Suffering And Smiling


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Suffering And Smiling

- The Vocabulary of The Oppressed in Nigeria -




Olaewe Ewegbemi 





April 4, 2005



“ If Nigerian leaders know anything about the depths of misery in their country, they are in no hurry to show it. As poverty continues to infest millions of Nigerians, the small clan of “prominent” Nigerians become ever more obsessed with living in vulgar, criminal opulence….             Okey Ndibe, “ Nigerian Leaders As Parasites”(The Guardian, Thursday, August 28, 2003)


“ Those who refuse to defend themselves after they have been beaten by having their votes stolen, by being sadistically sacked from their jobs, by having their salaries and pensions unpaid for months, and by being condemned to a life of poverty are afraid of death…                   Festus Iyayi, “Before and After the 2003 elections”, The Guardian, Wednesday, July16, 2003.



From one oppressive regime to another, civilian or military, Nigerians, the suffering and smiling masses, as late Fela Anikulapo referred to them in one of his albums, go about their daily activities in silence and acquiescence.

They throw their hands up in disgust and surrender. The beggars’ anthem is readily available to them to ease their pain and impotence temporarily:


“ I beg sir,”   “E jowo sir”; “Make una forgive me o”; “God go bless you, sir”,

“Idobale ni mo wa sir”, etc.


He begs and begs his tormentors and oppressors, and is forever in mortal fear, genuflecting to him while on the phone and invisible! The Nigerian is content to beg for his rights. He begs to have his son or daughter secure admission into school. He begs the custom or immigration officer to grant him favors; he bribes his way out of police brutality etc. He begs to have his pension paid .He begs for everything!  He does not believe in fighting for his right or entitlement.  He prefers to bribe his way through, whether he rightly deserves the object of his begging or not.  Nor does he ever insist that he should be treated with dignity.


When faced with the koboko (horse whip) of the “kill and go” police, a.k.a Anti-riot police or Mobile police, the Nigerian would lie prostrate like a lizard, or drop on her knees if a woman, with her hands thrown up and tears flowing like the Niagara. 


Begging is the way the Nigerian confronts his /her oppressor. Why?

Because, Nigerians, as has been rightly observed by Festus Iyayi,   “refuse to defend themselves after they have been beaten by having their votes stolen, by being sadistically sacked from their jobs, by having their salaries and pensions unpaid for months, and by being condemned to a life of poverty are afraid of death…”

They prefer to live and endure the beatings so that they can enjoy themselves, the next day. The police, the politicians and the bureaucrats, the very people who are supposed to protect or serve them therefore constantly subject them to abuse.


It was not uncommon during the military era, for a wife to be pulled out of a car she was riding in with her husband, at any of the ubiquitous check points following a coup; and for the hapless woman to be raped right there while the impotent husband looked on helplessly. His impotence would disappear later when next he tried to make love to the violated wife!

 When faced with a choice between defending his woman against a savage rapist, the Nigerian man would choose to live, rather than die valiantly to protect his wife or other members of his family! How many times have you heard stories of armed robbers entering into a home, violating the wife and daughters in the household while the man cringed in hiding?


In Nigeria, politicians and bureaucrats rule as well as reign. It does not matter whether it is a military or civilian regime  “elected”, so to speak by the people.

The word “civil servant” is both an anachronism and a misnomer in Nigeria. The civil servants are neither civil nor do they serve.


 Perhaps they once did while the British were around, but once they left, the civility and service in the Nigerian civil servant disappeared. Anyone who has been to a government office would know that he messenger or gateman can make the difference in whether or not you see the “oga”. Files often disappear and if you want your file to reappear, you better be ready to grease the palm of the messenger with a generous “dash”!


Even when the Nigerian loses a dear one in one of the death houses known as state hospitals, getting the corpse out does not come free. The “gboku-gboku” (mortuary attendants) makes sure that the dead is made to pay the last bribe before his/her corpse is released to the hapless relatives.


The relatives in turn would thank the attendant profusely for his “generosity” for releasing   the corpse to them in a dignifying state, never mind that the mortuary has been without electricity for days and the body has already started to decompose!


The incivility and lack of efficient and smooth service are not limited to the public bureaucracy in Nigeria.  Nigerian banks, for example, don’t seem to see their customers as their “raison d’etre”.


If your robes are not flowing, or if you don’t know the bank teller or manager, you can remain in the smelly bosom of any bank for hours without being attended to. And of course, if you ever get attention and fail to show your appreciation by giving a “tip”, next time you are around, don’t expect your road not to be rough.





Nigerians are waiting for deliverance and salvation from their oppressors, from poverty and disease. They are begging as well as praying, the evidence of the masses’ revolt, you will not find in the streets or through demonstrations. You will find their “revolts” in the churches, in the pulpits and in the mosques!


An article that appeared in one of Nigeria’s newspapers, published by the in its online edition of February 28, 2004 says: “ Study Rates Nigerians World’s Most Religious”.

“ P.M News (Lagos) February 27, 2004, Posted to the web, February 27, 2004:


A survey of people’s religious beliefs carried out in 10 countries …suggest that Nigeria is the most religious nation in the world, according to a BBC report today. Ten thousand people were questioned in the ICM poll for the BBC programme, What The World Thinks Of God.

Over 90 per cent of Nigerians said they believed in God, prayed regularly and would die for their belief…. The countries polled were the US, the UK, Israel, India, South Korea, Indonesia, Nigeria, Russia, Mexico and Lebanon….”.

While Nigerians would die of their religious belief, they are not ready to die to liberate themselves from   oppressive regimes, poverty, disease and ignorance!


While the whole landscape is reeling in poverty, slums, overflowing sewers and gutters, while NEPA refuses to supply electricity, while pipe-borne water is replaced by “Pure Water” and bottled water of all names and brands (don’t ask me how pure the water is!), while armed robbers, area boys and other criminals (forget the white collar crimes, those are not deadly since no limb is ever lost but this does not mean that they are to condoned) have taken over and tall gates and fences are the norm for most home-owners and barbwire is on every window( in case of fire , those homes and other dwelling units rented out to the poor workers would become death chambers  because these barbwires and heavy gates would hamper any rescue operation., and don’t forget that fire-fighters are non-existent and water is a luxury!).

 The Christian evangelicals and other “Winners” of the new religious landscape invite their followers to wait to be “caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord” to enjoy eternal peace and happiness in heaven!  That, however is on the assumption that the armed robber does not strike to eliminate him with a bullet or by throwing him out of a moving vehicle before he has a chance to “be caught up in the clouds”.

Meanwhile, the politicians and bureaucrats are stealing the peoples’ money with reckless abandon, leaving them in abject poverty, ignorance and disease.

When will Nigerians take over Nigeria from these plunderers masquerading as the peoples’ servants? When will the revolt of the masses take place?

The palpable surrender to the “will of God” and the continuous singing of the beggars’ anthem by a savagely oppressed and abused people do not portend any imminent revolt of the masses in Nigeria.

The suffering continues.                                                      …











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This page was last updated on 10/27/07.