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Nigerians languishing in one of many camps in Libya

Why The Hatred Nigerians Have For Each Other Is a Learned Behavior That’s Killing Us

The African migrant crisis is an ongoing emergency that has taken several years to reach the plateau of intolerability. I recently wrote a couple of articles that illustrated the reasons why Nigeria is still able to shamelessly thrive despite the harrowing tales and images of unimaginable torture — that it’s rejected citizens are being subjected to in Libya. I also tackled my theory on why organizations like the United Nations remain passively active even as countless lives hang in the balance.

The fact that most Nigerians aren’t appalled by what is befalling their fellow comrades isn’t at all surprising. Anyone who grew up in our complexly turbulent nation can attest to the general level of abuse we were all subjected to. However, this is no excuse for the viral nonchalance that constantly impedes our ability to fully embrace how woefully disengaged we are from the fundamental elements that antagonize our fragile dispositions.

Not too long ago — I stumbled upon a tweet from a Nigerian writer who decided to use his platform to shame “hypocrites” like me — that dare to raise our voices against the vile situation in Libya that involves Nigerian men and women — being auctioned off like worn-out cargo — while also facing the possibility of having their organs harvested for profit.

His reasoning? He believes that Nigerians are notorious slave owners themselves through our traditional use of domestic workers who are sent to live with wealthier relatives that treat them extremely poorly.

When I countered his argument — he blocked me, and as infuriating as that brief encounter was — I was also overcome by a heavy sense of thorough helplessness — as it dawned on me that this learned behavior of downplaying our self-value is a ritual that can’t be easily reversed.

It seems that same Nigerian (I could be mistaken) with the disturbing tweet managed to expand his views on a popular publication — okayafrica — where he certainly reached more readers who most likely will agree with his warped opinions about how Nigerians are conditioned to suffer and unleash suffering — and so the idea of them being sold, raped, and murdered shouldn’t be received with such emotional reverence.

The truth is that the writer is absolutely correct to call out the themes of abuse that dominate our culture.

I have personally experienced levels of abuse as a youngster that give me reason to pause with a stunned reaction when I recall those instances when I was subjected to cruel and unjustifiable punishment.

Education is a huge component of the Nigerian aesthetic, and based my upper middle class upbringing— there was no way to bargain my way out of attending the best primary and secondary schools in Lagos. There were also the roster of examinations to pass in order to get to the next level — and the results were always publicly displayed, which added even more pressure.

Your performance didn’t just reflect your brain power it also bolstered the reputation of your parents and to have that amount of responsibility on a preteen is direly unfair — but that was the culture. Thanks to the British we not only learned how to speak Queen’s English, but we also adopted the paralyzing techniques of snobbery and the diseased mechanisms of competitiveness.

After-school lessons were mandatory for a lot of us, to ensure that we would be prepared for the second act — hosted by the illustrious requirements of boarding schools. So, between the ages of eight and nine — I had to be dropped off at the sprawling grounds of my primary school teacher— who used her fortress as a breeding spot for students who needed to be groomed for lifelong success.

The hour-long process didn’t just involve equations and grammar — it also showcased painful sessions of caning for those of us who weren’t perfect enough to get all the answers right. The worst part was having to actually pick out the cane that would be used to whip you into shape.

Boarding school was no walk in the park either. The house mistresses were replicas of what you would find in a Jane Austen novel. Any chance to demean students for the unforgivable sin of acting our ages, which was usually under the age of 15, was readily administered.

From brutally shaving off the unlawfully relaxed hair of students during assembly to ordering “offenders” to kneel on the sandy ground in the heat of the sun with arms at an 180 degree angle until your uncontrollable shaking reduced you to a pulp of nerves — there was no shortage of dramatic ways to keep students painfully disciplined.

I never had my hair forcibly ripped from my scalped, but I did have to kneel in the sun more times than I can count —and there were other items that were added to my itinerary that I won’t divulge, but the point is that as brutal as it all sounds — that was just the way it was back then.

