I am, by nature, an introspective person. I constantly analyse my decisions and actions, turning them over in the compost heap of my mind until I turn up something that makes sense. Then I write about it. While I understand that we may not all be the writing kind, what always baffles me is when people and nations can’t seem to look into themselves for understanding before moving forward.
NEXT newspaper ran a powerful editorial about this phenomenon in Nigerian politics. I agree. If there ever was a country that needed to examine itself and its path, it is my own. Yet, Nigerians, on the whole are not a self-reflective people. Those who are prone to caution and deliberation are seen as slow and naive "mugus." Fools who will be left behind as everyone rushes for their slice of the pie.
There is a good reason for this. To survive in Nigeria, you must be the master of the hustle. You must be willing to pound pavement, shake hands and smile broadly. But if we are to stop the downward spiral into chaos, Nigerians must do more than survive. We must sit down and examine ourselves as a nation.
No nation can look inward on its own; it relies on its intellectuals and artists. We have thinkers - people who question and probe and want to know why - but too often, they are drowned out by the voices of fear. They are too busy trying to think of ways to pay the rent. And when it gets too much, they flee to greener shores, leaving behind the venal, the corrupt and the lazy.
Unfortunately, this incapacity for reflection shows up in our art. Nigeria has the fourth largest movie industry in the world – and the largest in Africa. Yet our films are very often like bad stage plays with over-wrought plots and one-dimensional characters. And very often paintings and sculptures are derivative tourist shlock – masks, village scenes, and mothers with babies on their back. Where is the innovation? Where is the imagination?
Our literature suffers in the same way. Far too many of our books and plays read like bad Nollywood dramas and our poems are no better than mish-mashes of impenetrable words cut up into stanzas. Last year, we were unable to award one of our highest literature awards to any home-based writer because the quality of the work submitted was so poor.
Right now, it requires a monumental struggle to be able to resist corruption and craft quality art, but it must be done. It will require having to carve out time that might be better served chasing down the next meal and the work might not have any monetary value. But it must be done.
Those who benefit from injustice rely on our inability to put the pieces together. They know that as long as we keep our heads down, scrabbling from one crisis to another, we cannot muster enough time or energy to fight back. Without taking the time for reflection, we will never realize the full depth of our oppression and rise up against it.