Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa. With the ingenuity, intelligence and hard work from everyday Nigerians, it’s more than poised to be a global power rivaling the likes of South Korea and India (don’t worry, it could also soon be making its way to China and U.S. level competitive value). Yet there are many vices that hold the whole country back.
Before I get into them, I want to say that I realize the below observations are sweeping generalizations. I know for a fact there are a lot of exceptions to the vices I’m mentioning. I personally know many of those exceptions. Yes, you’re one too. This editorial is based on actions and mindsets I’ve observed or been told about over the last several months.
1. Lack of customer service & apathy in the work place
Maybe a lot of people hate their jobs, I don’t know, but interacting with Nigerian personnel can really ruin your day. Even people handing you pizza act like they are doing you this HUGE favor. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met a lot of really cheerful service industry workers, but the vast majority don’t even look up from the screen as they attend to you. Same thing in many offices. Overstaffed and understaffed office places all treat your presence as a burden or inconsequential. It results in long lines at the hospital as you try to collect your results from apathetic staffers; long waits at government offices because officials gist instead of attending to you; and other inconveniences that imped what could be an otherwise efficient afternoon.
2. Misunderstanding of feminism and assuming it’s a foreign entity
The funny thing is that Nigerian women are some of the strongest and most outspoken women I know. That said, Nigerian women are often the ones also perpetuating gender stereotypes that hold everyone back. First of all, so many people assume feminists want women to be in charge of men, but that’s a common misconception everywhere. The “feminism” alone is already a non-starter. People might deem it as not being part “African culture,” anti-religious, and so on. In addition, due to internalized misogyny, women themselves are sometimes the biggest proponents of holding other women back. For example, after a request was made for leaders of various groups during camp, each time with the specification of a male lead and a female assistant, I spoke up and said: “Why can’t we have a female lead, and a male assistant” only for a female voice to respond: “Well that’s just the way it is here. Leave it that way, it’s better.” similarly, a female presenter at an NYSC camp even said once “It would be stupid for any man to relocate because of his wife. She’s the one that’s supposed to follow him where ever he goes, not the other way around.” (Many women relocate on marital grounds). We continue to act like married women are mostly stay-at-home moms when the vast majority have jobs AND enterprises to juggle. We continue acting like getting marriage is the ultimate goal for all young women and send long threads on WhatsApp about being the perfect wife and attracting the right man. Meanwhile, we are nowhere near as obsessed with preparing or training men for marriage and fatherhood. It’s true that there have been many advances over the last decades but we still have a really long way to go. And how can we expect to have conversations about closing the gender gap when references to feminism are immediately shut down as alien?
3. “Respect” for authority
While it’s hard to pick, this is probably one of the biggest things holding Nigeria back right now. Many use the cultural practice of having reverence for your elders as a way to silence the youth in important situations. But any thriving nation knows the youth are the energy and backbone of the country. Continually silencing Nigeria’s youth is severely hindering this budding nation. In the work place, it makes it hard to correct senior officials, offer your opinions and even get ahead. In government structures, it makes it hard to make your voice heard and demand your rights. They will label you a rude, ill-raised child, influenced by the west. And if you convinced others to stand up for their rights as well, then you are a rebel rouser. Government bodies that are in the right should not fear peaceful protest or the youth expressing their grievances. If you plan to do your job and be a responsible civil servant, you would be more than happy to hear what those in your jurisdiction have to say. The worst part of the whole respect for authority thing is that it’s not extended in the other direction. You’ll see senior officials screaming and yelling like they are at home screaming at their kids – but the ‘kid’ is almost 30 and the ‘infraction’ is not a screaming matter. The whole situation is just unprofessional and crippling to progress.
4. Not wanting to mentor the next generation
This stems of respect for authority and this vice is actually one that I have heard about from other Nigerians. Many times in the work place, superiors are reluctant to show the younger ones the ropes, allow them autonomy in their work, or show them the intricacies of their skills and duties. This is for fear that the pupil might best their teacher. It’s a job security move. But it also jeopardizes the growth of the company, the pupil and the nation. That said, taking advantage of someone else’s knowledge, copying someone’s work or stealing clients is a concern I’ve definitely heard, particularly among creative Nigerians. Many are reluctant to share their work and knowledge for fear of the above mentioned dishonesty. While we can’t control the actions of others, we must be confident in our abilities. If you know you perform your job well and no one can produce the kind of art you produce, you shouldn’t be insecure about knowledge sharing.
5. Always looking for the cheapest deal
This is the vice that is not allowing Nigerian businesses to thrive and that continues to diminish the quality of Nigerian products. We will gladly spend hundreds on things that are made abroad, but are indignant when local artisans want to charge a fair amount for their goods. We threaten to take it to our local tailor or have the next cheapest person do the work. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to bargain, and there are a lot of greedy artisans out there, but we must be willing to encourage local quality when we see it. And the best form of encouragement is of course our money, then tell your friends about that person. The insistence on cheap products over quality products is how we end up creating a culture where we don’t trust things that are locally made. It’s why I’ve seen so many doors that don’t fit in their door frame and houses that are starting to lean to one side. Just pay for quality people.