Our parents underwent the same treatment and so did their parents. All we could do was bear it and keep it moving. There was no other option. And looking back now — it’s abundantly clear that we did experience a level of mistreatment that shouldn’t have been allowed — particularly from adults that were tasked with ensuring our safety and comfort.

The writer of the piece titled: Laitan’s Story: Spare Me Your Outrage Over Libyan Slavery — details the shockingly deplorable treatment of a young girl who lived in the same housing complex he inhabited as an adolescence. He details how savagely she was treated by the family she was sent to live with — and the fact that despite the fact that she was the youngest in the household — she was still forced to endure hard labor in the worst of circumstances.

The author uses Laitan’s extreme misfortune as a weapon of defense when he calls out Nigerians shedding tears over the crisis in Libya when they are also well-aware of the numerous well-to-do families that are guilty of the exact same thing.

There is no doubt that Nigerian households do harbor domestic workers that are treated quite badly — although in all my years growing up — I never noticed anything remotely similar to what Laitan endured. The distant relatives that lived with us weren’t subjected to any abusive measures and were actually encouraged to either go to trade school or enroll in the program of their choosing.

That being said, I will admit that there were some limitations that came with their station, which unfortunately highlighted the distinctions between them and us.

They rarely had their own rooms for privacy, they didn’t have open access to anything they wanted in the environment they embodied, their movements both within and outside the home had to be regulated, and even their meal time and what they ate had to be monitored.

They basically lived the way I did in boarding school — and at the time I never gave it much thought — because we were raised to believe that considering their modest background — the fact they were able to leave their less-than-ideal settings and end up in the city — gave them a chance at a better existence.

It’s the wretched residue from the colonial days — since this practice of stacking up households with domestic servants is also very much embedded in the British culture. All you have to do is read the literature from the greats to figure that out.

The writer whose essay I’m challenging offends me when he parallels the experiences of domestic workers with the graphically appalling catastrophe in Libya — because it minimizes the intense hardship that our people are currently facing. It also suggests that just because of the valid issue he passionately raises — we, as Nigerians shouldn’t be heartbroken at the notion that a shitload of us are trapped in a foreign land against our will — as lives hang dangerously in the balance.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking the initiative to extend the conversation by shedding light on a problem that is worth discussing, but to use that as a way to shut down those of us that can’t resist the urge to raise our voices against the inhumane treatment of our compatriots — isn’t a progressive way to heal our wounded temperaments.

Our hatred for each other is our undoing and it’s systematically killing us both at home and abroad.

Our abusive nature stems from the ills of our society that never recovered from the invasion of foreigners that did more harm than good. We never figured out how to truly love each other as a people or even mastered the religion of basic human tendencies that are often associated with civilized nations.

Our callously inept government was structured to suffocate our freedom and inevitably stifled our growth or ability to dwell in harmony to the degree of reasonable alliance. All the different tribes still can’t harmonize in ways that should be fruitfully rewarding. All the leaders that stole their power through ultra-violent coups refused to allot the richness of our land to the people that toil daily with little or no returns.

The joyfulness of celebration that dominates our way of life is clinically deceiving because as much as we love to “throw down” we also won’t hesitate to throw each under under the bus.

I respect the writer’s point of view — but I regret the way he presented his case. I’m horrified that he would think to call well-meaning Nigerians with hearts of gold — “hypocrites” — as a way of shaming us for caring about the precarious plight of our people. I hate that he believes that just because we’ve all been subjected to various forms of abuse through no fault of our own — we should then dismiss the global injustice plaguing our brothers and sisters.

This learned behavior of self-hate that evolves into a general disdain for anything remotely related to our country is killing us. Nigeria is a difficult place to accommodate even when the best scenario presents itself — but we have to at least make the attempt to fight for our right to replace the hate with love.

Even if we die trying.