In the 1970s, late Afrobeat maestro Fela Anikulapo Kuti popularised the saying “Suffering and Smiling” which was the title of one of his hit songs. The song satirizes the uncanny ability of Nigerians to endure untold hardship even when it is totally possible to make things better by just making an attempt. The song tells of the “Nigerian spirit” that sees the silver lining in any situation no matter how bleak it is.
Over the years, many have come to identify the saying as a mark of strength since smiling is not the first natural reaction to suffering. But recent events have shown that this strength in adversity that the Nigerian is said to have may have finally reached its breaking point.
A recent UN report pegged Nigerians as the 95th happiest people in the world and only sixth in Africa. Ordinarily, this would not have shocked many people. However, when one begins to consider that Nigerians were once regarded as the happiest people on earth by the 2003 World Values Survey report and that a Gallup poll in 2010 found that Nigeria had the world’s highest rates of optimism, one would begin to appreciate just how much things have deteriorated since Fela’s “Suffering and Smiling”.
This past weekend alone, there were two separate sad incidents of suicides. In the first case, a Nigerian man, for reasons yet to be confirmed, jumped from the popular Third Mainland Bridge to what is most likely a watery death in the Lagos Lagoon below. In the second, a final year student of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, LAUTECH, Ogbomosho, in Oyo State, committed suicide by hanging himself from the ceiling of his school hostel. The most painful part is that these were no one-off events.
The news these days is replete with suicides and many Nigerians who just took their lives because they just could not bare to face the reality of things anymore. Depression, a term that used to exclusively be an “oyinbo” illness has gradually crawled into the vocabulary of Nigerians. Nigerians are no longer suffering and smiling, they are suffering and dying. And who would blame them?
The health sector is in chaos, education is in total disarray, strike (sit down or stand up) is the order of the day in almost every other sector; unemployment shows no sign of abating, the few social amenities are fast deteriorating; just to highlight some of the disheartening events shaping the country.
The youths: graduates, undergraduates, employed, unemployed or underemployed have have turned to social media as a form of escape from the happenings in the nation. Those who are still lucky to have jobs are complaining that the minimum wage is ridiculously insufficient to tackle the unsavory mix of recession, increasing debt load and a drastic fall in purchasing power. In the middle of all this is a government that seems not to have an idea about how to right the ship.
It is obvious even to the blind that things are not working at present. Something needs to give. Since independence, ‘elder statemen’ have been dictating who can and who should be in power, else, themselves. Their protégé have now also taken over, rotating office between senate, the various houses, governorship and every political seat available tenure in and out. Are there no other and better Nigerians who can make something more meaningful out of governance than these who have turned it into their family inheritance?
Power must change hands! A total over hauling of these failed ‘elder statemen’ and their protégé must take place before this putrefying sore that has eaten deep into every sector of the nation can be healed.
But it is not just enough to change the leaders without changing the mentality of the people else, they would soon be drawn back to the ousted leaders. Therefore, a proper re-orientation must take place. Petty squabbles that divide Nigerians by creed, tongue and ideologies must be confined to the dustbin of history. It is no longer a suffering and smiling matter.
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