he was praying to God for safe journey, after cheating people of their hard-earned money. Throughout the journey, he was playing one Christian song after another. It would have been hilarious if it wasn’t so shameful.
These days, I can barely go anywhere without being harassed by SARS officers. Being a youth has made me the target of those distasteful breed of policemen who have transformed into bandits in uniform. Collecting bribes on the road is not enough, now they must intimidate and brutalize young people in the name of searching for internet fraudsters. Fraudsters that were pushed into that criminal lifestyle by the rot in our society.
Let’s not forget those ones who call themselves business-men. They destroy our economy for their own selfish gain, importing toothpicks and pencils. They employ one or two small boys in a warehouse and pay them pittance while pocketing billions. Always importing for profit, never making any meaningful contribution to national development with all their wealth.
In Nigeria, almost everyone is corrupt. Everyone is culpable for destroying our society, only that we haven’t realized that fact yet. We still relish in blaming the government. Wicked and corrupt people blaming their equally wicked and corrupt government. Perhaps one day, we will all wake up and see that our problem is not government, it is us as a society. I hope to one day see a Nigeria mostly made up of decent human beings.