Opinion: The Government Called Conscience by Okorie Divine Onyekachi

“We can either walk the high road of brotherhood or the low road of man’s inhumanity to man” – Martin Luther King Jr.

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In our actions, in our dealings with humanity, we tend to ignore the tiny factor that reminds us of brotherliness, and that we should be good and treat others as well. We lose our conscience and yell at the leaders for being inconsiderate and callous.

While we sit to lament and pour our curses to the leaders for accentuating our misery, despondency, destitution and wretchedness to an alarming top, we must not fail to recognise and criticize the humans aggravating the unbearability of existence of another human; the humans turned monsters of circumstances; the humans whose “tigerness” had infused in their hearts only forming an outer claws and sharp teeths, with which they devour the unfortunate prey.

A thoughtful and victimized friend, whom I had a long, drawn out argument with, had opined that “humans are largely the determiners of the safeness and security of lives (not necessarily properties) of each other”. Only recently had I agreed with him. I even add that, as determiners, whatever action we take first takes a toll on our close circle, before finding its way back to us. Which is why, it is not just good, but sane, selfless and saintly to be good.

Sometimes last year, I came across a general question raised in a group chat I was added to, which says “What would you say (in your mind), when people do not reply your greetings, deliberately or indeliberately?” Before I gave my answers, I first differentiated the two qualifying words: Deliberate and Indeliberate. Indeliberate was when you got your reponse after the second and third time (with a raised voice), and that was not what the poster had in mind.

The Deliberate snub was what formed my answer, and it was simple: “I would walk on”. A few other pious members had the same answers too. But my mind wouldn’t just walk on, I would think and worry, if my voice wasn’t as loud, if it were, I had to search in the repository of events in my mind, to know if I had inadvertently committed an unforgivable crime that warranted the snub.

When I still find none, I can only dismiss it as one of the peculiarities of humans, who didn’t stop to think that blood and water still flowed in the veins of the human next door or that any human losses valuable moments in thoughts and depression over what they had done. Such humans are usually the first to educate us that fame comes with pomposity and leaders have arrogance and condescension as a common trait.

Such humans are the first to yell and swear at an incompetent leader for being self centered, manic and cruel; a characteristic they both share in common. There are humans, who are deficient of any grace and kindness in their belly and who unleash hardship on others. What we fail to understand is  that, if Nigeria were to exist as a unified structure in the next twenty years, the leaders wouldn’t emanate from a foreign country or from Hades, but from amongst us now, who live and try to un-live others.

We fail to see it that what we do today doesn’t change itself unless we orchestrate a change, and it helps to pile up the criticisms and agitations against us , when we take up the same position of the leader, tomorrow. We have people, who have deleted any form of compunction and pangs of conscience; the people whose spring of humanness and good spiritedness has dried up to a single and insufficient trickle. We have people, who are already serving as working tools of these demonized leaders in handing down the adversities of a destabilised economy.

These people had sworn that, as long as their way is unhindered in the trade route, the peasant would never have a comfortable and sumptuous meal on his table, with the faded notes in his pocket. I have a sad and personal example.

There is this woman, who sells foodstuffs and other necessities in an open shade, at the junction that leads to my street. She sold well, despite the exorbitant prices of her wares (this may be because, she was very influential and expansive), and this cuts people’s throats gruesomely. I caught this woman one day, in her shop, resizing the wraps of crayfish she bought from the market at a relatively low price, in another cellophane wrapper.

She knew I saw her and knew that everybody may know (from me), and she defended herself with the unjustifiable explanation that the price of things had skyrocketed and a bag of garri was so and so. I tried to discern the relationship and congruence between these two wares , and how each affected the other, but i only found out that it was avariciousness and covetousness in one person.

Maybe, we should agree that things are hard and prices of things had gone outrageously sky-high, however, it is crucial to point out that the wholesalers of these wraps of crayfishes had sized them proportionately, considering the economic situation and the profits of the retailer. But this woman felt her children’s fees at school must be settled by extorting from her buyers.

Here was a woman, who screamed and rained abuses on the leaders, when the dollar to Naira exchange rate increased from #365 to #380. She went further to say that the leaders are barbaric and cruel, and capable of murder. Everyone supported her because we feel our only demon is the man on seat. We feel that we are fighting one cause. We feel we had a solidarity and a similar hatred targeted at the same people.