6. Obsession with ethnic and religious alliances
Hearing the stories of my parents’ (one Yoruba, one Igbo), I knew that ethnic divisions in Nigeria were real. But a semi-optimistic me assumed that it was an issue for my parents’ generation, but would likely be diminished in my generation. And while I’ve read about, seen, or heard of inter-ethnic couples, a lot of millennials still obsess over the ethnic group of the people around them. The same thing goes for religion. I’ve spent A LOT of time meeting new people. Sometimes even before they ask my name, they ask “Are you Christian or Muslim,” (sometimes I have half a mind to respond neither or something else entirely). I typically roll my eyes and ask them why it matters. They usually have lame answers in which they try to defend themselves with something like “no, no, it doesn’t matter but…” and so on. Will knowing the answer to my religion change the course of this conversation? Soon after knowing or assuming you are Christian, the next question is “What church do you go to?” This is typically an attempt to find out what kind of Christian you are. Again, why does it matter? Ethnicity is another question that gets probed early in the meet and greet – if your name came first (as it should), your ethnicity is likely obvious, so then they’ll ask you which state, then which city and chastise you if you’re not sure (I’m sure) or don’t know the area in the town. Another level of this is employers caring more about who you know rather than what you know. Nepotism in Nigeria should be a vice all on its own.
7. Holier than though & misuse of the Bible
In addition to being constantly curious about what religion others are and which church you go to, many Nigerians are also oddly curious about how often you go to church. If it came from a “I’m worried about your salvation,” it might be touching, but it often seems to come from a snooty assumption that the other person isn’t as devote. Nigeria’s complicated love/hate relationship with the U.S. and other western nations should be a vice all on its own, or better yet a book. But one major aspect of it is the moral high ground many Nigerians feel they have over Americans. Essentially some Nigerians think that all Americans are heathens, homosexuals and divorcees. I’m not sure if it allows them to sleep better thinking they have moral superiority, but you don’t even have to look that far to see how it holds the country back. Many people would rather quote the Bible and make their presence at church functions very known, rather than actually practicing what is preached. And many people don’t even quote the Bible well! People will try to use the Bible to justify anything including polygamy and why women take their husbands’ last name (news flash, that’s not in the Bible). Don’t get me wrong, Nigerian Christians aren’t the only ones guilty of this, but this article isn’t about everyone else. If Nigerians spent more time living what was ACTUALLY in the Bible, instead of trying to preach what they THINK is in the Bible, the country would be a much better place.
8. Laziness disguised as faith
Going off the previous vice a bit, many people love to hide behind their religion. A favorite topic here is government incompetency and corruption, usually ended with “God will help us.” O.K., true, but what can we be doing in addition to praying about it? This goes in everyday life as well. Instead of working hard for their goals and dreams, many people will sit back and say “God will provide.” O.K., yes, but that’s not an excuse to sit back and do nothing. We all need to just roll up our sleeves and take responsibility for our lives and our country. Praying isn’t supposed to be a substitution for hard work.
9. Everyday corruption
As mentioned before, pointing to the government corruption is easy and warranted, but we can all take a look around and see the rampant corruption at every stage of life. Principals stealing from school funds, bus drivers picking up extra passengers when they know they shouldn’t, market people cheating you just because they can – the list is endless. One particularly scathing instance of everyday corruption was at my local filling station. The attendant would always try to charge me 30 or 50 naira for filling my jerrycan and I would insist it made no sense because he was putting the same gas in my can as in a car or bike. A friend told me that this policy started when there was a petrol shortage and long lines at every filling station. It was easy for those with jerrycans to park elsewhere and walk to the station to get their gas. The convenience was worth the amount, but the shortage was now over. A few weeks later, each post at the petrol station has painted in red “No extra charges for jerrycans.” And would you believe this attendant STILL tried to charge me extra?! Either he thought I couldn’t read or he thought I was dumb. Either way, it’s these seemingly little instances of corruption that are truly holding the country back. In fact, everyday corruption is so pervasive that sometime when you try to do the right thing, you can get laughed at. For example, requesting everyone form a simple line. Rather, if we can all work together and know that we trust each other, then it’s easier to demand the same from government officials.
10. Staying silent when we KNOW something isn’t right
Like I mentioned, one instance of everyday corruption is bus drivers picking up extra passengers when they know they shouldn’t. That happened to me on a bus from Lagos to Abuja. Luckily there was a man that spoke up and threatened to call the bus company. It was at that threat that the driver finally insisted everyone new should get off the bus. The other original passengers has stayed silent at first, but then the man who had spoken up also listed the fact that we don’t know who among the new passengers (remember, we picked them from the side of the road) could be an arm robber. It was then that other passengers began to speak up and agree with him. Apparently this practice is rather common on coach buses and EVERYONE knows it’s wrong. A friend told me about how he took a coach bus from northern Nigeria to Lagos where they all paid about 15,000 naira for their seat. The bus driver went down the road a few hours and picked up more passengers for 5,000 naira each and then further down picked up more passengers for 1,000 naira each. The bus was so full people were seating down in the aisle. This is a road safety, personal safety and hygiene safety issue. You shouldn’t stuff that many people into a car, especially when a lot of them paid 15,000 naira to ride in comfort. While the bus driver is at fault, those who didn’t speak up are equally guilty. As paying passengers, they have rights that they must insist on defending. Unfortunately, too many Nigerians stay silent in the face of corruption, whether for fear of retaliation, losing their job or perhaps they feel it wouldn’t make a difference. It is definitely the number one thing holding our country back. Until we decide to speak up for our rights and what is rightfully ours (such as government money), they will continue to be taken away from us.
And there you have it. These are some of the main things I’ve noticed are really holding Nigerians back, mentally and literally. The country and our people are bursting with potential, yet so much of it remains untapped due to many of the above mentioned vices. Like I said at the beginning, this by no way applies to all Nigerians, it is just patterns and instances I’ve noticed again and again or have been told about.
What other vices do you believe are holding back Nigeria and other African nations? And most importantly, what can we do about them? For example, I believe the 10th vice on staying silent is starting to be targeted by the whistle blower policy that encourages people to speak up about money hoarding. While the effectiveness of the policy is up for debate, it’s still a step in the right direction. In addition, active citizenship should be taught and instilled early on in schools. This can encourage students to speak up for their rights and those around them. What more can we be doing? Comment below.