After reading my last article on issues affecting Port Harcourt, a certain friend of mine called me to discuss the main ideas in the article. In a one hour-plus WhatsApp call, this Nigerian “externally displaced” in the United States, made the point that my article was trying to solve a problem by complaining about the symptoms. Whereas I did not necessarily agree with his entire viewpoint, a key idea stood out—his application of Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son to events in Nigeria and Africa.
In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus spoke of a certain son who requested his share of his father’s wealth while his father was still alive. He then took his share to embark on a journey lavished with “riotous living”, became more broke than slaves, and resorted to managing pigs so he could scrape food to eat. He later had an epiphany, realising the servants in his father’s house accessed an abundance of food, and so he decided it were better he went back home to become a servant instead of eating pigs’ food in a strange land.
Over the course of our conversation, my friend took me on a philosophical journey to see how this parable described Nigeria. When the Prodigal Son decided to return home, that decision was preceded by recognising that he was wrong to have left home and waste all the resources gifted to him. Two things are apparent here. First is the capacity for analytical reasoning followed by the capacity to accept blame. Let’s look at these two things in the context of Nigeria.
We begin with the capacity for analytical reasoning. This requires mental effort towards breaking down a problem into component parts and then viewing everything from a bird’s eye overview and a ground-level individualistic review. Sadly, the generality of Nigerians do not seem to have this ability. How else does one explain university graduates vehemently arguing that President Buhari is dead and has been replaced by a certain “Jubril from Sudan”? How does one explain university graduates believing that Buhari could wave a magic wand and make one naira equal in value to a dollar?
University graduates were used in the examples above to buttress the scale of the problem. If university graduates, supposedly educated, and possessing research and verification skills cannot undertake analytical reasoning, what is the hope for the uneducated trader in the market or the nomad flogging a herd of cows along a busy road? The challenge here is that if we cannot even reason about our problems, then we would not even be aware we have a problem.
Moving on to the capacity to accept blame, ours is a society built on a culture that seems to decriminalise taking responsibility for failures. How many Nigerians can recall their dad or mom ever apologising for doing or saying something wrong? How many persons have pastors who can stand before their congregations to say a previous sermon contained some erroneous assertions? How many persons have had a lecturer who could tell a class that he or she did not have the answer to a posed question and would respond after doing some research? This is a country where a minister of power would happily say unavailability of power is not a fault of the government because distribution companies were privatised. This doctrine of blame rejection is one reason Nigerians would waste hours praying and blaming the devil and “people in the village” rather than looking inwards to see their roles in causing whatever predicament they might be suffering.
Do you now see why my friend says Nigerians are still washing pigs in a strange land? If we cannot recognise that we have a problem and acknowledge we have contributed to the problem, it would be difficult to create practicable solutions. Another key point from the Parable of the Prodigal Son is that the boy’s father did not go looking for him. Although the father gladly accepted the son on his return, the son had the responsibility of returning. Bringing this to Nigeria, outsiders would not solve our problems for us. They might be of immense help but we are primarily responsible for our problems.
The Prodigal Son made a mistake, recognised his mistake and made a move to rectify that mistake. In doing this, he saved himself from a lifetime of wrestling pigs and eating food intended for pigs. Nigeria and Nigerians need in-depth reflection about our circumstances. We have spent too much time washing pigs. It is time to leave pigs’ food for a royal banquet.
Image Credit: gregburdine.com