The leaders will be bad, or can be bad, but we mustn’t complement the badness and form a concomitant extortion and Inhumanity that spreads so fast and acceptably, and leaves the man, who feels that his neightbour, customer, staff and even enemy should have an unihibited existence, as misplaced.

We act like people, who had been sapped thier rationality and conscience. Unconsciously and unguardedly, we transfer our resentment, inordinate desire to tighten up loose ends and glue them together, and push for survival, to the people who are also victims of double circumstances, as. I may put it.

They suffer from a wrong choice of leader, and suffer from the need to eat, live and exist or even survive (no Nigerian live now, we survive). We have people, who lack the sense of humanity, whose flow of milk of brotherliness and sisterhood has unimaginably dried up, and these people are those we see everyday.

A certain mango seller, whom I met on my way to work on a certain day, moved her head, on which was balanced, a basin of mango fruits, carelessly and had half of the mango fruits rolling into the damp gutter that has an obvious filthiness. The other half rolled itself on the road and was squashed by the tyres of moving cars.

The seller moaned and wept that the mango was bought with her ‘last card’ (as if that mattered; as if Nigerians are not accustomed to that ‘last card’, that comes from a filled purse). To make up for the lost ‘last card’, she bent to the gutter and picked the fruits that had mixed with pungent and filthy water, set them on her basin and ran after the others lying on the road.

She picked what she could pick , and while balancing the basin on her head to move on, she promised, to whoever cared very much to listen, to wash the fruits at the market. This she never did. For all I know, there was no source of water near the market, and unless she had to buy a full bag of satchet water, she would sell the fruits unwashed.

I saw this and felt responsible for anyone, who dies of diarrhoea, arising from these fruits, but I kept my tongue, because Nigerians would not see the original offender as the culprit or as being culpable, but the busy-body with the inappropriate social properness, who wouldn’t mind his accursed self and leave a woman, trying to scale through the hardship, alone. Nobody talked of the people, who would be in so much haste  as not to wash the fruits before taking a bite.

They didn’t think that such people needed all the empathy, as they would suffer the bellyache, spend their ‘last card’ on treatments and drugs, or even die, while this woman still sells her fruits unconcernedly. That is what we are and not what the leaders have made us to be. Maybe the leaders escalated the standard of living, exciting this woman to pursue her profits back to back, but the leaders didn’t kneel on the conscience of the bystanders, who should’ve been sensible to yell, protest and even wash the fruits themselves, if they so cared about her survival in the hardship.

We have people, who feel entitled to “Please”, who, if permissible, would gladly request a “Please” from anyone that wishes to address them (as in “Please Engr So and So). We have people, who grip so tight on other people’s opportunity and right and would only “sell” them out at the price of “Please”. “Please” could be approving, in fact, at the primary school, we learnt that “Please” was one of the five words, that can magically soften a stone-filled heart.

However, what is wrong is the indiscriminate way we yearn for the word “Please”, even ask for it, even punish those that weren’t as ‘wise’ as using it, and unfairly gracing those that used it. Asking people to survive only when they say “Please” is cruel, and we share a common feature with our leaders, when we do this. I was a victim to this unfortunate commonplace.

There is a pathway that leads to my workplace. This pathway passed through the compound of a man staying with his family. The man related with the passers-by cordially, but his wife, in want of reverence, would lock the gate that led to the major road, blockading the stranded routers, and singing dispassionately before our eyes.

This would go on until one of us had the sensibility of saying “Madam please nah”, stooping and spreading both hands in supplication and helplessness. This woman opens the gate for the sensible man, shuts it immediately, while waiting for our plea. If you are an intolerable and overly principled person, you have to turn to take the longer route, otherwise you would revere this woman to get a pass.

Funnily, I saw this woman, one day, passing across a compound to get to another person she wanted to see. And she got a pass by saying plainly “Can I pass?”, without a “Please”! These are people, who hardened the travails of other people and still expect to live coolly, themselves.

