Once again, Nigerians have been ranked the happiest, most optimistic and most hopeful in the world. As one of many Nigerians dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country, it’s easy to disagree, especially given how the country and its people are portrayed in the media. Nigerians have spent the majority of our 50 years of independence under military self-rule and the country ranks among the highest in corruption indicators every year. We’ve been beset by militant religious and ethnic strife in some regions, and of course, we’ve failed the democratic electoral process three times in a row.
So, why are we so happy?
The answer may defy conventional wisdom. Despite assertions made by scholars about colonial boundaries forcing ethnic groups into national conglomerations that can’t coalesce, the nation-building exercise is working in Nigeria. We believe in our country. If Nigeria hasn’t lived up to its potential, it’s not because the country is unsustainable. It’s because Nigerians haven’t lived up to Nigeria’s potential. I think Nigerians are innately, if unconsciously, connected to our national identity. We love the idea of Nigeria. We still feel that we are a young nation with the power to shape our future. We are a patriotic people, but we don’t measure our commitment to the country by a willingness to sacrifice our lives for it — we do so by our willingness to be identified as Nigerians. One of our leaders once said, “I won’t die for Nigeria, but I’ll live for Nigeria.”
And we do have reason to celebrate. We are a big fish in the small pond that the world has designated Africa. Nigeria has, by far, the largest population on the continent. We have a formidable army which we are not afraid to use for peacekeeping activities and we are a recognized stabilizing force on the continent. Of course, we have the always entertaining and talented national Super Eagles football team, which alternately frustrates and uplifts the whole continent. We are also a very adventurous people who contribute to the communities we join everywhere in the world — check yourlocal university faculty, hospital, hotel, law firm or market, and you willfind a Nigerian. This is because we don’t love Nigeria to the exclusion of all else. We love to travel and live. At home, we Telenovellas and Bollywood movies, and language is not an issue. We love American jeans, Arabian scents and Chinese goods.
Nigerians are very tuned into our funny bone. Sometimes humor is all that holds us to together.We are a country that imports what we have, oil, and exports what we need to acquire the most: democracy. We are constant victims of, and internationally defined by, fraud. So much so that we renamed the word forthe section of our criminal code related to it: 419. Yet, we laugh at419ers when they get away with it and we laugh when they get caught.
Like America, Nigeria is not just a country to us, it’s an idea. And every Nigerian has a Nigerian dream. We are a people that believe in ourselves, individually and collectively. Every one of us believes that the future is ours — that we, and the country, can “make it.” And this belief sustains us and makes us happy, even as we remain unaware of it.