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We Nigerians are institutionalised

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Yes, we have been jailed for decades. Our institutionalisation began long long ago. Centuries ago, our jail sentence began when Catholic priest recommended our enslavement in the Caribbean and the Americas. Our Ọbas agreed to sell us to them to take away into slavery. Our mothers sang the songs of sorrow and deprivation: We shall meet again/Only in the random train/Of never ever after/In dreams of disappearing visions/Is when we shall meet again!

Independence did not release us from the jails we were in. If anything those who fought and won our independence learnt very well their lessons from the colonialists. So much so that they did not have to look back to ‘cross’ some ‘ts’ and ‘dot’ some ‘i’s! And what are the signs of our imprisonment?

What defines us as human beings have nothing to do with our history and our culture. The shoes we wear, the songs we sing, the liquids with which we quench our thirsts and food with which we feed ourselves would be unrecognisable to our ancestors. Our dances are no longer our dances but the dances of our warders and jailers.

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More specifically the instruments with which we live our lives are specified are individualised and customised. We are qualified and we get a job and find a partner. We want to build a house. We did a well or sink a borehole. We buy a generator. We find a gateman and a night guardman to ensure that our jail is well guarded. Because there is no collective effort to live together, there is no shared disposal of our National rubbish. They pile up on our streets and on the roads and highways leading into and out of our cities and towns.

We are jailed and cannot move on roads made for moving goods and services and human beings. We drive ourselves to a standstill. Vehicles coming from the front. Vehicles coming from the back. Vehicles coming from left and right. All moving to their forward, not giving way as per priority, you go and I go and he goes and they go. So, nobody goes! We are at a stand still. In prison. Imprisoned.

Money has jailed us, locked us up and closed its eyes and threw the key into wherever, never to found again. In praise of the our musicians happily sing: if you no get money hide your face! And another sings: lord give me all the money! biko yemi ego! I wan build house, I wan buy jet!

Long long time ago, it was impossible to steal public property and flout the wealth consequent on the theft in the face of the people, followed by drumming and dancing and singing praise singers: if they are not satisfied, let them go and steal their own. Now, they not only steal and flourish it, they also push it into the face of the ‘poor’ wallahi! We dey waka for dust/bicycle rider/Okada rider/pleasure car rider/wey tanda for owners’ corner/dey vex bad bad/for because we poor dey waka for dust!!!

We are so institutionalised that before the demander of bribe asks we are already offering. How much you want sir? Should we bring more? Yes, the tyres are tired already but we can still manage it. Yes, we even cut corners while fly some commercial planes. Then the accident happened? Yes, unfortunately, some happened.

While rocking it in jail, we invent anew tragi-comedy, comedy-tragedy, suffering-and-smiling. We update tragedies and turn them to comedies. Tragedy is permanent misery peppered with a few spaces of laughter from time to time. Like the hero of No Longer at Ease said: tragedy is like a bowl of worm wood from which one sipped world without end. If tragedy is permanent, comedy must be brought out to relieve if from time to time.

So, what’s new? We are in jail. Is not the warder also in jail? We have prison uniform. The jailer also has uniform. He or she is paid. We are not paid. But we are fed. He has to cook his own food. And what is best? We don’t have to lock up at night. Is that not one reason why one should stay in prison? My jailer we are all prisoners!

We are imprisoned by the places of worship that insists that only prayers and giving to God can give us double what we give to the church, the mosque, the shrine. How much has the pastor, prophet etc given to the church? How many trips does the congregation go to the front to offer and to offer and offer. . . All collected in bowls and baskets carted away to add to the private jet project to do the work of the Lord quicker and faster.

We are imprisoned in get rich quick scams, no matter how many times the government warns us. We are institutionalised to accept scams and see our future and our fortunes in the bosom of scams. Pyramid schemes, here we are, open for us. Money making magic work for us!

If we were not imprisoned why would an electricity producing company budget for generators year in and year out? Or why would the army and police employ security companies to secure their barracks and stations? Why would they have panic buttons hidden somewhere to be pressed once Boko Haram is rumoured to be on rampage? Suffering and smiling!

Years ago, Eric Williams (1911 – 1981) wrote a beautiful doctorate thesis for a British university. It was later adapted for a fantastic book called Capitalism and Slavery showing how what is so dear to the western world was built on our sweat and blood. With that done Dr. Williams went home to Trinidad and Tobago. In no time at all he became the prime minister of the country. And he went on being voted as prime minister of the country. Again and again. The opposition parties told the electorate how Eric Williams is maltreating the people, oppressing the poor, curtailing the freedom of the press and rigging the elections. The people with one voice replied: we like it so!!!
Kole Omotoso, bankole.omotoso@elizadeuniversity.edu.ng

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