One of Nigeria’s brightest and most prolific intellectuals in the Diaspora, Pius Adesanmi, The Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada Professor of English who has just been appointed Carnegie Diaspora Visiting Professor in African Studies to the University of Ghana at Legon, in his recent article titled “Parable of the Shower Head” theorises that corruption should take second place in the “award” (talking of awards) of the most pernicious ill of our country. “Nigeria’s deadliest enemy,” Pius states, “is the psychology of the Nigerian.”
Pius’ narration was a “tale of two cities”, as Charles Dickens titled one of his books. It is the experiences in two countries – one, Ghana, the other Nigeria – and their differing cultures or values. In his inimitable way of sardonic humour, Pius narrates how from a simple thing of the differing attitudes of hotel attendants (technicians) responding to a guest’s complaint of a shower head not working properly, a whole generation of societal malaise could be deduced.
In one country, (no prize for guessing right) the technician responded as if “the fate of his country rested on him rectifying the situation and making sure it never happens again.” In another (you know which), the technician was bemused, indeed offended, that the guest had disturbed his peace over a shower head that, after all, had (at least!) some of the holes working: “Oga, shebi you say dis ting no dey work? See am now. No be im dey work so? And bucket dey sef, if you wan run water put.”
Professor Adesanmi laments, “It tells the story of the power of civic instruction and awareness. It tells the story of the only type of psychology that could power a country out of the backwaters of underdevelopment and set her on the course of joining the rest of the civilized humanity in the 21st century.”
The situation in this country is truly sad and pitiable, especially as it has permeated all of our society, suffusing it with the psychology that “rationalises mediocrity.” I feel Pius’ pain. I see it everyday, and everywhere. It has eaten so deep into our culture and psyche it will take a miracle for the country to get out of the morass. Unfortunately no development can occur without that hopeless culture being addressed.
It is a culture where mediocrity is being passed off as acceptable; and the mediocre jumps up to occupy leadership positions the challenges of which he has neither ability nor knowledge of how to meet. And they are the ones that get appointed or elected – sadly, perpetuating and nourishing the cycle.
There is a glaring example in one of the clubs I belong to. Indeed, it is an elitist one that prides itself as perhaps “the best in Africa” in the same way Nigeria beats her chest as the “giant of Africa.” The approach to the tennis section of this club is such an eyesore it takes courage for someone coming from a different culture of prim state and prompt maintenance to venture into the grounds.
The story began with the huge generator servicing the section packing up – no surprise in a country where NEPA is the standby. To get it replaced, the building that housed it had to be broken down. But, since the “super elite club” cannot be without power even for a day, a brand new replacement generator had to be brought in pronto. So where would it stand? The car park leading to the entrance would do – temporarily.
The trouble is, that “temporary” situation has lasted over a year with grime and sooth all over the ground in a manner that would put the despoliation in the oil areas to shame. It has occurred to no one, not the management, not the gradually accustomed-to-mediocrity members, to do something to, at least, present a passable face. And it would cost relatively nothing but just simply knowing that something wrong must not stay unaddressed for more than a moment; just the simple idea of fencing off, board, to keep the ugliness off view, not to talk of the attendant risk to health of users of the club. No one is acting; no one is suing!
Moreover, a whole year and fixing the building and putting things in their proper place had become such a challenge to a club of “elites” of the country; a club which was truly the envy of the continent, bequeathed by the departing colonialists? It is sickening.
The picture in this club of mine is the picture of the country as a whole, a country gone to the dogs. But we are all guilty of tolerating or ignoring, if not acquiescing, to the enveloping mediocrity.
Adesanmi sums it up: “Every time you accept less than perfect, justify it, impose it on people around you, you are killing Nigeria softly and unpatriotically.”
As a further example, I keep telling those in the printing business that the very same machinery, say a Kord 64, printers here use to print a colour magazine is the same printers in Europe use, yet, almost without exception, you could tell a magazine produced abroad from those done here. The difference lies primarily in the attitude of the workers, from those manning the machines to those sorting the printed papers, to those packing, etc. Attitude! Commitment to excellence! Not being ready to pass off even the slightest blot “on just one page out of a thousand” and not accepting it, even if you get called names – “oyinbo,” “over-sabi”, etc.
Adesanmi admonishes further, carrying on with the parable of the showerhead, “Every time you agree that a shower head is working well because ‘only five of its holes are blocked’, you are killing Nigeria softly. Every time you see only about five or six pot holes in a 7-kilometre stretch of road and you continue to scream, ‘ah dat road good o, dat Governor try well well,’ you are killing Nigeria sofly, for if there is even one pothole on it, the road ain’t good and you should scream for it to be fixed as if your life depended on it.”
He concludes: “So long as the psychology of rationalization and excuses persists, we cannot make progress. Where public services are supposed to function 100%, if citizens are given 20% once in two weeks and they prevail on other citizens to be thankful to government for providing even that 20%; where they treat anyone who insists on 100% service as an outcast and an alaseju (over-do); where they collectively make it clear that we should all ‘manage am like dat’, zero corruption is no guarantee that such a people would ever make progress.”
I am with you, Pius. If Nigeria must change, our attitude to mediocrity must first change – we must stand and reject it! That’s it.