I’m not unaware of how provocative the title sounds. For someone who describes himself as a Disaffected Nigerian, I can see why some would automatically assume that saying Nigerians are not good people comes off as self-hate. But if you could indulge me a little, this article has nothing to do with my supposed disdain for my nationality or ancestry.
To set the right context, let me begin by recalling one of the highlights of the shortlived administration of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua; the Nigeria: Good People, Great Nation campaign which was spearheaded by Dora Akunyili. In a piece I wrote sometime last year, I briefly mentioned how the campaign was a money-gulping ridiculous exercise. I argued that simply sloganizing wonderful phrases doesn’t make a terrible situation better.
But in hindsight, I can see why Yar’Adua thought it wise to fund that campaign. Being a good president goes beyond achieving record-high GDP growth. Beyond socioeconomic yardsticks, I suppose a good president is one who tries to paint a positive image of their country. For Yar’Adua, he needed an influx of foreign investors to boost the economy. But the Nigeria that was bequeathed to him had a reputation for being extremely corrupt; no small thanks to thieving politicians and Yahoo boys*. He thought if he could sell the narrative that Nigeria is a great country full of good people, he may attract a lot of those foreign investments.
More than 14 years after the campaign, I’m constrained by the ongoing dyad of fuel scarcity and Naira scarcity to interrogate whether Nigerians are good people and if Nigeria is a great nation. My verdict? I don’t think so.
Over and over, circumstances have proven that the everyday Nigerian has Machiavellian tendencies. He is an opportunist and he manipulates others to get what he wants out of them. He seizes a terrible situation to accumulate wealth for himself and his cronies. And not a few Nigerians are guilty of this. When you engage Nigerians in political discourse, you’re mostly guaranteed they’ll rightly or wrongly blame the government for every socio-economic ill in the country. They do this with little to no introspection of their own greed. Every day, I become more convinced that Nigerians are not anti-greed. They only fuss about greed when they don’t benefit from it.
Regardless of what you think of the Naira redesign policy, it was meant to have some inherent fiscal benefits. Shortly after the first batches of the new notes were delivered to commercial banks and the CBN told Nigerians to start swapping their old notes, we realised how much Naira notes were not in circulation because, for whatever reason, some people had stowed millions at home. Most likely, those were monies they had gotten through corrupt means. We began to see viral videos of N1000 notes damaged by the wear and tear of years of home storage.
But as the initial January 31st deadline approached, Nigerians could hardly swap their old notes with the new ones. They couldn’t get it from ATMs or over-the-counter in commercial banks. There was a huge miscommunication between what Godwin Emefelie was saying and what commercial banks were doing. The CBN maintained that there were more than enough new notes to go around. But commercial banks claimed they didn’t have them. People got to banks before dawn to beat queues but they still got disappointed. A woman even had to strip herself because her bank wouldn’t give her cash. It’s been nothing but hell these past two months for Nigerians.
Without cash, it’s very hard to get by as a Nigerian. From paying the bus conductor to getting groceries in the market, there are numerous instances you need to spend cash as a Nigerian, particularly in the informal sector. The current Naira scarcity has inadvertently created skyrocketed inflation in the prices of commodities.
If the CBN says there are more than enough new Naira notes to go around, what then is responsible for this scarcity? Why should Nigerians have to go through hell to get some cash to spend? The simple answer is greed and cronyism. Commercial banks have not been dealing with Nigerians with honesty. The other day, Nasir El-Rufai said a particular governor withdrew N500 million from a single bank. That’s what you get in a culture where everything is up for grabs to the highest bidder. It skews everything to favour the rich and powerful. The truth is this scarcity was created because bank managers have prioritised their friends, families, and cronies. They leave the remainder for the rest of the public to queue and fight over.
And then there’s also the case of POS operators overcharging customers. Before all this madness, the standard fee was N100 for every N5000 transaction via POS. Since the scarcity began, people have had to pay as much as N2000 to withdraw N10,000. The go-to explanation from these POS operators is that they had to buy cash from the black market at exorbitant rates. This whole thing has been a classic case of Nigerians taking advantage of a terrible situation. They clog the wheel to profiteer from the misery they created for everyone.
This is the same greed you find in passport offices nationwide. The process of applying for your international passport is designed to frustrate you to kowtow to the greedy whims of immigration officers. Officially, getting a 32-page passport costs about N25,000. But almost always, you’ll have to pay more than that. People have had to pay thrice the official price to get their passports.
And what about transcripts? For those of us who attended public universities, we have a common experience with getting transcripts. You could apply for your transcript and not get it in six months. But the day you pay someone who knows someone in your school’s transcript office, you can rest assured it would be delivered in a matter of days.
I always find it amusing how greedy and oppressive we are as a people yet, we populate churches every Sunday and mosques every Friday. We paste religious stickers on our cars on doors. I thought religion is supposed to be the custodian of morals. In our case, it’s had no effect at all. One could even argue that these days, our religious centres aid greed. I’m reminded of a video that went viral recently of a pastor “blessing” Yahoo boys in his church. Our culture is really messed up.
I am very anti-establishment. For the most part, I believe the APC-PDP hegemony has ruined this country. There is no denying the damage they have done. But unlike Chinua Achebe, I don’t believe that the trouble with Nigeria is squarely the problem of leadership. The greed of the political class is a reflection of our distorted values as a people. The current Naira scarcity couldn’t have been clearer proof that Nigerians are not good people.
- “Yahoo boys” is a Nigerian colloquialism for internet fraudsters.
Olayemi is the publisher of The Disaffected Magazine. He also hosts the Disaffected Nigerian Podcast. He enjoys everything from Evolutionary Psychology to the syncopations of Apala music to Fela’s discography. He fancies himself as an Amala enthusiast. His dream is to be a travel writer someday.