As I watched him approach the bus stop, I saw his veins shoot out like those of a training instructor in a gym facility. I was afraid it would rupture. He was sweating and panting like a Christmas goat being led to the abattoir for slaughter. What irked me most was that he was smiling while under a burden.
I couldn’t bear it any longer and I let the words out,
‘You are suffering and at the same time smiling, are you okay?’
‘Isn’t it obvious those loads you carry are way beyond the limits of your strength?’
‘Did you notice you were losing your balance while you walked?’
The two ladies whose belongings the young boy helped to carry were engrossed in a discussion as he walked with them to the bus stop. Something told me the boy was seemingly in a dilemma. He was not sure whether to yield to the burden of the load or to call the ladies’ attention for help. Somehow, he found a way to smile all through his journey to calvary, bearing his cross.
I was not ready to be the biblical Simon that helped Jesus carry his cross; so, while I lashed out at the exuberant lad, I swept my eyes through the ladies and was waiting and hoping they would interject. I was ready to unleash fire and brimstone on them. Probably, they read my mind and kept mum. But I was determined to provoke them into talking to me.
So, to the boy I said,
‘shay na these two chekeleke you dey try impress abi?’
‘how much dem pay you sef for this suffer head wey you dey give yourself?’
No sooner had I finished talking than one of the ladies fell for the trap. she let her mouth loose. You know how the sight of the water cistern triggers a heavy-laden bladder? How it would dilate the urethra to let out its contents? That was how I was triggered. I gave it to her ‘hot hot!’ However, I leave you with a wild imagination of how it all ended.
In this story, the picture of suffering and smiling people in Nigeria is painted using three brushes. One of the brushes paints the ladies as the elite and those in corridors of power who look away and care less about the agonies the people are subjected to. Another brush paints the boy as the suffering masses, while the third brush paints the narrator as a watchdog for the masses.
From one perspective, the picture captures ‘suffering and smiling’ as a show of resilience by Nigerians in the face of hardships. Beyond being a coping strategy, Nigerians, just like that little boy, have adopted suffering and smiling as a survival response to troubles or situations they seemingly can no longer change.
From another perspective, our leaders, traced in the identity of the ladies whose loads the suffering and smiling boy bore, have failed to demonstrate sincerity of purpose towards the suffering masses.
An attempt at chronicling successive regimes from independence to the current Buhari administration reveals that the core of the problems facing the people stems from leadership deficits. The leadership does not have the people’s interest at heart. None have demonstrated a true commitment to fighting corruption and insecurity, which is a double-edged sword accentuating the sufferings that overburden the Nigerian masses daily.
Today, the reality is that people are compelled to smile in the face of these sufferings. They smile even when the assurance of the next meal is not guaranteed. The standard of living will be on a downward trend, but Nigerians would still smile notwithstanding.
Think of it as one who just came off a good high from the ‘weed’ he smoked to help with the travails that greet him every day. While he takes a puff, he pouts his mouth, channels it at a slightly acute angle in the air and then relaxes his mind. He repeats the cycle amidst chuckles. His countenance beaming with smiles as though his wife just put to bed a baby boy.
Looking at him, you assume all is well. He portrays the image of a duck sailing gently on the surface but beneath the waters, its legs paddle like mad. Beneath his seemingly calm demeanour, he is dealing with a lot. Dealing with a plethora of problems brought about by corruption, insecurity, lack of basic amenities, hunger, starvation and the uncertainties of the Nigerian economy.
In one of his hit songs, ‘Shuffering and Shmiling,’ the late Afrobeat maestro, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti satirizes the uncanny ability of Nigerians to endure almost anything. The lyric describes the deplorable state of Nigeria and that of the poor masses.
Here are some excerpts;
Every day my people dey inside bus
Every day my people dey inside bus
Forty-nine sitting, ninety-nine standing
Them go pack themselves in like sardine
Them dey faint, them wake like cock
Them go reach house, water no dey
Them go reach bed, power no dey
Them go reach road, go-slow go come
Them go reach road, police go slap
Them go reach road, army go whip
Them go look pocket, money no dey
Them go reach work, query ready
Everthing na the same thing
Suffer, suffer for world…
In another breath of the song, Fela calls out religious leaders enjoying themselves, while the masses continually suffer. He takes on the subject of religion, denouncing the two major religions of Christianity and Islam.
