At the slightest provocation – in fact, often at no provocation at all – Nigerians invoke God’s name. In today’s column, I imagine a letter God has written to Nigerians titled “You’re on your own.” Here goes.
Beloved Nigerians (yes, I call you beloved even though many of you are among the world’s most unrepentant sinners), I’m going to be blunt.
I am getting impatient with what you call prayers. Many of you let out deafening screams and shrieks in the name of praying. It’s as if you think I’m deaf – that I won’t hear you unless you shout, punch the air like bad boxers, and contort your faces into strange expressions, like unseasoned Nollywood over-actors.
In fact, if I weren’t indestructible, I would since have lost my hearing for all the noise many of you make while praying. If I appeared before you in physical form, I’m afraid some of you would long have poked out my eye for all the jabbing you do when you pray. Please take note: my perceptual faculties are sound; they’re so flawless that even the word “perfect” is too imperfect to describe them. My hearing, for instance, is so good that I even hear the heart’s silent murmur. Please quit this rude habit of howling you mistake for prayer.
Irritating as I find your style of supplication, you have other habits that really, really gall me. One is how you bother me, day and night, to give you the things I’ve already granted you in prodigious quantities. Another is your ceaseless pleas that I do for you what you should be doing for yourselves.
What great gifts haven’t I bestowed on you Nigerians? I gave you a huge supply of rich arable land that should make you the envy of other nations. You can grow all kinds of food on this land – yam, cocoyam, groundnuts, rice, potatoes and more. Yet, a few among you bask in greed and wallow in conspicuous consumption while the majority goes hungry. Then I buried massive reserves of some of the most treasured natural resources in your land, among them tin, coal, and oil – the 20th century’s black gold.
Again, you have allowed a gluttonous few among you to steal the wealth that should belong to all. Look around you, how many of your African neighbors can boast even a fraction of the resources I have blessed you with? For that matter, how many countries in the world are as richly endowed as you?
What has all that wealth done for you? Nothing!
No roads. Each year, your politicians and rulers pocket hundreds of billions of naira that should be spent on roads. Instead of sending them off to jail, what do you do? You garland them with empty titles and include their names on your roll of national honor. Instead of calling them criminals, you celebrate them. Instead of covering your noses in their presence, many of you grovel before them. You flatter them with the names of “Leader,” “stakeholder,” “prominent Nigerian,” or “Mr. Fix-it.” You baptize them as chieftains when you ought to address them properly, as thieftains.
Each year, thousands of you perish in horrible accidents on the country’s ill-paved or neglected roads. In other countries, these avoidable deaths would trigger outrage at the rapacious politicians who did away with the budget for roads. Not in Nigeria. Instead, you raise your over-loud voices to heaven, as if I decreed that the roads be in ghastly condition. You call down “holy ghost fire” on the faceless witches and wizards you blame for these road casualties.
Such demons exist only in the deceptive imagination of your imams and pastors. The simple reality is that bad roads and deplorable driving habits cause accidents.
Yes, when you should hold your politicians accountable, you embrace the abracadabra of some so-called “men of God” who preach that accidents are caused by marine spirits. Such superstitious nonsense sometimes fills me with pity, other times with holy rage.
The culture of mediocrity extends to every sector of your national life. As I write, the man you call your president is lying in a Saudi hospital. Ask yourselves a few simple questions. Why do your leaders always fly to other countries for medical treatment? Are there no qualified Nigerian physicians to treat their ailments? Why are most of these experts living and working abroad? How do the leaders treat the Nigerian doctors who are home-based? Are they encouraged with funds to do their research? Does the government provide equipment to enable them to serve the rest of you when you fall sick?
Why do you put up with fake leaders who travel abroad at your expense, but who do nothing to ensure you have access to decent health care when you fall sick? Why can’t you insist that, unless they meet one condition, they can no longer use your funds to fly abroad? That condition is this: if they can’t, or won’t, fix the country’s health care delivery system, then they must first budget funds for each and every sick Nigerian to be flown abroad as well. You must refuse to underwrite their treatment in countries other men and women have organized well.
Today, hundreds of thousands of you die yearly from malaria and other easily manageable diseases. Far too many women die giving birth – a rarity in most other countries. Again, why don’t you rise and chase off the wreckers of your lives, the despoilers of your present and future, the looters of your treasury? Why, instead, do you turn to pastors and imams to intercede on your behalf for divine healing?
A few years ago, your former president flew in an American pastor to come and deliver miraculous healings. Did any of you wonder why the same president, when he’s sick, consults a foreign doctor instead of a foreign pastor?
Let me spell it out again: the pastors who tell you that some invisible dark forces and principalities are behind the senseless deaths of sick Nigerians are plain liars. Hear me well: they are unscrupulous scam artists who exploit you with superstitious tales. These deaths occur because of two related reasons: one, that most of your so-called leaders are simply unconscionable robbers, and, two, that many of you – out of moral cowardice, ignorance or some parochial principle – allow the contemptible usurpers to get away with carting off public funds.
Oh, how you Nigerians sometimes test my patience! You rig elections, and you say it’s God’s doing. You steal power, and you say – knowing it’s a lie – that only God gives power. You embezzle billions from the public treasury, and you say – again, knowing it’s a lie – that God has blessed you. Some of you then pay ten percent of your loot to a sham pastor – as if it’s possible to bribe God. Other ruthless thieves among you take up knighthoods in one denomination or another, or make a fetish of going to Mecca, or build a private chapel or mosque. Do you think that God is an accessory to fraud, or will ever be impressed by a robber’s gestures, however seemingly grand in the eyes of mere mortals?
It irks me to hear Nigerians say that only God can solve your problems – when the solution is well within your grasp? Did God manufacture your problems? Your leaders (who are actually rulers, for they can’t lead) buy up swanky real estate in South Africa, Dubai, England, Europe, the US, even in neighboring Ghana. Do you not know that true leaders, not I, built up these countries and their infrastructures?
Do you not remember how you once regarded Ghana as a basket case? How that country’s citizens flooded the streets of Nigeria in search of any menial job that was to be had? Today, Ghanaians leaders and followers, working together, are revamping their nation. Some of your former heads of state have fatter bank accounts than Ghana. Yet, Ghanaians have husbanded their resources and are achieving a nation they can be proud of, and others commend. Ghana’s cities and many rural areas now enjoy virtually uninterrupted power supply. How about Nigeria? It’s a narrative of failure. After squandering billions of dollars on fictional power projects, your leaders can’t guarantee 2,000 megawatts on a good day! No wonder your leaders, shameless as ever, now flock with their mistresses to Accra and other Ghanaian cities for weekend romps and revelries. But I wonder: Why do you accept this decrepit existence?
Here’s the bottom line: I’ve given Nigerians more than their fair share in natural and human endowments. It’s up to you to achieve the change you want – or else remain captive to woes. Begin today – not tomorrow – by committing to moral conversion. You’re world champions in praying. It’s time to start acting. Work for the change you desire. If you believe in God, then let it show. True believers don’t engage in corrupt acts. They don’t steal elections, nor do they rest until hijackers of elective office are swept out.
Know this, ye Nigerians. It’s not God’s job to build your roads and hospitals, to sweep your dirty streets, to do the work of your doctors, to drag your corrupt leaders before a magistrate, or to kill those you permit to destroy your collective lives. Listen to Fela: Don’t shuffer and shmile. And to Bob Marley: stand up for your rights!
Okey Ndibe's email contact is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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