I lose things easily. Little things especially- pens, keys, socks, cigarette lighters. I used to get exasperated and go into horribly depressive moods until I thought of a way to deal with it: keep everything in plain view. No hiding, no double layers in drawers- no concealment. Everything on my reading table- except my socks of course.
I used to be like Nigeria. But Nigeria loses big things. We lose huge ships- it goes ‘missing’ like a button in a large bedroom. We lose 2.1 billion in 1,000naira bills- it goes missing like a check carelessly placed in a book amidst a large library of books. We lose pension funds- 195 billion naira goes missing. We lose 12 billion dollars of oil windfall. We lose high profile criminal suspects- a suspected terrorist walks quietly out of custody. No jail break or massive earthquake that breaks the jail bars. The guy just goes missing.
That anyone can boldly announce that 195 billion went missing, with a straight face and not fear the wrath of a nation shows something else that we have lost. We have lost the ability to say no, to ask why, to demand change. So a government official can announce, in a country that is barely able to pay a minimum wage of 18,000 naira (117 dollars a month or less than 4 dollars a day) that he intends to build a new mansion worth 16 billion naira. And maybe he deserves it, having worked so hard and selflessly for the country, but the fact that he can propose it means we have lost all sense of propriety or decency.
Only recently a government ministry announced the real problem of our power sector. Evil spirits, they said. And you know, I agree with them. Look at it this way. A spirit is something you cannot see right? So someone or something usually sabotages power projects. Someone we can’t see converts the money for the power sector to personal use. Someone we can’t see refuses to let Nigerians have uninterrupted power supply. And that someone or something is evil. Is the ministry not correct then to blame our problems on evil spirits? Or maybe I am missing something.
One of our most influential Ministers just lost her mother. Not to the cold hands of death. But to the hands of abductors (the temperature of whose hands I am unsure of). The 82 year old went missing from her Ogwuashi-Uku palace. This is not the first time the relative of a Minister will go missing. It is becoming increasingly common in many parts of the country to go missing, reappearing only after a ransom has been paid.
Since the disappearance of the Minister’s mother I have read many reactions ranging from indifference to outright jubilation. I read one comment that said: “So what if the Okonjo-Iweala’s mother got missing”. I realized that something else was missing. Empathy.
Nigeria, (or more particularly, its leaders) has beaten and raped us so much that we have, probably purely as a self-preservation strategy, gone numb. We are numb to the suffering, to the pain, to the theft, to the violence, to the corruption, to the darkness. We have become numb so that we can survive. So that when the next many billons go missing we do not go crazy. So that when salaries delay, we keep going to work and find other sources of income, or just go hungry. So that when we have no electricity for weeks on end we do not run naked into the streets pulling our hair out. So that when the next bombing happens we sigh and worry only when someone we know died in the blast. So that when our President tells us he will need a billion a year to feed him and his guests we will not lose sleep. So that when he tells us he needs a new multi-billion naira banquet hall to dine in while the rest of the country goes hungry we will just sigh and keep boiling our stones.
But we need empathy. We cannot afford to lose that which makes us human. If we lose empathy, and probably, someday get rid of this bad government, we will only replace their cold, unfeeling disregard for citizens with something similarly lacking in empathy. We cannot become like those that oppress us. We must not lose all feeling. We must not stay in the dark depth that allows us to lynch people in the streets for stealing wallets; that makes us do things like bludgeon and set ablaze young men upon an unsubstantiated accusation; that makes us kill our neighbors because they are of a different tribe or religion.
One thing that will help Nigeria is what helped me keep track of the things I lose easily: keeping everything open, everything in plain view. We must open national debate. Talk about the big elephant(s) in the room. Talk about the things that threaten to tear us apart. Open up government processes. The more open government processes are, the harder it is to perpetrate the kind of monumental fraud that we find today. And we do have the Freedom of Information Act, which gives citizens the right to demand access to information from public institutions. The Act allows anyone to demand information without a need to show reason for such demand.
The laws exist. The resources exist. We have the manpower. What we need is the will. The will to move from sighing and complaining to demanding and acting. We have a choice. Act. Or lose.
I do not have as much resilience as Nigeria. So I am working on a plan to stop losing big things. Like cars. Like jobs. Like love.