I am not sure where this attitude comes from but I have heard, and seen, it in various strains. For instance, I see it when I speak to househelps (maids, 'butlers', nannies) who are treated like dirt by their employers. Or, in conversations in blogville and outside of blogville with people who reveal their belief that poor people are 'on their own' and should hustle their way out of poverty. In fact, I decided it was time to raise this issue after watching a Yoruba movie ('Alatoto') where a main character, Josiah, (who was a multiple rapist, a cheat and horrible human being that eventually got his due), said something to the effect that he did not associate with poor people because poor people would never advance. Josiah went on to say that it was not his fault that he had been born with a silver spoon and he did not want any poor person to affect his fortune. Of course, I know that this attitude is not held by all Nigerians and I also know that non-Nigerians feel this way too, so by no means is this a 'Nigerian' issue. Nonetheless, I chose to look at this within the context of Nigerian society, as that is what is of interest to me.
THE 'HARDWORK' THEORY
As a result, I presented my thoughts to a best friend of mine who reminded me of the Protestant Ethic and he suggested that it might play a role in this attitude. In the Protestant Ethic, Max Werner suggested that non-Catholic Christians must work tirelessly at their jobs so that God will reward them with success/wealth. This 'Hardwork' theory also suggests that people who fail to work hard have sinned and will be rewarded with poverty. Thus, fueling the belief that the poor are those that fail to work hard and reap the 'rewards' of their laziness.
In my humble opinion, this 'Hardwork' theory was hardwired into Nigerian culture before our interaction with Europe's Christians or Muslims from the Arabian Peninsula. So although important, I would rather focus on other elements – being ‘my brother’s keeper’ and a ‘traditional’ factor.
There used to be a well-grounded understanding that we all must take care of each other. That was why if Okadigbo's farm failed to produce enough yam to feed his family, his neighbor, Emeka, would share some of his yam to help Okadigbo feed his family. Such behavior was not limited to the Igbo so feel free to replace the names 'Okadigbo' and 'Emeka' with names from whatever part of the country that you like.
The point is, I am beginning to think that it is the erosion of this understanding - that I am my brother's keeper - that is resulting in the sentiment expressed by Josiah in the movie and held by many ordinary Nigerians. In the struggle to get through everyday life, so many of us forget to treat others as we want to be treated. It is, unfortunately, becoming more common to simply consider the poor lazy, and thus the source of their own poverty. But, I hope that this is a trend that will soon fizzle because although, there are lazy people who end up becoming poor, I prefer to believe that Nigerians are an ingenious people who with or without a balanced playing field can and will be successful regardless of whether they were born with a silver spoon or not. As such, we must all commit ourselves to pulling each and everyone of us out of suffering, together.
THE ‘TRADITIONAL’ FACTOR
Our ancestors believed that certain people were cursed and thus not worthy of living. For example, some Nigerian groups would abandon twin babies to die because they were considered evil. Now, I sometimes think that this old way of looking at our fellow human beings continues to be a factor in Nigerian society today. The idea that the gods or God created some men better than others is a disturbing attitude. It is one that can and does fool many into disrespecting their neighbor. This idea leads to serious injustice and violence and should not be tolerated by anyone. I truly believe this is the underlying source of many Nigerian's attitude towards the poor.
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- The Nigerian Psyche
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