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Stop romanticising our suffering

Someone brought up “our resilience as Nigerians” in conversation not too long ago, and I was annoyed. My vexation was amplified by the fact that…

Someone brought up “our resilience as Nigerians” in conversation not too long ago, and I was annoyed. My vexation was amplified by the fact that he said this while comparing Nigerians to “these spoilt Americans who don’t know what it is to suffer.”

Often, we hear about the resilience of Nigerians and our resourcefulness. It is meant to be complimentary, but only in the same way as saying that African women are strong or that women are efficient multi-taskers.

It diminishes the intentional effort that goes into being resilient, resourceful, strong and a multi-tasker because you don’t have any other option but to be those things. Worse is that they are sometimes used to abdicate responsibility.

A wife who comes home from work tired and still manages to cook and clean while braiding her daughter’s hair is praised as a multi-tasker by a husband who claims to be only able to do one thing at a time. Maybe if she had a more thoughtful husband she wouldn’t have to multitask as much. Or the woman who is told she is strong because she is back at work the day after she gives birth without acknowledging that had she been given a choice, she might have well chosen to stay in bed and recuperate.

Nigerians are being browbeaten into being resilient and resourceful every day in order to simply survive. Maybe if Nigeria worked better, our resilience and resourcefulness would be put to better use: technological and scientific innovations, inventions, progress. We, too, are human beings who deserve the soft life like the Americans, with working electricity and water and everything else so that we can concentrate on making our country great.

In Igbo, we say that suffering is not something to boast about. It isn’t a badge of honour. Nigerians are suffering: the cost of food is rising, hospitals (in the North), per reports, are seeing more people with malnutrition; folks are on the social media sharing recipes that completely exclude meat and fish because they have become luxuries beyond the reach of many, and people who thought they were solidly middle class a few years ago are finding themselves struggling to feed their families.

The quality of people who complain about how hard the country is when we chat on the phone is shocking. These are people I never imagined would worry about fending for their families. Folks are having to choose between school fees and house rent, between food and life-saving drugs. And the government is sitting on its opulent behind, squabbling over raising minimum wage. N62,000 is an insult. Only the most devious of minds would, in this economy, and with what our politicians earn, devise such a paltry sum as minimum wage.

Naija forces resilience on us because of its failure of leadership. Praising strength borne out of necessity is diverting attention from the root causes of our hardship. It perpetuates the dangerous narrative that normalises our struggles. It is a comfortable excuse for those in power to continue their negligence, consoled by the notion that we, the citizens, will always find a way to survive.

Imagine a Nigeria where resilience is not about surviving against all odds but thriving because the odds are in our favour. Imagine where resourcefulness is not about making do with the bare minimum but about innovating and excelling with ample resources.

We deserve better. We deserve leaders who see beyond their own privileges and work conscientiously to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. We deserve a Nigeria that works for all its citizens, not just a select few.

At this moment, at Kekere Junction in Lagos, there is a young, homeless girl who looks no more than 15 lying on a patch of grass, visibly ill and ostensibly waiting to die. This is the “resilience” we are so proud of? Abeg!

We deserve a country where the government prioritises the wellbeing of its citizens, where the basic amenities are not luxuries but rights, and where every Nigerian, regardless of their socioeconomic status, has the opportunity to live a dignified life. Until then, let’s stop romanticising our suffering and resilience and start demanding the change that will render such resilience unnecessary.

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