We have people, who turned the service to God to a lucrative enterprise, sappig the same disillusioned people, who had already become bankrupt and indebted, (no thanks to the leaders) of their little hold-on. We have people, who claim to know your life more than you do, and ask you for a pay to let you know about your own life. They will set you up in confusion and up against your age-long ally, and you find yourself losing out from one end that feeds you well.

There is a colleague, whom I worked with in the same school and who clings so much to prophecies, and gladdens whenever, she is told that her problems came from one of those in her close circles. She would griin and give us the ‘I-told-you-so’ eyes. Maybe it was gross opportunism or merely coincidental, but this colleague of mine was prompted to fight her mother-in-law, who was her all-in-one, heretofore.

Her husband had beaten her to pulp for rising against his mother before sending her packing, even when the snivelling wife ranted that his mother was the reason he was unable to lay a single brick for a building. She became frustrated and was laid off when it started getting into her work. The ‘man of God’ beckons the next clumsy and clueless vicitim, while he sweeps and flings her to the trash.

This is a man, who joins a group of protesting citizens to clamour for good governance and favourable standard of living, and goes to his sorry excuse for a worship house to demand for a sizeable cow, as  offerings and tithes. We still have people who revel at the abasement of destitutes, stamp on their head and walk on their backs to their flashy cars.

We have people, who  for fear of diabolism, shoo away destitutes at their main door. These people are the generous donors  in our worship houses and city party rockstars. They only feed the Lazaruses at their home with saliva dropped on their palms. Such cruelty does not originate from a leader or anyone , but from within; an innate and insurmountable manic force.

We have people , who feel you are not entitled or worthy of their “sorry”, who sees another person as substandard and do not deserve an apology, when offended. These people are the same People, who would expect you “thank” them upon provocation, and they gladly and stupidly say “don’t mention”, like the slave lord that whips the ass of his slave and stick out his moth-ridden feet for the slave to lick.

They feed you with the poison and expect your subservience. This usually comes when the sense of indispensability overrides human sensibility and consciousness; when they feel like a life support and you cease to exist the moment they stop whatever it is they are doing to you.

My phone was once knocked off my hand by a fat man, walking and swinging both arms leisurely. This man turned to stare at me importantly and condescendingly, and I had to supply my apologies for having to keep my phone on the side, where his hand had to swing to. He stupidly nodded and walked on , leaving me to pick and dust my phone.

This is the arrogance and self-importance, which we associate our leaders with. The same feelings inherent in our leaders that makes them think that even the ground they walk on can raise the dead.

Another horrifying experience of this ‘indispensability-turned-condescension’ was at the bank. I joined a queue waiting for the Account Update and Verification. As usual with Nigeria banks, it was the flashier you appear, the quicker and adeptly you are attended to . The line was unmoving and a certain young man became listless.

He paced up and down the hall, while pressing his phone, out of boredom. A bank staff, laughing at the joke of another staff went off track and tripped this young man, throwing his phone face down on the floor. The staff looked angrily at him and only asked the question with her ferocious eyes. The young man expected an apology , but got none.

He was only consoled that his phone suffered a minor scratch. The people in the bank shouted at this staff to be nice and apologize, but she defiantly hissed and went her way. I only found out why, later; she was incharge of Account Verification, and since this guy would crawl up to her for attention and answers, it was rather diminishing to apologize to him. Although it was dehumanising and despicable, I felt at ease with the response of the crowd, who for once (if I can recall) took sides with the victimized.

Many other women had called the staff several disparaging names, and one threatened to report her ill-mannerism and ineptitude. Even though, she appeared unperturbed with all the rants, I was pleased that , out of  a million similar incidents that were unfairly judged , the crowd didn’t blame the young man for standing and pacing about. That is conscience and that was the pricking and stinging sensation of it. That is what we owned but used less, only when it is pertaining to us.

That is what we and the leaders possessed in common, and  the outcome tells how it is applied and utilised. That is what we still haven’t sold out for the bullion Van or for  a domiciliary account. That is what makes us humans relating with humans.

A close friend once related  his experience at a mall in Benin-City, where an influential business magnate stepped in, with his escort to the mall. At the sight of this ‘biggest customer’ other customers were shooed away, with each person stepping on another’s toes, for the mogul to do his shopping.

