By Ucheoma Onwutuebe
There is a thing I have seen under the hot, scalding sun of our precious country; a weighty matter, an ailing syndrome made manifest in a large population of my country people. It is our eagerness to make do with little, to skimp through life with the meagre. It is our “management” mentality and our shyness to ask for more.
Hear it in the early morning salutation I share with my neighbour:
“Good morning good neighbour. How are things?”
“My sister, things are very hard. With all these children to carter for and business moving so slowly. But we are managing. Even if it is for nothing else, let’s thank God for the breath of life.”
Without harm, the pattern starts in the life of many Nigerians under the guise of frugality. You are introduced to it in your early school days when your father often cut a pencil and shared it between you and your three siblings.
You keep learning it in boarding school when you had to soak few grains of garri in water till it became a bowlful to sate your hunger.
You get better at it in the university when you had to freeze your candles so they can burn slower when you’re reading at midnight since power would be out.
You become a pro at it on your first job after school as a low income earning receptionist, applying drops of superglue on your only pair of shoes, like an eye doctor tending to a patient with eye drops.
However, frugality and the tough practise of economy are good virtues especially when one is at that stage in life where plenty of wherewithal is not at one’s disposal. But there is a difference between purposeful scrimping and when one continues to make do and patch up as a default setting even in the midst of abundance.
The latter happens to be what ails us. Patching-up syndrome has made us give cosmetic effect to deep, underlying issues; it has made us cloak our pains in religious euphemisms, and as a result, we have become a people who believe we do not deserve more than we are offered, because right from the cradle, our brains have been wired to perpetual frugality.
Our biggest affliction as a people is not that in decades past we have been governed by unfeeling principalities who draped themselves in the sheep clothings of leadership, a bunch of people who led us but remained out of touch with our everyday realities; it is neither in the strong things we suffered in the hands of colonial masters. The bane of our development is the general complacency of the people that has matured over the years.
Since these leaders past understood our “management” mentality, just like an abusive lover, they knew the right nerves to tickle to have us giggling again amid pain. Old mistakes are not apologised for. They brandish new emblems, form new parties, renew unfulfilled promises, share freebies and we are charmed again. We get temporary satisfied and wait till we are hungry to complain again. That is why ASSU will strike again and again, power supply still suffers in the fits of epilepsy, fuel scarcity happens often, and it is because someone is rubbing MaryKay foundation on a face ridden with severe acne.
We have suffered the protracted malaise of underdevelopment and each year we are offered the “Panadol-effect”, given pain relieving tablets as cure for terminal issues. Government contractors, local government chairmen and other representatives of government take advantage of our patching-up syndrome by refusing to build better infrastructure for the citizens. They prefer to coat old structures in need of renovation with paint year in year out; they would rather offer cosmetic treatment to bad roads by rubbing cement on the same bad spot yearly until a gaping hole appears big enough to swallow whole cars.
As a people, our eagerness to make do, our endurance have ceased to be virtues. We walk tentatively on eggshells in order not to gore big men’s oxen and even when we work up the spirits of anger, it is too short lived and ill directed and sputters like a badly serviced generator.
And to bring it home, you suffer patching up syndrome if you continue to wear bad shoes even when there is enough money to buy better ones, if you send your children to bad, cheap schools even when you can comfortably affordable better schools, if you make do with lovers, partners, associates whose attitudes and manners that have become toxic, threatening your mental state, and Country people, it is high time we went for rehab.