Opinion: Nigerians are in a state of learned helplessness

by Goziem Okubor


I, like many other Nigerians, am heartbroken. I weep for the orphaned children, the suddenly childless mothers, the number of people living in total fear, of an enemy they could not possibly imagine. An enemy with an indiscriminate bloodlust. For these people, death has become a part of their reality. Innocence has been lost forever. 

“Learned helplessness was first demonstrated by Martin Seligman and his colleagues. They identified conditions under which dogs would demonstrate apathetic behavior when they were punished by means of electric shock. In the experiment, dogs were continually electrocuted to the point where they simply accepted electrocution and did not try to escape it. The dogs learned, correctly, that electrocution was unavoidable, and with this acquired knowledge, they simply lay down on the surface of their cages and took the shocks. By doing so, they demonstrated what is meant by learned helplessness.” Learned Helplessness as a Correlate of Psychosis: Examining evidence of learned helplessness in various types of schizophrenia. Published on January 4, 2014 by Dr. Ann Olson, Psy.D. in Theory and Psychopathology

Every morning I wake up, say a prayer, head to the gym to do some running, get dressed, head to work, study, speak to friends and loved ones. pretty normal life, you might say. If someone were to follow me around they would imagine that I was happy and all was well.

It isn’t.

I, like many other Nigerians, am scared. I’m terrified and sad, at the state of my beloved country. I never would have dreamed that I would be living in a place like this, where the reports of numerous people dying becomes so frequent that the mind is almost numbed to it. Numbers are thrown around: 500, 234, 70, 90, 50, 4, these are not just numbers, these are lives that have been cut short, people that have died senselessly.

These are people who woke up in the morning trying to get to work, like I do everyday, and died burning, or cut down, or gunned down, over a grudge they had nothing to do with. Children, who for the sake of a better life, went to school in the morning, and found themselves being herded off into the forest, at gunpoint, to serve the whims of wicked monsters they did not offend. The tales of tragedy scare me. They make me angry. They make me sad.

I, like many other Nigerians, am heartbroken. I weep for the orphaned children, the suddenly childless mothers, the number of people living in total fear, of an enemy they could not possibly imagine. An enemy with an indiscriminate bloodlust. For these people, death has become a part of their reality. Innocence has been lost forever. Their homes, their schools, their churches and mosques could become their tombs at any time. the mental torture that these people have been subjected to will manifest in more serious ways in the near future, in their anger and resentment at a country that does nothing but try to kill you. I weep for this generation of Nigerians.

I, like many other Nigerians, am angry. I am angry because I feel helpless. I am angry because the institutions tasked with the protection of lives and property, the security and well being of citizens, that most basic tenet of what it means to be a human being, are failing. No matter your political allegiances or familial connections, it is a glaring fact that has to be accepted by all, for us to even move forward. Do I believe that there is high level complicity by the military, the government or any other conspiracy theories? I do not. I have family members in the military, men and women of unquestionable character and integrity, who have been risking their lives for this country since even before i was born, but the fact is that this is a threat that seems to have overwhelmed even this patriotic class of Nigerians.

There is a place and a time to ask why. Why are these things happening? Who is behind this? What do they want? I don’t believe that time is now. This is the time for leadership, this is the time for ownership. This is the time that we as Nigerians must come together to condemn and fight back at this common enemy, because that is what this is. This is not the time for name calling, This is not the time to insult the President or the armed forces, this is the time to act.

When people are afraid to go to work, to go to the market, to go to school, then the enemy succeeds. When we are divided amongst ourselves, with half of us calling the president and government incompetent fools, and the other half of us taking up arms in defence of these institutions, then the enemy succeeds. When those who should know better, the religious leaders who have, by virtue of our Nigerian spirituality, ascribed so much power to themselves, when they speak untruths, hypocrisy and cowardice, to protect their positions or deliberately mislead, this demonic enemy succeeds. When those amongst us, full of patriotic fervour, decide to take to the streets, or start campaigns to persuade the government to act, and we sit at home and criticise them and their motives, the enemy succeeds. When we complain about how Nigeria was set up to fail 100 years ago by the British, and how we need to break up to survive, the enemy succeeds. When we resort to ethnic and religious bigotry, blaming other tribes and faiths, or insensitivity to the suffering of others, when we refuse to give help, no matter how small, to those around us in such obvious need, this enemy succeeds.

