Sunday, July 25, 2010

Repeating our Mistakes

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.

For instance, it makes no sense to me that so many white people in the United States of America seem wholly at a loss when confronted with racism. Each act of racial injustice is treated as if it were a thing without precedence or history or context. An anomaly that exists outside of a larger institutional framework. They seem incapable of looking into history or examining their society’s shortcomings to understand where these acts come from and how to truly balance the scales.

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.


  1. Chinelo...You made a good observation out there. We're not as reflective and thoughtful as a nation, though at individual level/s, so many people take time to think about the state of the nation..but systemic thought is indeed a rare artefact of history in Naija!

  2. Chinelo, excellent post and blog! Self-reflection is critical to personal growth - without it we're doomed to repeat the same mistakes, make the same erroneous assumptions and remain stuck in a pattern reminiscent of child who never grows up. Unfortunately, the question remains - how do we communicate the importance of reflection to the broader community?

  3. @Veronica: Thanks! I think that education is one way of fostering independent thought. Right now, our kids are not encouraged to ask questions in class. They are expected to take notes, keep quiet and regurgitate it all come exam time. If we nurture questioning children, we nurture questioning adults who won't toe the party line and will come up with their own solutions.

    @ Nuggetzman: hear, hear!

  4. Omo Olorun

    I stumbled on your blogs and I must say I am very impressed by the quality, the deep thought and reasoning you bring to your writings. You are gifted and I would encourage you spend more time doing this. This may be your calling.

    I share your feelings. We are a nation of "forgetters". It is when something happened that we make noise. We are like a woman in labour. Once she has had the baby the pain is gone and forgotten. We waste so much time before televisions watching Nollywood films and Premiership or Spanish League. Some of us abroad turn to Youtube to satisfy our appetite.

    Another thing is that we don't keep history of events. Ask, how many Nigerians keep diaries? And from what I think, those that write their own autobiographies later in life would benefit from what they have written or documented. We don't spend quality time doing things that will benefit or add values to us. I live in North America, and during my commute to/from work during the work days in the train, I see how people devour books. Same story is shared by friends that live in the Europe. A person is a reflection of different books he/she has read, the stories she has been told and ... whatsoever contacts that he/she has had that has made an imprint to the memory.