In Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Dispossessed”, a discussion between Shevek and Bedap provides a backdrop to today’s article.
“Who do you think is lying to us?” Shevek demanded.
Placid, Bedap met his gaze. “Who, brother? Who but ourselves?”
A look at Bedap’s response betrays a truism about human behaviour. More times than not, we lie to ourselves, deceiving ourselves or gleefully accepting the lies others tell us. In a case of blissful self-delusion, we seem to find it easier to face false constructs instead of reality.
It has been two months since my last article. In the intervening time, I have tried so hard to refrain from channelling personal thoughts through my keyboard. However, an event this week forced me to recall an article that has been in my mind for quite some time. You see, the president of the world’s most populous black nation gracefully flew into Africa’s fifth largest economy to commission a “world class” bus terminal or what common folk would call a motor park.
Before you assume this is a diatribe against President Muhammadu Buhari or Lagos State’s Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, let me assure you that this is not such. Compared to many other structures touted as “world class” and built by Nigerian politicians, the Ikeja Bus terminal looks okay, at least from pictures I have seen. Notice I used “okay”. That is because there is nothing outstanding about the bus terminal. Bus terminals litter cities in the sane developed world and no one makes a fuss about them except where they were designed with architectural awards in mind. If Ambode’s terminal were floating on water or spinning to provide a 360° view of the surroundings, the razzmatazz around the commissioning culminating in a public holiday may have had some justification.
The “world class” Ikeja Bus Terminal is just the latest in a Nigerian trend to gloss up sometimes shitty endeavours. Sometime ago, a Nigerian governor commissioned a “world class” hospital. However, when he had a car accident, he was flown abroad. Once while going through Nasarawa State, I noticed a forgettable market proudly tagged an “international market”. I wondered if the market housed any form of international transactions as it looked as bland as other local markets. In some other states, such a market would be tagged an “ultra-modern” market as a testament to perceptions of grandiose delusions.
“Ultra-modern” has been used in so many Nigerian projects that a classroom block built with unplastered mud bricks could even bear the tag; an insult to iconic structures like Dubai’s Burj Al Arab. Instead of politicians to build structures that would serve communities for a long time, they prefer to build substandard eyesores and tag them “ultra modern” or “world class”. This is a country where a legislator used part of his constituency funds to construct a small “bridge” across a drainage and then constructed a billboard to declare he had built a bridge for his people. Sadly, because of the illiteracy level and lack of exposure of many Nigerians, scammers like this would be praised for their deceptiveness.
Beyond politicians, self-delusion is a national culture. At every nook and cranny of Nigeria, one would find a school, church or business with the word “international” in its name or a description that trumpets it as a “world class” entity. I once asked someone about this custom and was surprised to learn that some persons feel they cannot trade internationally except the word “international” features in their corporate name. While this is incorrect, let’s just accept it is true. If so, what do we say about the thousands of organisations with the “international” tag who have no cross-border interactions whatsoever. Are their names a hopeful grasp at an international future?
As Nigerians, we have a problem with self-esteem. Apart from the liars who have deception as a driver, our recourse to unwarranted appellations may be an attempt at arguing we are at the same level with the developed world, compounded by a culture that thrives on showing off. You do not need the president to commission a bus terminal, as even myself might be too qualified for that. However, this shame might not stop any time soon as we have a political system where politicians have to show they are not just stealing funds but also doing some form of theft-aligned projects. Hopefully, we would not get to a point where our president would be called to commission an electric transformer. God forbid bad thing!
Image Credit: premiumtimesng.com
- I have no data to suggest that the Ikeja Bus Terminal is substandard. My opinion is simply that the “world class” tag is unnecessary. If the Lagos State government would state the cost of the terminal, that would be really nice.