Two things mark the average Nigerian’s reaction to almost all the recurrent but avoidable misfortunes that hit the country. The first is the blaming of everyone but himself. And the second, a resort to the spiritual. The invocation of the powers of the divine to solve what are evidently human problems is a near default indulgence of the vast majority of Nigerians.
There is a literary device known as du ex machina. It refers to that juncture where a creative writer desires to put a summary end to a problematic plot. He invites the gods to enforce a denouement, which no reader, be they Greek, Roman, Jew or Gentile would, even if they wanted, dare query. It always is a perfect way to terminate a literary or dramatic conflict, no matter how knotty.
But that only works well for fiction. Life, even if a reflection of the arts and culture of a people, is real and hard. Solutions to man’s problems, be they natural or man-made, demand more than cries of men and women whose hands are lazy and brains are laid back, towards heaven.
That is not to suggest that prayers are not efficacious or that miracles do not exist. That would be totally foolhardy because prayers actually do work, miracles do exist and God still intervenes in the affairs of men. But the English man who introduced Christianity, one of the biggest faiths to this country, says that “heavens help those who help themselves.”
It is like a hungry man, who, in spite of having every thinkable food item at home and everything he needs to prepare a meal, sits lame in his room only praying for God to give him food to eat. Unless he quickly repents of his foolishness, he will most likely die of hunger. Nigerians, despite all of their blessings, fail to help themselves and help their country. They only desire that manna falls from heaven. But miracles and divine provision are not the ultimate essence of religion and prayers as Nigerians are wont to believe.
William Golding, author of the phenomenal novel Lord of the Flies, was quoted in the aftermath of his experience serving in the Second World War as saying that “man produces evil as a bee produces honey.” He eventually delivered this symbolic novel to explicate his conception of man as inherently evil and only prone to positive influence by religion and the laws that govern society.
In essence, religion and societal laws are not mutually exclusive. They should, indeed, be complementary of one another, which is the clear lesson that Jesus Christ gave when he encouraged his disciples to go on and give Caesar’s due to him. Those who are faithful to a particular religion have a set of codes by which they are expected to live. In most cases as it relates to the three main faith groups in Nigeria, religion, first and fore most, compels adherents to obey the laws of their country, love other human beings as themselves, consider the importance of integrity, value the lives of other human beings, avoid covetousness and generally embrace everything that is good. Religion, therefore, prepares every man to be at their best and give their utmost best to engender sanity in their society.
Were every religious Nigerian faithful to the precepts of their religion, it would be a country where everybody, be they leaders of the land or not, obeyed the laws of the land, showed love to other people and pursued the general good of society. In addition to that, self-investigation and purgation would not be a problem for people who are truly in tune with the God that they worship. As a result, it would be easy for everyone to identify how they have failed their nation and collectively work towards its redemption. But Nigerians are, contrary to what they profess, unwilling to take responsibility.
Take the accident that followed the breakdown of a petrol tanker on the Otedola Bridge end of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway in Lagos last week, as an example of the typical Nigerian behaviour.
At this moment, the authorities claimed that 12 lives were lost to the incident, but eye witness accounts dispute that figure. And the latter argument lends itself to reason. If 54 cars got so badly burnt, how do you defend the loss of nine lives in a country where majority of the people have no basic idea of how to respond to emergencies and disasters?
However, it is possible that the authorities have actually spoken the truth. But the people will disbelieve because government, has over the years, established a tradition of speaking half-truth or outright lies to the people and trust has, of course, become a victim.
Having lost confidence in government and its institutions, most Nigerians have relapsed into the base philosophy of human survival that “if we cannot beat them, we join them.” So as government lie to the people, they reciprocate and as long as the system fails to be fair and just, they devise ways to cheat and beat the system with society being the ultimate loser and the future generation put in jeopardy far in advance of their lives.This is why everyone, if we would be honest with ourselves, is responsible for evils that trail Nigeria’s path.
We should ask if the driver of last Thursday’s ill-fated petrol tanker was licensed to drive, for instance. If he was, check how he obtained the licenses. Check the level of literacy of the driver and see if he understood the basic indicators of the vehicle he was driving. That is not to talk about the road worthiness of his vehicle, which an institution or institutions of government should have certified. Ask questions about the appropriateness of such an articulated vehicle being on the roads at any time during which the agencies enforcing these regulations have been dutiful.
Then consider the state of Nigerian roads and the endless reminders from the current minister in charge of that aspect of national life that Nigerians are alarmist about the state of roads. Think about how successive governments have made rocket science of fixing roads in Nigeria and the volume of carnage that visit the roads every day.
Consider the state of emergency services, the state of equipment in hospitals and state of mind of medical personnel in the country. Then you will see the massive harm that the little indulgences and compromises perpetrated by virtually everyone in their little corners have done to the country.
The fact that we deny our individual complicity is the worst of it all though. To start with, it takes away the change that we would ever get penitent and change our ways not to talk of recompensing in any possible. Secondly, it only makes hypocrites of us.
The dictum, “obedience is better than sacrifice”, is fundamental to religion. Obedience, not because it does whatever God we call on good; but because the obedience preached by religion produces better people who would build better societies. Loyalty to the causes of religion and society is itself a prerequisite to answered prayers. If we were a little bit loyal to these causes, we would see that the preponderance of our prayers would become needless as we would have fulfilled the destiny of the nation by ourselves. The heavens only help those who help themselves.