There is a practice still very much alive among quite a number of ethnic groups around the world (certainly in mine) – the practice of bride prices. This piece is not about bride prices, however. To attempt to write about bride prices dispassionately would be to risk pissing off my girlfriend who happens to be feminist in outlook. I am not prepared for that. At least, not yet! (A grinning emoji would have been helpful to communicate the mischievous humour at this juncture, but, oh well…!). This piece is about a belief that I believe underlies, at least in part, the practice of bride prices: the belief that it takes a community to make an individual. In my ethnic group – the Igbos of Nigeria – the beneficiaries of a bride price are likely to include not just the father or immediate family of the bride but also the male elders of the bride’s kindred, the women of the bride’s kindred, the youths of the bride’s kindred, among others. Why? Well, because it took a community to make the bride!
An election was recently concluded in one of the thirty-six states of my country. And the outcome of the election is being welcomed and lauded by us, the so-called short-changed masses, with such excitement that one would be tempted to think that a messiah was ascending the throne. But that, I believe, is far from our present reality. I believe that, for the duration of democracy in my country that my years on Earth have witnessed, there is yet to be a free and fair election at the gubernatorial or presidential level. Elections at all levels – local government, state legislative, national legislative, gubernatorial, presidential – are typically fraught with violence between opposing camps and supporters, harrassment and violence towards voters, voter fraud and such. Just a general abuse of democratic electoral process. Perhaps, these give the background, the actual reason why the outcome of this election is being received in messianic dimensions: there was eventually not as much violence and abuse of electoral process as had been feared there would be. It was a not-so-unpleasant turn of events! The reason for the typical presence of violence and electoral malpractices is not far-fetched: in a country that is rich in a still-quite-valuable natural resource (crude oil) and that is still very much in the grip of corruption, billions of currency stand to be looted by election-winners (at any level of government) and their backers, and millions invested in campaigning stand to be lost by the losers and their backers.
However, my country’s electoral woes are not the inspiration for this piece. The inspiration for this piece comes from what these elected leaders – leaders allowed into office, or at least allowed to stay in office, by us the people – almost always choose to do or resign to doing when they get into office: corruption! I have, in my younger days, chimed in on the more popular protest tunes we hear as Nigerians and Africans: “Bad government is the problem of this country!”, “Bad leaders are the problem of this country!”. These indeed are problems of my country. But where does this bad government come from? Where do these bad leaders come from? In a forum of friendly colleagues, a colleague-friend of mine once said out of exasperation, “This president is the worst thing to happen to this country!” But I thought to myself, is this president really our problem? The questions I have asked in this section of this piece are questions I have asked myself and others, and the answer I have come to give myself lies at the beginning of this piece: it takes a community to make an individual! Our government and our leaders emerge from our midst! They are made by our communities: made by the values and behaviours that we encouraged or permitted or failed to consistently sanction in our individual interactions, in our families, in our villages, in our towns/cities, in our organizations and in our society. And our problems (bad leaders, bad government, poor overall quality of living, decadence in our society) persist because we have continued to encourage the problems or permit them or not face up to them at the different levels – individual, familial, communal, organizational, societal.
There is a saying, “Be mindful when you point an accusing finger at someone else, because three of your fingers are pointing back at you!”. I believe that our leaders, our government, the decadence in our society, our overall predicament are the monsters we (as a people) made and continue to make. They are us. But admitting complicity is not enough, is it? What are we doing about bad leaders? What are we doing about ourselves?
(Originally written on the 22nd of September 2020, just after the 2020 gubernatorial election in Edo State, Nigeria.)
Photo by Nathaniel Tetteh on Unsplash