Ebuka Obi-Uchendu: Hanging out with the voiceless (Y! FrontPage)

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We make a lot of noise, disagree on everything and fail to focus on one issue long enough to resolve it before jumping to the next one.

I always insist that some of the best conversations I encounter on Nigerian issues happen at newspaper stands, beer parlors and anywhere artisans are gathered. I’m always surprised at how knowledgeable a lot of them are especially because we sadly conclude that they are supposed to be unintelligent. They always turn out to be quite informed, even if they sometimes exaggerate and stretch the truth. But that is what I love about it. The over the top examples and shouting that ensues. What intrigues me most about them though is how voiceless they are in the larger scheme of things. Their opinions sadly start and end in their little groups. So much so that uninformed opinions in Nigeria are quickly referred to as ‘beer parlor talk’.

I had gone to get my car serviced recently and had to wait for about 3 hours. The service center had a waiting room so I went in there and joined about 10 other people, mostly company car drivers who were also there, waiting for cars to get serviced. A heated conversation about pastors and private jets was going on as I walked in. One of them said it was President Jonathan who was buying the jets for pastors so that they could convince their followers to vote for him in 2015. “How much Pastor Ayo get (referring to the CAN President)? Where e wan see money buy jet? Why you think say e nor wan talk d name of d people wey buy d jet for am? Leave matter!” I instantly knew I had walked into an interesting crowd.

Then followed the debate about Mr. President kneeling down before a pastor. The audience was divided. Some felt that Nigeria needed all the prayers it could get. They also felt that it was okay since the pastor whom Mr. President knelt down before, had quite a decent history and resume. “At least nor be that one wey just dey buy plane anyhow, dey build university everywhere, dey slap people for church on top deliverance.” Another group was very bitter. As far as they were concerned, there was a reason why President Obasanjo built a chapel at Aso Rock. They felt that if Mr. President wanted prayers, he could get it at the chapel. He could also summon whichever Pastor he preferred, to come and bless him there; “Instead of to dey run go camp ground like apprentice wey dey find work.”

Someone in the room at that point distracted the crowd with a scream. The Ghana Vs Niger game at the African Nations Cup was being replayed on TV and he was watching. A goal had just been missed and naturally, his voice changed the topic. One of the guys in the room stated sharply; “This Nations Cup? I nor dey bother myself. Make we no even qualify from our group sef. Useless Eagles.” Many laughed but this one guy didn’t. The other guy continued to go on about how the team didn’t even have any star player. He was sad that he couldn’t name or recognize any of the players besides Yobo and Mikel. “See Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire na. Bad squad o! Even Togo and Burkina Faso tight.”

I spoke up at this point and asked him how he knew these teams had bad squads when he had claimed just a few minutes ago that he hadn’t bothered to watch any Nations Cup games so far. He talked about seeing highlights and reading about those teams in the papers. The other guy who hadn’t laughed earlier spoke up and asked the disappointed fan; “This Ghana and Togo and Burkina Faso wey you say dem bad, abeg name 3 star players from each of them. Comot Adebayor for Togo, and Gyan for Ghana who again you know for all the squad?” His point had been made. Star players were not the issue right now. I smiled.

A back and forth followed about how Nigerians were never satisfied with anything. “How una go ask coach to rebuild team, una go still wan win cup? Una nor go first get patience?” I threw in the 1992 and 1994 examples, when we had to contend with new faces in the team, mostly from the local league, at a time when many had no faith in Clemens Westerhof’s plan. He didn’t budge though, insisting that Westerhof had a plan but Keshi didn’t. He went on to say that only Arsenal fans could be Super Eagles fans. Naturally, the debate moved on to the English Premier League at that point, and I retreated.

I sat there and realized that this was actually a typical Nigerian scenario playing out, but only on a smaller scale. There was hardly anything different from the rambling in that room, and what happens everywhere else in the country. It is the same noise between the PDP and ACN and CPC everyday on the pages of newspapers. The same noise between President Jonathan’s advisers and former government officials, turned activists. The same noise amongst the youth on social media. Nothing different. We are all the same. We make a lot of noise, disagree on everything and fail to focus on one issue long enough to resolve it before jumping to the next one.

I also thought about the constant call for a Sovereign National Conference. I wondered if the group of people in that room with me, who by the way, constitute the larger percentage of Nigerians, will ever get represented if that conference gets convened. As it is, no one still speaks for them and most likely no one will. But the fact remains that they do have strong valid opinions about their country, just like anyone else. And like we have seen in many countries, one day, they may just force the government to listen up if their voices continue to be suppressed. And that, is never a healthy room discussion.

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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