By Bamidele Ademola-Olateju
The disconnect between life in rural Nigeria and life in the big cities is huge! In the unwilling megalopolis called Lagos as well as other cities, pseudo-modern sprawls are creeping up with no discernible criterion that is uniquely Nigerian.Life and living is robbed of common sense, moral action, renewal and responsibility. There are religious connections everywhere you turn but the apparent religiosity is naked, with no kernel of truth. Everywhere is characterized by tripe, foolishness, neglect and frothing filth.
The architectural landscape is a confusing and unimaginative admixture of Mediterranean architecture, Western designs and Middle Eastern influences.However, unlike the cities, Nigerian authenticity still exists in the rural areas. The buildings are functional, had rafters, well-constructed mounds to sit or lie on, accessible kitchens that are purposeful for rural life and storage for farm produce. How did we lose this authenticity? I think the answer lies in our under appreciation for whatever is indigenous.Despite the pretensions to higher living standards in the cities, distribution of misery is still a fundamental government undertaking in Nigeria. It rises almost to the level of a requirement. The authorities merely exist to extort money and collect taxes and it is sad!
Living in rural Nigeria is an enriching, eye opening, perspective building cultural experience that ought to be harnessed. In the village, there are not many rules. To be a rural dweller is to be free and unencumbered. You can just walk into places and declare yourself welcome. You can sit on desolate roads and do whatever you want and no one will care. Since everyone is his brother’s keeper, there is little use for security guards. In the village, life has no complexity to it. There is a remarkable lack of structure that is liberating, although it can be a logistical nightmare. Add that to the fact that it is not hard to get to know rural people. I have been invited by total strangers into their homes just by being friendly and starting a conversation. I’m yet to be invited anywhere by a stranger in my several years on Lagos streets. Rural living is a chance to see how other people live and survive only on the basics. The rural life is minimalist and contented.
What is killing our villages? It is the false allure of better wages and better life in the cities. It has spurred the rural-urban migration that is killing Nigeria. It is killing food production, families and national development. No one wants to stay in the village to farm, live a peaceful and contented life. Instead, able bodied young men and women leave their villageseveryday for overcrowded cities with no real job prospects and high crimes. Most people come into cities like Lagos, only to realize that the common sense that kept them employed and safe in their hometown is zero percent useful in the city.
Like all else, our food baskets are exploited. The government is missing in action in the villages except for the tax collection structures in place. Taxes on charcoal, produce, cattle, on anything and everything. It is unfortunate that the right to demand taxes in Nigeria is predicated on State sanctioned arrogance and institutional disregard enabled by a very adaptive and complacent citizenry. There is no where else where this can be demonstrated better than rural Nigeria. There can be no social contract when individuals perceives their ability to perform statutory state functions as emblems of privilege and wealth. There can be no real progress when government exist without integrity and it is unaccountable to the governed.
I get blown away each time I return to my adopted country by the quality of life we take for granted; the pristine cleanliness of the streets, good roads, responsive police, the uninterrupted power, the faucets that never run dry, toilets where you can flush the paper, the many gleaming grocery stores with abundant produce, the sprawling malls stocked with merchandise, the unfettered consumerism and the undeniable comfort.
Suddenly, the immense wealth of the Western World hits me because even in rural America, the basic necessities are guaranteed. Living among rural folks hasn’t made me want to give up the luxuries I enjoy. No! It has made me more thankful. I’m transformed, and I consciously manifest the attitude of thankfulness knowing I have the benefit of both. Having the ability to navigate and belong to both worlds is ennobling and purges one of feelings of entitlement. Having a taste of simplicity in rural Nigeria, experiencing the chaotic city life and having the benefit of living in an ordered environment in the developed world elicits thankfulness that appreciates abundance and scarcity in equal measure.
The richness of these experiences, the freedom and the learning of human conditions creates a richer, freer, safer and smarter person. Is Nigeria interested in rural awakening? I don’t think so! I think Nigeria is gearing towards a crude awakening.
BamideleAdemola-Olateju via Twitter @olufunmilayo