When Privilege Comes Knocking

“Count your blessings, name them one by one;
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done”

The quote above is from a popular Christian hymn, “Count Your Blessings” by Johnson Oatman Jnr, however, fear not; this is not a proselytising article. The hymn just kept ringing in my head as I picked up my laptop to compose this article. I’m typing this article at the twilight of Good Friday 2019, influenced by four key events from the receding week.

The first trigger came from a Twitter thread I chanced upon during the week.


In the thread, the poster gave an abridged outline of his circumstances regarding his affluent Alma mater and the present state of the Nigerian economy. The summary goes like this: David and his friends from “elite backgrounds” attended a high brow secondary school and most went on to earn degrees in foreign universities; some had opportunities to work abroad and a number of them returned to Nigeria to work. His schoolmates now have kids and suddenly realised they cannot afford to pay the school fees required to attend their expensive Nigerian Alma mater. At this point, even Jeremiah the Prophet would weep at the Lamentations of David.

Another trigger came from a Zikoko article I read during the week. This article described the life of a Nigerian who finished secondary school but could not afford the Senior School Certificate Exam. As a result, instead of his dream of studying law, he was forced to live a life where his daily sustenance flowed from jobs that are physically tasking and sometimes potentially fatal. One of such jobs literally involved a cycle of back-breaking work one month followed by a month of sickness. He still looks back at the critical point in his life when his final exams were unaffordable.

The third trigger occurred during a trip across Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos. As the bus crawled through the stream of vehicles on the routinely congested bridge, my wife pointed to the slums adjoining the bridge. At the edge of an area filled with wooden houses, canoes, and the smell of burning wood, we saw several persons at different points squatting next to the river to defecate. Recognising that these were persons lacking access to good sanitation and water, my mind jumped to the Sustainable Development Goal #6 and Nigeria’s shameful position as a country with one of the highest number of persons who defecate publicly (23.5% of the population).

The final trigger for this article occurred at the popular Obalende in Lagos. Walking down one of its linked flyover bridges, I became aware that someone was sleeping on the roof of a wooden “house”. I enclosed “house” in inverted commas because “slum structure” might be more appropriate. On a different day, I had seen two persons sleeping on the ground outside one of the wooden structures in that area. Again, my mind jumped to available statistics about the lack of sufficient housing units in Nigeria, coupled with the high poverty rate which makes good housing unaffordable to many Nigerians.

At this point you might be asking for the nexus between all I have recounted and “privilege”, after all, that is the title of this article. Just like Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities”, I have just described two disparate worlds within the same country. Nigeria is a nation of two realities that dumbfound each other. In the same country where millions poo in streams, bushes, gutters, and on asphalt roads, some others’ biggest worry is their inability to pay ₦3.5 million naira annually as school fees for their kids. In the same country where thousands risk their lives hawking on highways from morning until nightfall, some others worry that they might not be able to afford a summer vacation to Paris to see the Notre Dame Cathedral.

Am I disparaging the legitimate concerns of people like David about their economic prospects in Nigeria? Of course not! Even I want to achieve financial independence and have enough for all my needs plus a bit extra for the accompanying wants. My aim with this article is to point out some privileges we take for granted. While David and his peers worry about being able to pay a certain school’s fees, there are millions of persons who just want to be able to complete their education at a dilapidated public school. Many of us are born with certain privileges even though we tend to look at the “elite” as the privileged ones. For example, if you are reading this article, it’s likely you have enjoyed the privilege of formal education, access to the internet, and a functional device. We might debate whether some of these should be termed as rights or privileges, but until a time when every person is guaranteed access to these things, they remain privileges.

Awareness of our privileged positions should do two things for us: make us thankful, and make us think about how we can help others having less fortune. Thankfulness like the introductory hymn advises, can help us take life a little bit less seriously and avoid unnecessary burnouts knowing that at the end, what’s important is that we can have a “good life”, not whether we can beat Jeff Bezos to the top. On the other hand, concern for the less privileged can clip the wings of pride, and make us better humans contributing to a better society.

Image Credit: debarghyadas.com

4 thoughts on “When Privilege Comes Knocking”

  1. Indeed. What privilege does to us is that is blurs our sense of gratitude. Ms. Chimamanda Adichie explained this in her Youtube video: “Even Though We Didn’t Have a Children’s Driver” where she faulted her childhood attitudes of comparing herself – born in a well educated family – to the elite kids who have children drivers and go outside Nigeria for summer holidays. She went on to note that, even though they did not have a children’s driver, she got the privilege of education, food, and shelter, compared to some of her other (extended) family members.

    You see, the problem with privilege is – we never acknowledge it and we always want to base our results on hardwork and efforts; however, privilege – some call it luck – already did 70% of the work for us.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When I was a nine year old kid, I was told “Get into secondary school by passing your common entrance exam and you will not have problems with life” — I passed and got into secondary school.

    Then they told me, “Get admission into the university by getting good result in WAEC and JAMB, and you will not have problems with life” — I got into the university three months after graduating from secondary school.

    Then I was told, “You will have a great life if you graduate with second class upper or first class” — I graduated with a second class upper.

    Next thing I heard was, “You’re miserable because you have not done your NYSC. Finish your NYSC and you will be fine” — Been there, done that.

    Then I was told, “Get a good job and your life will be set” — As tough as the Nigerian economy is, I got a good job after waiting 10 months since I finished my NYSC.

    Then I heard, “You are still miserable because you don’t have a masters degree” — I am getting that now.

    And now I am hearing, “You will not live an awesome life if you don’t get married, if you don’t have children”

    Then I will probably hear,
    “If you don’t send your children to good schools (like the one David attended), if you don’t buy land, if you don’t build a house, if you don’t change your car to a newer model, if you don’t go on vacation to some exotic locations etc
    You will not live a great life”

    Man, I am tired of this “arodan” .. My recommendation is for one to be happy within and stop being frustrated by the way life is blessing one. Like you rightly said, count your blessings and be at peace.

    Nigeria will be fine, do not lose your inner peace for it. Do the little help that you can, but be happy with whatever happens. Because being unhappy will not change much. (Your anger can not boil water)

    Liked by 1 person

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