On the shopping plaza incident in Abuja – a few psychological insights for Nigeria and Nigerians
– By Femi Olugbile
There has been a news item in circulation in the social media and in the mainstream media, for several days now. It concerns a certain dramatic incident that took place in a shopping mall in Abuja. Much of the emotion is outrage at the intemperate behaviour of a high state official who is a lawyer to boot.
As with all things Nigerian, layers of meaning are read into the public fracas that go well beyond a case of ‘two fighting’. The high state official comes from a stock that, in the eyes of many, to put it as delicately as possible, are greatly favoured ahead of others in appointments to high public office in the present dispensation. The ‘injured party’ in the drama is a lowly ‘guard’ working in a private shopping mall in the nation’s capital.
The dispute allegedly arose when the guard, in the line of duty, accosted the high state official concerning the parking of his car in the busy car park. The proletarian ‘guard’, let it be said, hails from the ‘Middle Belt’ of Nigeria, a zone currently facing an existential struggle between ‘herdsmen’ and ‘indigenes’, as well as an identity crisis concerning whether it is ‘North’, ‘South’, or ‘Middle’.
To complete the picture, the general commercial environment of the shopping plaza in question is densely populated with shop holders and other entrepreneurs from the South East of Nigeria.
Wole Soyinka could not have created a more complete scenario. It is ‘Nigeria Redux’.
But of all the different controversies surrounding the incident, including the high state official’s interesting claims that he was the victim and not the aggressor, and that his antagonists were shouting ‘secessionist’ slogans, which, unfortunately are not audible on the video or validated by bystanders, it is worrisome to the discriminating mind that the genuinely concerned public reaction may be missing the most psychologically significant exchange in the whole drama, the bit that goes to the fundamental core of social relations in the Nigeria. It speaks volumes not just about what is wrong with Nigeria, but what needs to be made right with Nigeria.
The following things happened, among several other things. One Nigerian, in a public place, commanded another Nigerian to go down on his knees. This Nigerian then slapped and kicked the other Nigerian, again in public.
There is a third element, the behaviour from the receiving end. What did the Nigerian who was commanded, illegally, to kneel down on the tarmac in a public place by another Nigerian do? Did he laugh in his face, and tell his fellow Nigerian to ‘go to hell’? No. He went down on his knees, on the tarmac, in public, in Abuja, the nation’s capital.
This scenario should worry every Nigerian who has any knowledge of psychology, and who has the interests of the nation at heart. To put it in context, if Nigeria is truly a Federation, and a Republic of free and equal citizens, nobody – not even the President, has the authority to put another Nigerian on his knees, and so impugn his dignity. On the other side, every citizen has a duty – to himself, to the nation, to disobey such an irregular, unfair, unjust, demeaning order, were anyone to be so lacking in propriety and civil behaviour as to issue it.
The most precious possession of any human being, after his life, is his dignity. Everyday Nigerian citizens, especially the lowly in means, are routinely shorn of their dignity. Often it is by men wearing one of the various uniforms of ‘Law and Order’. This was the incontrovertibly justified basis the EndSARS protests, despite the poor ‘project management’ of its youthful executors and the gruesome and unnecessary sequalae. Just as often it is done by ‘entitled’ men such as the high state official who let himself down in Abuja on this particular day. It is worrisome for the soul and psychology of Nigeria that all too often the ‘victim’ is not prepared to refuse, even where there is a danger of consequences, as there often is, and that the public generally see this failure to resist as ‘prudence’ and ‘commonsense’.
A man who puts another man on his knees is treating him as a slave, and himself as a feudal lord. If Nigeria is a Republic, there are no slaves and there are no feudal lords. Anyone harbouring delusions of superiority and entitlement, presumably because of their ethnic background, as many do currently, is clinging to the last vestiges of a doomed and unsustainable anachronism. The recent history of Nigeria is thick with incidents involving people who, by their manner and words, truly believe they are better than other people, and live the lie, pampered and promoted beyond their capabilities, to the detriment of the whole system, but also to the detriment of their own mental health, since they are forced into a posture of aggression and knee- jerk paranoid reaction. Afterall, they, more than anyone else, are aware that their preferential advancement is not based on talent or merit but a ‘natural’ entitlement which has to be artificially sustained.
There is historical evidence of the value of human dignity, and the price some people are prepared to pay for it. A group of Africans, numbering more than two hundred, on a slave ship – New Britannica, on January 24, 1773, blew themselves and all their adversaries up with gunpowder off the coast of West Africa, rather than face a life of servitude in the Americas. Many Africans on slave ships, including people of ‘Nigerian’ stock, killed themselves by inflicting knife cuts with weapons stolen from their captors or jumping overboard as the coastline of the New World came into view.
Is Nigeria a nation of equal men and women? Or is it a grand lie?
It is necessary that the question be answered definitively, and the matter put to bed for all time.
Only Nigerians can answer the question, in their psychology, and in their actions, such as the way they react to such incidents as the drama enacted in Abuja recently.