According to him, the narrative pushed by Imams and pastors that suffering on earth so that one can eventually find happiness in heaven should be discarded. He believes leaders of the two religions look away and sustain passivity in the face of untold hardship the masses encounter daily.
For him, religious leaders would not speak for the masses. Therefore, he would not paint them using the brush with which the narrator was painted as the watchdog for the masses.
Fela puts it thus…
Suffer, suffer for world
Enjoy for Heaven
Christians go dey yab
‘In Spritum Heavinus’
Muslims go dey call
Open you eye everywhere
Archbishop dey enjoyyy
Pope self dey enjoy
Imam self dey enjoy
My brother wetin you say
My brother wetin you say
My brother wetin you say?
My sister wetin you go hear?
My sister wetin you go hear?
Archbishop dey for London
Pope dey for Rome
Imam dey for Mecca
He would go on to fault anyone who pays homage to religious leaders and does their bidding. He faults those who get caught in the web of ‘Suffer, suffer for world, enjoy for heaven.’ This is because those religious leaders who espouse such beliefs are often hypocrites living in opulence. They fly private jets, move in luxurious cars, move with bodyguards and live in the most exotic houses.
A cursory look at Fela’s lyrics reveals that he is very critical of the government alongside religious institutions. His music oftentimes challenges the failures and the misnomers of the Nigerian state.
To some, suffering and smiling don’t portray a negative way of living. For them, smiling through suffering is a mark of strength. However, when a people’s natural response to suffering is to smile, such that it keeps them from doing whatever should be done to deal with the suffering they face, then, there lies the problem. You don’t smile at the problem and shrug them off. If you do, it amounts to living in a fool’s paradise.
For a long time, Nigerians have lived in poverty amidst plenty. Somehow, they have been smiling through it. Rather than things changing for the better, they are getting worse, if not worst by the day. Every sector of the economy is replete with overwhelming problems, and many have inadvertently chosen the pathway of smiling through it all. This is why comedy in Nigeria is increasingly gaining momentum.
Nigerian comedians are now cashing out big time on the situation. As a result, Nigerians tend to turn even the most serious events into jokes. They deploy funny memes, hilarious skits and sarcastic comments especially on social media to trivialize serious situations. It remains to be seen whether these actions are helping the suffering masses cope with the problems they face.
In another light, the masses are seriously not helping matters. Nigeria is now in an electioneering campaign. Some of the masses are no longer interested in issue-based campaigns. They would rather choose to sing the praises of politicians who put them in agonizing conditions. It is said that when someone has done you wrong, don’t fake a smile at all when you see them. Keep it real. Let them know where you stand with them. Sadly, this is not the case with some Nigerians. They would prefer praise singing to issue-based campaigns.
Some people strategically position themselves for ‘agbado,’ cassava, ‘garri,’ ‘ewa,’ and maize. These are ephemeral gains politicians dangle before them during elections to mortgage their future. They take the offer and thereafter see their suffering prolonged. The same people see an aged candidate who cannot stand through hours during campaigns; who cannot even raise a broom — the symbol of their party; whose cognitive abilities have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous, yet such a candidate is projected by these unreasonable persons to govern them.
The time’s come for the narrative to begin to change for good. Good to learn Nigeria has now dropped 40 spots on the world happiness index released by the United Nations in 2022. The Guardian of March 19, 2022, revealed Nigeria went from being the 78th happiest people in the world to be the 118th in seven years.
Truly, that is just the way it should be. An ascendency on such happiness index, while people live in nightmares, remains an abnormality. Thus, nothing explains better the quality of life currently being experienced in recent times in the country.
Nigerian citizens can now have the initiative to take their destinies into their own hands. They should start demanding more from the political system to make the political leaders begin to react. The opportunity to do that presents itself in the coming 2023 general elections. The masses should picture the kind of leadership they want for themselves and then demand it from those scheming for pollical offices in 2023.
Again, a lot of orientation and re-orientation of these demands should begin to take place in every little space and corner. The people must drive and sustain discussions in that regard. It should not be taken for granted because it will eventually spiral into desired results.
The masses in Nigeria might be enduring a ‘wotowoto’ of suffering from those in the corridors of power. The masses might be suffering and smiling now, but one day, they will be pushed to the wall and the smiles dotting their faces will vanish. When this happens, a revolution we dread might be the only option to soothe and relax the aching cheeks that had been compelled to smile. A glimpse of this can be seen during the END-SARS movement of 2020.
Time shall tell!