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Why Nigerians are lonely at the bottom

A few days ago, news of the alleged suicide of Toluige Olokoobi, mother of the “mummy calm down” boy, swept through the social media space like a cold wind. Olokoobi and her son, Oreofeoluwa Lawal-Babalola, held the attention of Nigerians in 2020 after the video where the boy was begging his mother to “be calming down” in order not to punish him, went viral. It also caught the eye of the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who invited them to his office, raising the family to celebrity status overnight. Hence, the sad news was all the more shocking, considering that a supposedly fulfilled mother would take her own life.

Although investigation by the Edo State Police Command is still ongoing, one could still wonder why so many Nigerian citizens, especially those at the lowest rung of the social ladder, take their own lives – or attempt to do so. There has been widespread epidemic of suicide and attempted suicide in recent times, with many public commentators ascribing them to increasing hardship in the land. School fees, feeding cost, house rent, and many other domestic expenses have skyrocketed, thereby increasing societal upheavals including crime, depression and marital stress.

However, we now have it so bad that even the natural social stopgaps we enjoyed as an African society have failed to plug the leaking dike. Before now, we used to be our brother’s keeper; neighbours talked to neighbours. Total strangers used to share pots and kettles. We shared farms, streams, tales and tides. But today, the poorest neighbours no longer live as brothers and sisters. Walls – visible and invisible – divide these citizens, who have learnt from their spiritual and political leaders not to trust their compatriots.

So, today in Nigeria, the saying that it is “lonely at the top” no longer applies only to the rich and famous. Alas, those at the bottom are dying alone and lonely. They talk to themselves while walking on the streets, just like mad people do. The young ones are swept down this dark vortex too. Depression has led them to embrace drugs and immorality. The entire epidemic has become a web of national pain and a vicious cycle of depravity. Indeed, our civilisation is under threat.

There are many ways to look at why we are where we are today but I choose to place the blame on the feet of political leadership. The same politics that over the years cut to shreds the fabrics that bind us together as a family, has now pushed us into penury, while amassing so much wealth for its foot soldiers. This is why there seems to be a pattern of hope and dashed hope in Nigeria’s political cycles. Running up to an election season, the citizens tend to be happier when they envision a brighter political future. Then after their hope is dashed, they sink into depression. After adjusting to the depression, they inspire themselves into another season of hope, only to have their hope dashed when the political season is over. It goes on and on, round and round.

For instance, former President Muhammadu Buhari had this palpable effect on the citizens. All the hope-induced celebrations of a “new Nigeria of zero corruption” were punctured like a child’s balloon.

Let us look at some data. Nigeria’s progress in the World Happiness Report is telling evidence of how our “democracy” is to blame for our national malaise. This year, the WHR, a publication of Sustainable Development Solutions, says Nigerians are the 95th happiest people in the world, as we ranked 95 of the 137 countries surveyed. Meanwhile, two decades ago in the 2003 survey, Nigeria was ranked as the country with the happiest people. This year’s survey stated that the effectiveness of the government has a significant influence on people’s happiness.

In measuring the capacity of a state, the rule of law factors its fiscal power (ability to raise money), its collective capacity (ability to deliver services), its legal capacity (the rule of law), as well as the avoidance of repression.  The annual World Happiness Report, released annually to mark the International Day of Happiness, designated by the United Nations and celebrated on March 20, reviews the state of happiness today and shows how the science of happiness explains personal and national variations in happiness. Life evaluations were observed as the basis for the annual happiness rankings. They are based on answers to the main life evaluation question. Data were observed on six variables: GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity, and corruption.

Powered by the Gallup World Poll data, the report shows that for the sixth time in a row, Finland is the country with the happiest people. Other countries with the happiest people in order are Denmark, Iceland, Israel, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Luxembourg and New Zealand. The countries with a minor ranking are Malawi, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. The data shows that Nigeria ranks below Guinea, Ukraine, Ivory Coast and Gabon and above Cameroon, Mozambique, Iraq, Palestine and Morocco. From the above, one notices that the happiest people enjoy the most effective and prosperous governments.

The way I see it, since we began our democratic journey in 1999, the politicians have continually dashed the expectations of the man in the street. These shattered hopes cause sadness, unhappiness and depression. Yet, the clever ones among them have tried to cover the stench of their lacklustre leadership by instituting “cosmetic happiness”, trying to copy genuine leaders from other climes like the United Arab Emirates. It was Rochas Okorocha, former governor of Imo State, who created the Ministry of Hapiness and Purpose Fulfilment, in order “to curtail rising rate of suicide.”

Never for once did he consider that the Minister of State for Happiness and Wellbeing of the UAE was not appointed to stop suicide but to oversee “the UAE plans, programmes and policies to achieve a happier society” with a responsibility to “align and drive government policy to create social good and satisfaction.”

The less ingenious Nigerian politicians have designed laughable “happiness initiatives” over the years. They throw peanuts at their constituents in the name of palliatives, empowerments, constituency projects and all sorts of “happy hour” schemes to divert our attention from their cluelessness and massive looting of the commonwealth.

Okorocha later campaigned for creation of the Federal Ministry of Happiness. He said every case of suicide could be traced to unhappiness among the people, and could be solved by dedicating a ministry to cater to issues relating to happiness of the citizens. He said the majority of Nigerians are not happy; and the issue couldn’t be addressed by any of the existing government agencies. He said the entire United States Constitution is centred on guaranteeing the happiness of the people. He said if our policies did not guarantee the happiness of people, then it is a failed policy.

Yes, the former governor is correct on all points. But he misses the biggest point. Happiness of the citizen is tied to the integrity, patriotism and efficiency of the ruling class. You cannot have a ‘happy people’ when you rob the nation to feather your own nest. Even when Buhari created the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, corruption seeped in. They could not even efficiently and transparently distribute the money meant for the poor. Now, another government is here, the ministry is renamed to include “Poverty Alleviation” to accentuate President Bola Tinubu’s avowal to, “Let the poor breathe!” But someone should tell the President that the poor are creations of intuition. They can feel those who truly care for them.

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