Merriam Webster dictionary defines stupidity as: “behavior that shows a lack of good sense or judgment” or “the quality of being stupid or unintelligent.” Given this definition, what adjective qualifies a population of 170 million people who routinely elect thieves and morons? How do we describe a people who elevate drug barons, fraudsters and murderers to positions of leadership? What description fits a people who elected a President whose original thinking is daft as a brush, who disrupts like a whirlwind and cared not a jot what his people think?
Representative democracy is supposed to be an ordered society administered for the greater good but the reality in Nigeria is different. What we have as democracy is an enormous monster fed on corrosive corruption and cloaked in a deceptive array of primary colours. It bore no good fruit and yields no dividend. Politicians are not subject to scrutiny nor are they held to account because almost everyone is waiting for their turn “to eat” at the table; everyone hopes to “make it” by benefitting from the rot someday. What kills faster than foolishness? Nigeria is what it is and its people are where they are because stupidity has taken their critical facilities hostage.
Without a shred of doubt, patronage and indulgence have been the hallmark of political life since men began wielding power. To check the abuse of power, reasonable people are wont to think that “right is might”. Perhaps so. In advanced democracies, where core ethics have their roots in strong Judeo-Christian traditions, man is believed to be inherently noble in pursuit of the greater good. In Nigeria, democracy is an albatross. Wrong is might and odd is right and it is always defended as right especially when a meal ticket goes with it. Nigerians are not particularly squeamish if rulers, politicians, chiefs and other symbols of authority asserts control over those from whom their wealth is derived. Does that sound like intelligent behaviour? No! Such behaviour belongs to level one stupidity.
In Nigeria, the compulsory prerequisites for climbing the ladder are: a total lack of conviction, a spineless personality, demonstrable and higher than normal predisposition to avarice, dependable ability for stealing, for conversion and a generally destructive acumen. To be a leader, you must have unusual appetite for power, money, and inordinate ability to dismiss those stupid enough to vote for you. On the other hand, the “others”, yes others, go about their daily lives, they go to church for prayers against their shrinking budgets, dwindling purchasing power and increasing bills. They blame demons and evil spirits for lack of electricity, for bad public schools and institutions and for crumbling infrastructure. They drink anointing oil when afflicted, they cast and bind the spirit of epidemics and diseases by sprinkling salts in their abode, they drink brine at odd hours to placate the malevolent spirits like Ebola, they go for special anointing so they can work like a rat and eat like an elephant. What kind of people petitions God to help them build roads and equip their hospitals? What kind of nation closes its factories while “pastorpreneurs” build the largest Church auditoriums in the world? What kind of people welcome politicians bringing rice, kerosine and T-shirts in exchange for their votes? Stupid people? Yes! You are right!
Humanity and indeed all religions teaches the essence of living in one simple sentence: Do as you will be done by. This singular exhortation defines the ways of an upstanding human being; the one who does no harm; the one who does good; or the one who does no harm and does good. While these may seem easy, it is astonishingly hard to follow. The average Nigerian has occasional flashes of rationality but it is rare and easily overshadowed by a hanging cloud of supreme stupidity and senselessness. For Nigerians, stupidity is on display 10 times over rationality. They see so much stupidity and senselessness around all the time but are never fully convinced of their own stupidity.
Professor Carlo Cipolla, could have had more profound understanding of human stupidity had he studied the Nigerian. The man, whose gift to humanity was “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity” was an economic historian and professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley. Excerpted below are the basic laws as Prof Cipolla defined them:
First Basic Law: Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.
Second Basic Law: The probability that a certain person be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.
Third (and Golden) Basic Law: A stupid person is a person who caused losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.
Fourth Basic Law: Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be costly mistake.
Fifth Basic Law: A stupid person is the most dangerous type of person. The corollary to the Fifth Basic Law: A stupid person is more dangerous than a bandit.
From these five basic laws, we can understand why Nigerians are stupid, why they elect stupid leaders and why they cannot stop doing stupid things. The Nigerian situation also explains to a rational observer that the out-and-out thieves and bandits controlling their resources and destiny are bad enough, but the truly stupid thieves are worse. Bandits make money while causing others to lose it but a stupid person cause losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses.
After the civil war, bandits took hold of Nigeria and since then, they became progressively bolder. Every set that governs distributes the commonwealth to their own advantage while the impoverished people stand aside and look. The stupidity index went up since 2010 and Nigerians have fared worse. It is no longer enough that leaders are bandits, the really stupid ones at the helm are causing the nation to bleed money.
The ills of the nation finds explanation in the systemic stupidity of the leaders and the collective stupidity of the governed. It is on this basis that I seek to extend the Fifth Basic law by providing a second corollary to the Fifth Basic Law: A stupid person in position of leadership is more dangerous than the algebraic sum of the total population of the governed with its effect equal in quantitative terms to a nuclear bomb.
The richest and most powerful black nation in the world is getting destroyed by Goodluck Jonathan and his den of thieves and no one raises a finger. No one raises a finger because Jonathan is their “Ikoko obe” – the pot of soup that must not break. Nigeria has no real reason to be at the backwater of development other than stupidity. We have become a nation of takers, not makers. An insufficient number of us are productive and of slight economic value while too many of us are merely taking and consuming the insufficient amount of things that are produced! The consequence is; we will eventually run out of things to take. Over the last four decades, policy decisions have been taken systematically to ensure Nigeria does not achieve its potential. Though the routes are different, the actions of very powerful but stupid people have consequences that are not ultimately distinguishable from that of thermonuclear destruction.
Stupidity kills. It is evidenced in the hundreds of thousand lives cut short every day and many other hundred millions not really living a decent life.
Yet Nigeria’s manifest destiny and development depends on non-stupid leadership taking charge of the country. Is it possible? Yes. Is it probable? Not quite! We have undertakers in power!
Bamidele maintains a weekly column on Politics and Socioeconomic issues every Tuesday. She is a member of Premium Times Editorial Board.