Wednesday 28 July 2010

Rich Guilt

Growing up in Nigeria, I did not know there was anything wrong with it. My parents were comfortable, I went to a nice primary school, nice secondary school and though I was neither naive or stupid enough to think everyone lived like me, I never dwelt on these others. I knew they were there, you only had to drive through Lagos to see them, but I did not realise how minor my minority was.

It was only after I journeyed over the seas that I realised there was something wrong with my country. Sometimes the things in front of your face are the hardest to see. Poverty was so close that my vision blurred when I looked at it, my mind drifted when I encountered it but from a 6,000 kilometre remove, I could suddenly see Poverty with stark clarity.

It is strange, the things my subconscious has kept intact, things that made no impression at the time. Listless jobless men on slum balconies, roads paved with mud and dotted with tar, six year olds hefting trays of groundnut on their heads - and the more I remember these things, the more a feeling like guilt begins to grow.

Thinking rationally, it is clear that if blame were to be apportioned for the failures of Nigeria, my name would not be near the top. After all, I am not a politician, neither is my father; I have never stolen money meant for education, roads, electricity, transport, water, healthcare, security and neither has my father nor his father before him.

Yet though dismissal of my rich guilt is the only rational thing to do, rationality can be over rated. The fact, that I was born well above the poverty line, the fact that the probability of this happening is so minute it is miraculous, the fact that the government is letting the country go to ruin and the middle classes are content to have their private schools, private generators, private estates, private bore holes, private hospitals, all these facts make me very uncomfortable.

It occured to me one day that this thing that I call rich guilt is not that different from the phenomenom called 'white guilt.' According to Wikipedia:

'White guilt refers to the concept of individual or collective guilt often said to be felt by some white people for the racist treatment of people of color by whites both historically and presently.'

According to me:
'Rich guilt is the invidual or collective guilt some (comparatively) rich people feel for the rubbish treatment of the poor both historically and presently.'

Perhaps rich guilt is one of the key factors that will change Nigeria. It's driven some to paint Mushin, start free schools, speak out against the government, stand for government and dig boreholes in their villages. Rich guilt has developped a social consciousness in Nigeria and as long as it spurs to action and not hot air, it will continue to develop more.

Naija oni baje!


  1. You speak the truth! A while a go I read an article about how many NGOs have been popping up in Nigeria, doing things that the GOVERNMENT should be doing. The article pointed out that a lot of these Nigerian NGOs are founded/supported by the diaspora!

    If I thought that passing blame at this stage was warranted, I would blame the Nigerian education system! Growing up in Nigeria, our history syllabus educates us about Florence Nightingale, Lord Lugard and William Wilberforce - all foreigners! Jaja of Opobo was lucky to make the cut, and without sounding like a conspiratorial nutter, I think that his success in trading with the "West" had something to do with it! While the were teaching us about white people, I went through my entire primary and secondary school education IN Nigeria never to really find out for instance, what the Biafra War which devastated millions in our coutry, was all about, and I was even a curious child! I might be alone in singing this tune, but I really think that someone somewhere didn't want us to know how bad things really are. So it's no wonder that whilst inside the country there is no one to hold up a mirror to our filthy faces, we need to leave our motherland to find out just how dirty we really are! Anyway, I digress!

    You're right, Nigeria may not have the Mandela's or the Nkurumah's, but at least we've got a conscience jam-packed with rich guilt :)

  2. Lola abeg go and start your own blog so I can become a follower.

    And no your digression is very useful. It was only by mistake that I heard about Biafra before Half of a Yellow Sun. My dad mentioned it in passing and I was like what?! You were in a war? Nigeria had a civil war?! In this country they learn about WW1, WW2, Battle of Hastings etc from primary one. The proverb is true that says: A people that don't know where they are coming from cannot know where they are going.... or something along those lines ;)

  3. If you had stayed in Nigeria past the age that you did you would have studied Biafra in school, I did!!

  4. Respectfully anonymous, I disagree. I stayed in Nigeria until I was fourteen. My sister finished secondary school there. Not once did either of us learn about Nigeria's one and only civil war. My cousin who grew up in the East never learnt about Biafra in secondary school. The only Nigerian history we learnt was Jaja of Opobo, Herbert Macaulay and Mary Slessor stopping the killing of twins in Calabar. Not a single ounce of near comtemporary history slipped in. Biafra is a part of Nigeria's past that has been swept under the carpet.

  5. Um, I'm your sister too, and I finished secondary school there too, and I LEARNT ABOUT BIAFRA, Ask Mummy!!

    Also, if your other sister had studied History, instead of Maths, further maths and chemistry she might have learnt about biafra too. Off the top of my head I can even tell you 5 advantages and disadvantages of the war, as told to me by Mr Owoloabi, the HISTORY TEACHER!!

  6. Wow, there is a lot of emotion in this blog post both from writers and followers, especially Dilch. Well it seems to me that Nigerian history education has undergone its cycles. I don't know where Lola and the 'cousin from the east' come in in the time line but it appears that between Dilch and Anonymous where 'asbtw' falls, there seems to have been a shortage of history teachers. Unlike Lola, I don't remember a single class about the lugards, opobos or the nightingales past my primary school days, talk less of Biafra. Thank God for that Adiche woman. But if as anonymous says times have changed thank God for that. Though I would be even happier if students weren't TOLD what the ads and disads of the war were, perhaps they could be allowed to think for themselves. Or what say ye history student 'asbtw'. D

  7. In my haste I forgot to even comment on the very subject of the article. Perhaps a better understanding of our history will help not just the NGOs but also the government to have some 'rich guilt'. It may seem somewhat counterintuitive however, seeing as the government did give us this history we speak of. D

  8. Yes I heartily agree anon 2. Being told the ads and disads of the Biafran war is such a simplistic way of looking at such a complex thing. How can the outcome of three years of war be tidied away under the headings of ads and disadvantages. I would like to think the person that put that on the syllabus was being ironic or sarcastic or tongue in cheek but its Naija. We can be funny like that.

  9. I love the "rich-guilt" there. Good thing that i don't suffer it as even with my meager income i can still give some of them.

  10. wow! I love your blog


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