Understanding Nigeria’s problem

Understanding Nigeria’s problem



A friend of mine has this joke about a man that was seen running around naked. Questioned as to why he was in such a state, the man explained that he had been robbed. Everyone was appropriately sympathetic until they discovered that the robbery had taken place years before! My friend shares the joke whenever he wants to illustrate the limitations of focusing on colonialism as an explanation for the state of Nigeria today.

However, exploitative as the colonial experience might have been, how can it explain the problems in Nigeria when the country attained independence over five decades ago? While he makes an excellent point, if you would allow me, I would still like to take a stab at answering the questions posed by The News by taking colonialism as my point of departure.

Under normal circumstances, a man that was robbed and stripped off his clothing should be able to get a new set of clothes and set about replacing what he lost in the robbery immediately after the incident. If the said man is seen running around naked years hence, we should ask what stops him from getting past his encounter with the robbers What was taken from him that is so difficult to replace?

I want to propose that if we can answer this question, then we have answered all the questions posed by The News magazine, because once we know what the problem is, the solution will reveal itself. Clearly, something about the nature of the encounter makes it difficult for our naked man to clothe himself once more and go on with his life. It would seem to me that the problem must be either of two things.

First, that the colonial encounter was so traumatic that the man simply took leave of his senses. Or second, perhaps there was something about the encounter that is yet ongoing, making it difficult for the man to recover and rebuild.

Taking the first premise, let us then consider the question: have Nigerians simply lost the plot? My instinctive response to the question is no. After all, Nigerians outside the country function relatively well, with many even reaching the top of their various professions in their adopted countries. If, by and large, Nigerians outside Nigeria are able to do well, then it cannot be that the ‘Nigerian’ has simply gone mad. I

t could be, of course, that the institutions upon which the Nigerian had underpinned his existence within his native land have become so distorted as to be dysfunctional. This explanation has some plausibility and we will come back to it further along.

For now, let us move on to the second premise; is there something about the encounter that is yet ongoing? Here, we find that there is more to consider.

For the concluding part of this story and others, grab your copy of The Point from your nearest vendor