We as citizens of this great nation must strive to do as much as we can to protect our neighbours and ensure that we and our children have a safe place to live in.

We as YOUTHS have an even greater imperative than our parents to do this. In a nation with over 70% of us under the age of 30, we have no other hope but a strong, safe Nigeria.

The rest of the world, whether we like their interference or not, also has a responsibility to offer assistance to the government of Nigeria. There are 170 million of us, the world is not big enough for a Nigerian refugee crisis.

Invention is at the very core of what it means to be Nigerian. We create electricity for ourselves, we tap water for ourselves, we create economic opportunities in the midst of unemployment. We are loud, We are entrepreneurs, We are friendly, We are beautiful, We are colourful. We are strong, We are big, We solve problems. This is what it means to be Nigerian. This is who we are. I have seen many people writing about a lack of shared identity, but you can go to any corner of the country, and you will meet people who possess the qualities i have talked about. This is who we are. This is where we have to start from. This is what we have to reinforce. This is the reason why my father could go to Borno all those years ago to set up a hospital, learn the language and raise children there. This is the reason why entrepreneurs from the east have always built thriving businesses in the North. North, south, east and west, We all depend on each other. This is unquestionable. This is not negotiable. We are all fully invested in this nation, and we cannot throw her future away.

What can we do to help, as citizens?

1. We have to be vigilant: http://www.npf.gov.ng/emergency-contact Here is a list from the Nigeria police website with the mobile numbers of the CP’s and senior officials of the force. I know there is a lot of cynicsm about this, but you absolutely HAVE to report any suspicious behaviour around you. we all have that responsibility. find out who is in charge, the details of your nearest police station, find out names of officers, find out numbers and call them.

2. We have to be proactive: A democracy is only as strong as the citizens are. we have to be aware of what is happening, and put pressure on our elected representatives to tackle this issue head on. you and i don’t have the power to send soldiers to Chibok, but we can make sure that the representatives that we have put in government do that, because they are accountable to us. I cannot understate the importance of social media, but above that there have to be active, fearless engagement with people in authority, to make sure that they act.


This is a petition for the Nigerian Government over the 234 missing girls, please sign and share, and spread awareness. We can underestimate the power of social media in Nigeria today, but everyone can see that its becoming increasingly useful and important in creating and sustaining awareness. it will only get more important in future. understand it, use it, but also go out in the world and demand answers.

For my friends joining protest marches, i urge you to be careful, to be vigilant and to keep track of the reasons why you are demonstrating. peaceful protests will do the job, riots will not.

3. We have to be tolerant: What we are facing is not an attack on christians, neither is it an attack on muslims. it is the systematic assault on every Nigerian. these are people trying to put fear in our hearts, the fear of them, the fear of our neighbours, the fear of other religions and tribes. we refuse to be afraid, we refuse to discriminate, and we refuse to be broken. We are Christian, Muslim, we are Igbo, Ijaw, Yoruba or Fulani, but we are NIGERIAN. One Nigeria.

We have to fight ignorance wherever we see it. It is our duty to educate people and correct our friends, colleagues and families when we hear incorrect, bigoted statements. such thinking will not help us out of this, but will deepen and prolong our suffering.

4. We have to be compassionate: Right now there are thousand of people that have been displaced from their homes as a result of this crisis. there are children with no parents, there are people who have lost everything valuable. we have to contribute to these lives, we have to help them. there are hundreds of people in hospitals with little or no blood in some cases. there is always something we can do to help, to reassure our brothers that the country cares for them, cares for its people, and they have a future here.

The guys at Lifebank have built an amazing app that makes finding and donating blood easier: https://www.facebook.com/LifeBankApp


Communities without borders are helping out in Northern Nigeria too, I will find other charities helping out, and even if you cant physically support them i beg you to engage with them, donate, and provide any support that you can

We are not helpless. We are facing something that, while a new phenomenon, has been bubbling under the surface for a while,

because of priorities that we have collectively refused to address until now, for whatever reason. But if God keeps us, I am RESOLUTE in my conviction that my generation will be different. We will prioritise education, employment and we will address and learn from our history, no matter how dark it may be. The lesson not learnt is the mistake repeated.

God bless Nigeria, God bless us all.



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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