I have a friend who lives outside the country and most of the time our conversations are about politics, the economy, sustainability, etc. Really, anything regarding how Nigeria can improve. To provide a bit more perspective, I am, or rather, was very optimistic about the way Nigeria could be. However, the just, equal and conducive place to thrive that I envisioned in my head has slowly begun to resemble a scene straight out of Mad Max. And if I am being honest, depending on where you live, this dystopian vision is to some degree already a reality.
I grew up in a neighborhood that was quaint and quiet. It was unassumingly beautiful. Then one-day truckloads of cows were parked outside our street. The next day there were dead cows everywhere, and it stunk. The next month there were crevices in our roads. The month after that, a huge bridge was to be constructed. Fast forward eleven months later, elections were around the corner, and we already knew who our new governor would be, as he was the face of environmental and visual pollution. And the incumbent governor, as far as the eyes could see, had decided that the bridge under construction was no longer his business. How can I be optimistic?
My friend, let us call him ‘John’, on the other hand, lives in Europe. He sees France requiring its private sector to recycle their organic waste and watches them enforce this rule while cutting food wastage. He sees governments that care and work. It is a no-brainer that he can still have the vision of a good Nigeria. I, on the other hand, struggle with it at 12:00 a.m. in the morning, while the power inverter whose batteries that I charged and have charged for the past week with our generator provides me electricity. The horns of heavy goods vehicles are blaring by my window because someone decided that continuing with the construction of the bridge is no longer their duty, whilst my neighbor’s generator dumps doses of carbon monoxide in through my window. Thankfully I have enough air from my other window, so the fumes won’t kill me, yet.
I speak from a place of privilege, considering how many Nigerians can afford inverters. In a country where about 50 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty, an inverter is a privilege. Even though we’ve been told that the poverty estimates are false, and we should disregard them (they’re true, it’s not hard to see). If I who live a comfortable life is finding it hard to remain optimistic, how can I expect someone unsure of their next meal to be?
A few months ago, when the poverty statistic was brought up at work, someone said, “It is not true, we are not poor, in Jesus’ name”. And it upset me so much. But the longer I sat on it, the more I realized that we cope with our fear of what lies ahead in our country’s future differently. Some of us (myself included) envision a Mad Max denouement. A lot of us lie complacent and see where it goes — “siddon look”. Others, in denial that the system isn’t broken; and a few, like John, remain very optimistic about what’s to come.…my dissatisfaction with myself forced me into conversations with others around me about the struggle against complacency and how not to allow oneself to be broken by a system that constantly has a foot pressed against our chests.
In one of my many conversations with John, I said something that froze the words in my mouth. My words seemed so complacent as are those of many Nigerians and this upset me deeply, on giving it further thought. Where was that hopeful person I used to be? And my dissatisfaction with myself forced me into conversations with others around me about the struggle against complacency and how not to allow oneself to be broken by a system that constantly has a foot pressed against our chests.
On February 16th we were let down. Nigerians were upset. I was upset. But somewhere amid my anger was a bit of joy. A joy that we are unanimously and vehemently voicing how tired we were. Tired of the lies. Tired of being treated as though we do not matter. Sure, there was some hypocrisy and clout-chasing but it was good to know that somewhere in there, we had a little bit of John in us. Election day came, and I was embarrassed. Violence broke loose in certain places. Videos emerged of people falsifying votes, snatching ballot boxes. And somehow the results are still valid. I understand the desire to choose the person you know versus the one you don’t know when your options are limited. I get it. There’s a sense of safety in that. However, at what cost?
The deed has been done. Back to business as usual. What will become of Nigeria by 2023 is unknown. Hopefully, it wouldn’t become any worse than this. What I do know is that we as people always find ways to thrive even when the odds are stacked against us. John believes things are going to get better. As for me, I choose to wait and see.
On my best days, I consider myself an optimist. On others not so much. One thing, however, remains true through all the days, and I believe I’m not alone with this sentiment: It’s hard to be an optimistic Nigerian.