I live in Lagos, Nigeria, the busiest city in the most populous country in Africa and by far one of the major economic hubs of the continent.
Owing to the degree of economic and commercial activities that take place in Lagos on a daily basis, it is safe to say that Lagos has become a vital melting pot of people, cultures, religions, ideologies, businesses from around the country and beyond.
As a professional (and temporary) bus hopper, I consider myself one who feels the heat of this melting pot closely, most times as a willing or unwilling participant and sometimes as a mere observer.
And I can tell you categorically, it’s really hard to believe I once lived amongst the happiest people on earth.
If you thought that claim, about Nigerians being the happiest people on earth, was a fluke, here’s a little bit of history for you. These allegations were not born out of thin air.
In 2003, a survey of more than 65 countries actually turned up Nigeria as the country where the happiest people lived. The list which was published in the UK’s New Scientist magazine had Mexico, Venezuela, El Salvador and Puerto Rico, trailing behind Nigeria.
In a 2011 53-country Gallup poll, Nigerians were rated 70 points for optimism. Britain scored a 44 on that list.
The World Happiness Index picked up even more firmly in the coming years and was being compiled by the United Nations.
In 2013, Nigeria ranked 82nd.
In 2015, Nigeria ranked 78th worldwide and 4th in Africa.
In 2016, Nigeria ranked the 103rd happiest nation of the world, and 6th in Africa in the World Happiness Index.
In 2017, we are at the 95th spot and remain the 6th happiest country in Africa.
It was a genuinely baffling phenomenon, however. Nigerians couldn’t be the happiest people on earth. It housed one of the most corrupt, and highly partisan set of politicians in the world even as far back as 2003.
It was in a developing continent whose economy was still heavily import dependent on their former slave masters.
The infrastructure was not enough, if they were existent and the maintenance culture was so low most projects didn’t even outlast the administrations that instituted them. Basic amenities like water and good roads were batter for electorate votes and light was a luxury.
Each voting season, road and water projects were pandered as bait. And you would think that with each administration, some of these basics would be replaced by more advanced projects like the use of advanced technology in medicine or advanced research projects in our universities but no. Teaching curricula remained the same, lecturers were being owed coupled with the crappy lectures they were giving the ‘future generation’ and even the ‘fate of the future’ was dangling on a balance.
So, how on earth were these people the happiest?
Let me tell you how. They damned the government and went on to fend for themselves. For every day when there was no power supply from the government agencies, a generating set duly fueled with hard earned money ran non-stop.
For every day the university lecturers were on strike, students were enrolled to private universities in spite of the costs, scouted the internet for scholarships, or simply learnt that time was a friend and could be beneficial if put to good use regardless of the circumstances resulting in its ‘availability’ as it seemed.
For every ‘oil compni’ job application that was turned down, three businesses sprang up. It didn’t matter that they all were doomed to failure right at the start.
For every road that deteriorated before its due date, there were barrows of stones and sand to fix the damage.
For every lecture that was not well understood or did not hold for one flimsy reason or the other, there was Google.
For every government policy that was not working in their favour, there were ‘corners to cut’. For every systemic loophole, there was a ready gift ‘clearing the path’ for movers and shakers of things.
The UN Happiness Index computation is basically from a collation of surveys involving a very little sample size of the population with the consideration of per capita gross domestic product, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity, social support and absence of corruption in government or businesses in the said countries.
With the index results for the past two years, I think now that happy people once lived here. Between President Buhari’s protracted absence, the recession, Biafra, restructuring and dancing pythons, I’ve seen what an unhappy Nigeria is, even one that says ‘to hell with the government.’
We’ve created our own kind of happiness over the years and have just fine-tuned it to suit the times – trolling on social media (trust me, this is fun for some people), moving to an Instagram apartment, tweeting ‘disses’ and ‘clapbacks’ here and there and having a good laugh with the myriad comedians we now have free access to, thanks to the internet.
But no matter how much happiness we create or the idealistic utopia we create for ourselves, our problems remain, growing even bigger and coming back to give us the pain of our lives in the butt. The issues we refuse to address, this time, primarily one of leadership, will always come back to haunt us and tear down this happy sand castle we’ve built for ourselves.
That’s all this ‘happiness’ and thriving in spite of the Nigerian government is – sand castles.
Some lines of a Catholic hymn goes like this:
I know a man who loved to live free, he built his tent by the side of the sea; It stood near the surf and was washed by the spray, till one day a wave came and washed it away.
One declaration from some hot heads in the North-east, and a series of activities from another hot head in the South-east, that’s all the spray we needed a few months ago after all.
What is your selling point? Some ‘happy’ Nigerians share with us:
Image Credits: Joey Jay Junior Photography