When I decided to write this article, I first checked out some views about national dreams. A quote attributed to Miguel Zenon struck me, as I saw it as a fitting introduction. He described “national identity” as “something that’s directly connected to our personal experiences and the decisions we make, the roads we decide to take at certain points in our life.” I see “national dream” and “national identity” as interchangeable phrases, and so, ignoring the screaming opposition, Miguel’s description provides a launchpad for this monologue.
The “American Dream” is a popular topic across the world, with even non-Americans being able to articulate and even debate on the dream. A quick Google search describes it as “the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved”. This dream is based on the notion that “all men [and women] are created equal”, and this equality allows anyone to dream and work to achieve that dream. Although there has been some debate about whether this dream still works in America, this article is not interested in the continued validity or otherwise of the dream. The point is that there is a national dream and most importantly, virtually every American can articulate this dream.
Now, if you are a Nigerian reading this, can you answer this question: “What is the Nigerian dream?” If you are not a Nigerian, have you ever heard of the Nigerian dream? I can bet my photocopied credentials that you’ve never heard of the Nigerian dream. However, since I am feeling extremely nice today, let me burst your bubble. There’s a Nigerian dream, and every Nigerian implicitly knows it. In fact, it is very much like the American dream with just a little modification—it is based on the notion that Nigerians are not equal.
This morning, a friend described the Nigerian dream as “make I hustle, blow so that I go get money and get myself out of the situation”. That’s in Pidgin English or what language experts would call a form of Creole. Let me translate my friend’s phrasing into proper Queen’s English: “I have to struggle to make lots of money and save myself from Nigeria’s bad situation”. In effect the Nigerian dream is all about becoming your own Jesus to pay your way—not with blood but with wads of naira notes—out of Nigeria. For some, “out of Nigeria” literally means “out of Nigeria’s borders, including her embassies abroad”, while for others, it means “out of the common people’s Nigeria”. A good way to explain this is to use Jesus’ description: “in this world but not of this world”, equivalent to: “in Nigeria but not in Nigeria”.
Further elaborating, my friend said, “That’s the dream, let me make money, then the police will start hailing me and people will kiss my ass.” Remember I said the Nigerian dream is based on a notion of inequality. To get to a baseline of equality, a certain amount of money is required. Then to get to nirvana where “all are equal but some are more equal”, much more money is required. When you get there, you can confidently speak like a certain former governor who said, “What money cannot do, more money would do.” That’s the Nigerian dream—making enough money to leave the backwaters of Otodo Gbame for the serenity of Lekki. How you make the money is irrelevant; just make lots of it!
Why would a country have its citizenry focused on becoming personal saviours? The answer lies in Nigeria’s socio-econo-political institutions, or rather, its lack of institutions. Without money, a road safety officer can abruptly stop you on the road, enter your car, ask for a gift (not extortion!), and should you refuse, get you arrested for kidnapping an officer of the law. Whereas, with lots of money, and preferably a 2017 model SUV, you would be hailed as your driver takes you through a checkpoint. Similarly, without money, a police officer can shoot you without reason and then parade your body as that of an armed robber killed during a fierce gun battle with the police. The most recent example of the need for lots of money just played out in Lagos State where a group of poor families were thrown out of their slum, houses burned down, some killed, just to make way for expensive properties that no commoner would afford even in ten lifetimes of savings. You see that it’s a crime in Nigeria to be without money. That’s why the national dream exists. You just have to become a “big [wo]man” to leave the jungle.
Unfortunately, you have come to the end of this article. You see, it’s Good Friday and not having any serious activity planned for the day, my friend’s statements pushed my fingers towards my keyboard. I hope you don’t feel I have wasted your time in making you read this. If there’s anything to take away from this composition, it’s the importance of having a functional state so citizens don’t feel boxed into a corner. Nigerians really need Nigeria to work, else we would someday consume ourselves like Pharaoh’s malnourished cows consumed the fattened cows.
Image Credit: naijadreaming.blogspot.de