Ghetto elitism and the culture of hypocrisy in Nigeria

August 20, 2012 § 26 Comments

Kenneth Amaeshi

Nigerians do God. It is almost impossible to find a self-professed atheist in Nigeria. Mosques and Churches are usually filled to the brim on Fridays and Sundays, respectively. Loud chants of God are flamboyantly rendered, literally, from roof tops, in season and out of season.  Accessible social spaces are littered with sermons and God talk. The easiest and cheapest way to earn the anti-Christ badge of dishonour is to challenge these God speeches. To an outsider, Nigerians may come across as conspicuous consumers of God.

This ostentatious God consumption, unfortunately, does not bear corresponding fruits in the country.   This leaves one wondering if Nigerians merely pay lip service to God and what He expects of them; or do they derive commensurate pleasure and satisfaction from God mockery?  Either way, God consumption in the country is a viable industry with active actors on the supply and demand sides of the equation; and the market forces – often anchored on the dark forces of witches and wizards – do not appear to be waning. Nigerians pray for everything, and nothing escapes the clutches of prayers. To an average Nigerian, everything is dependent on God, and God depends on everything.  This subtle pantheistic superstition even finds expressions in ungodly activities – e.g. armed robbers praying for success before setting out for their operations, or politicians praying before any deliberations despite the fact that the public sector, in which they are key actors, is now the engine of corruption and nepotism in the country.  The private sector is not shielded from this God onslaught. Some firms say morning prayers. These prayers do not stop them from doing anything possible (even ungodly) to enhance the proverbial bottom-line!

Notwithstanding, many Nigerians would not want to be known as ungodly or anti-God, even if their actions are. It is a taboo to be ungodly or atheistic. The society expects you to consume God whether you believe God exists or not. As long as you demonstrate this God consumption, you shall be fine and free. There is no better word for this expected behaviour than hypocrisy.  Many Nigerians are hypocrites – otherwise, it would be difficult to account for the level of indiscipline, corruption and class oppression characteristic of many Nigerians. Hypocrisy is in an inauthentic form of existence.

Authenticity is to say and accept that I am a criminal, when I am one. Authenticity is to be who you are irrespective of what others want you to be. It is being true to oneself irrespective of how else one wants to be. The authentic one accepts the vulnerability, and probably the discomfort, of swimming against the tide of public opinion.  The biblical Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), despite his sins, was authentic in his encounter with Jesus. He accepted his corrupt practices and when he repented, he made restitutions. Inauthenticity is a fake life. It is a form of concealment. It is a deceitful acceptance to present ourselves as who we are not.

The culture of inauthenticity and hypocrisy has permeated all aspects of the Nigerian society. This is particularly so amongst the emergent upper middle class who are caught up in an identity crisis. They constitute the nouveau riche. They also like to impress and be impressed. They like to give the impression that they are internationally mobile and have global tastes. They like to be in vogue and keep up with trends. Prosperity is their new religion. No one cares, as long as it translates to money. Money speaks; money works. They drive good cars; have good jobs and houses; and their children go to very good schools. Some people in this class think that living the Nigerian dream is to build personal kingdoms (e.g. people overleveraging themselves to belong) living in houses and driving luxury cars they cannot afford, putting their kids in schools where they chase them to pay fees after they have gone on summer holidays on borrowed money! They find a way to isolate themselves from the wretchedness around them. They shield themselves from the masses. They create islands in ghettos. They inadvertently become and constitute the ghetto elites.

Ghetto elitism in itself could be an outcome of hard work – even if it comes across as selfishness. After all, self-interest which often manifests as selfishness is the bedrock of contemporary capitalism. One of the hallmarks of capitalism, as an ideological force, is its ability to mutate and adapt to its context. This ability allows capitalism to be all things for all people. It grants some legitimacy to selfishness, and often masks rogue entrepreneurship as heroism. This mask of heroism is sustained and energised by the complementary practice of reputation and brand management. Reputation and brand management experts are also known for their dexterity in the manufacture and creation of inauthenticity. For instance, most luxury brands are mere empty names packaged and sold to a gullible audience through the market for inauthenticity. In the process, these brands afford us the opportunity to be who we are not – i.e. a mask we hide under to see the world and to be seen. This inauthenticity conceals the fatality of the unbridled pursuit of self-interests, which often culminates in selfishness. Nonetheless, capitalism can be a veritable force for good when tamed and domesticated. Undomesticated and wild capitalism often gives rise to rogue entrepreneurs, ghetto capitalism and elitism. Nigeria, unfortunately, is not short of ghetto capitalists and elites.

Ghetto elitism and the culture of hypocrisy are inseparable twins and dangerous. A society built on such foundations is bound to collapse with time. I see a Nigerian society sleep-walking onto this deadly precipice.  The tipping point is not far from us. We all know it. We all feel it; but who will bell the cat? Grandiose God consumption will not save the country. Those who claim to be of God should, at least, be seen to be godly in their everydayness – for by their fruits, they shall be known. God consumption without the corresponding good works is sheer hypocrisy and mockery of God.

The worst thing one can do to oneself is to live an inauthentic life. At the end, the truth shall be known; and whatever is concealed shall be uncovered. Then, the finger of derision shall point the inauthentic and the hypocrite to scorn. Be authentic; be yourself!

Dr Amaeshi is a member of the Thought Leadership Forum (TLF), Nigeria.

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