This man sat, expressionlessly and importantly in his tinted G-wagon, while his influence did a major sweep. When this friend recounted this events, he was disillusioned because he held the educated business man at high esteem, and that was a future senatorial candidate turning humans against each other and gloating over it. Sadly, we substantiate this derision to our own demerit.

There are people, who feel they are the real agents of ‘Nemesis’ and ‘Karma’; that they are the tools with which God and nature would see that you pay for your sin, and when they start off these retributive measures -even when you’re offended- they feel you’re unworthy of “sorry”, because what happened to you was well deserved.

A certain overspeeding car owner splashed a bucket of muddy water on a passerby, who was a one time ward councillor in an electoral district. This car owner may have been a victim of the councillor’s avariciousness and maliciousness, for he stuck out his tongue to jeer the offended man, and the people around laughed, some  said it was what suited the councillor for being greedy during his tenure. Agreeably, he was a one time government monster, who cared less of the people, but the venom that came with the muddy water and people’s unempathetic stare was what I ruled out.

If we feel bad about leaders, we mustn’t wait until they are out of seat to spill water on them (they get home and wash it off, and at another election, they come up to grab their win). What happened that day was what I would call Consciencelessness and Inhumanity. The offender mustn’t say the ‘sorry’ as it had become the case with the irate Nigerians, but it falls on the bystanders to  show concern and offer a help.

There’s a little baby girl of two in my neighborhood, who is just forming her first words, which are sometimes incoherent. From school or anywhere, the girl learnt some abusive words like ‘idiot’, and spread her palms ,directing them at the victim to drive home her abuse. However, once the victim, who is always older, charges to smack her buttocks, she waved her tiny hands to plead “sorry”, while smiling at you, in that way that would placate your insulted self.

And she goes untouched. In her own little world, she had deduced that “sorry” could soothe a fiery nerve, extinguish a fire of rage, and disarm a band of valiant soldiers. She knew that with the “sorry”, and with her smile, you could live together in a peaceable abode, irrespective of the hostilities our leaders push us to. This is how humans should live: offend(for offense is natural and normal) and apologize, not offend and still apologize, see an offense and apologize.

We have humans, who are our sanctimonious moral lords, with the haughty air of superiority, and who challenge your way and manner. We have humans, who feel that seniority, as an entitlement, gives room for imposition of abhorred rules and patterns. There are humans, who would imprison you in the confines of their perspective and force you never to see anything else.

There are people, who wouldn’t help you, because you refuted a certain standard they made for you, who would wish you to die in dearth of what they have because you didn’t run to them for moral counselling. Such humans would discredit the leaders for inconsideration and non-people oriented policies.

People treat people without a tinge of humanness and consideration for their existence, and that is CONSCIENCELESSNESS, and that also, is not the fault of the leaders. The leaders may start off a different kind of hate and crankiness, but it doesn’t particularly influence how we relate with each other. The leaders became what they are because we think that everyone is victimized, and is justified when trying to live by hook or by crook, when scaling through and surviving, even when they must kneel on others.

Here we fail to understand that with the sense of  victimisation, ruthlessness thrives, because everyone grabs his own ‘national cake’, when on seat. We are here with our unproficient leaders, because the victimized and despondent people had visualised the seat of power as a fountain of wealth, importance and inaccessibility.

Alan Stewart Paton, a South African author and anti-apartheid activist once said that “there is only one way in which one can endure man’s inhumanity to man and that is to try, in one’s own life, to exemplify man’s humanity to man”. We are living things because we live, breathe, reproduce and excrete, but we become human when we begin to see that others have to do the same thing we do, and respect that knowledge.

We become humans, when we begin to respect the existence of our close circles and others far from our reach, regardless, of whom we put on the seat. In this respect and recognition, we simply live and let others live, and put our weary conscience, (which had yelled, reprimanded, reproached and pricked endlessly without result) to calmness and serenity.

Okorie Divine Onyekachi was born in his mother’s homeplace, Oguta in Imo state. He is a native of Orlu in Imo state. An undergraduate at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, English and Literary Studies department, he is a committed and budding writer that seeks equity and harmony in the human relationship with one another.

Through his works, yet unpublished, he raises a strong voice against injustice and inhumanity. He can be reached on Facebook via Okorie Onyekachi Paul, and Twitter via OkorieDivine9.

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