Let’s take time to laugh at ourselves today. And what better way to light up the laugh lines than with the hallowed traditions of this country? You see, there’s this line of the Nigerian national anthem that’s obviously there for shit and giggles. Actually, every line of the anthem is for laughs, but this line is particularly extra comical: “The labours of our heroes past shall never be in vain.”
The hilarity here is not that we have no heroes in the objective sense (we do, seriously) nor is it that we have consigned the labours of these heroes to the recycle bin (we have). The real joke is that our problem is much more serious: we have no freaking idea what a hero is or who our heroes are. These days, a number of odd figures show up on the hero radar, the word “hero” has lost all meaning and the criteria for selection has become quite jumbled.
So here’s a quick test: if you’re able to identify Uti in the picture above, but not Saro-Wiwa in the picture further above, then congrats! You’re the fucking problem with this country. But before you jump off the nearest bridge—a solution which we highly recommend—its not entirely your fault that Uti is more recognizable than Ken.
The creepy value system most of us were bred with has blatantly encouraged us to regard winning a million Naira in an effortless venture as a more worthwhile life achievement than fighting social injustice without pay. Even worse, our moral and religious systems have encouraged the idea that a good spiritual life is necessarily rewarded with riches.
That is why our leaders keep getting away with corruption. Because deep down, we value those leaders who cram their mouths full much more than those who go hungry for us. In the latest installment of materialistic hero-worship, lots of folks went gaga over the fact that some Nigerian woman took Oprah’s place at the top of the dollar counting scale. In typical Nigerian fashion, this was enough reason to be proud to be a Nigerian. Worse, this non-news was taken seriously by a lot of people.
Of course, it is irrelevant to most of the Alakija hero worshipers that Oprah’s influence over the years derived from what was basically community service, and not from the number of dollar bills in her wallet. This inability to discern what is worthwhile is why the prayer meetings are going to speed up like an expressway on drugs, as pastors get new material to feed their congregation. And all over Nigeria, folks will keep on begging God desperately for their chance at mouth-watering riches in a misguided attempt to involve the divine in material aspirations.
Now here’s the lesson today: a people are defined by their heroes. Heroes are ordinary people who manage to do extraordinary things. Extraordinary things such as defending the weaker and battling the stronger. We used to have such heroes; some kickass awe-inspiring heroes that stood their grounds before teargas and gun bullets. We used to have men and women who stood and died for what was right.
From the days of the Aba Women’s Riot to the nights of Occupy Nigeria. We had voices that spoke without fear or guilt. Yes, Superman and Batman used to live among us. But they are mostly gone now. What we have today are bratty guys who win reality shows and silver-fed women with oil blocks. These are our freaking heroes. Well played, Nigerians. You messed up in heroic proportions.