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Is the Nigerian really resilient or deeply seething?

Nigeria has faced a series of significant challenges that have tested the resilience of its people. These include the Biafran Civil War from 1967 to 1970, the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency that has resulted in numerous casualties and displacements, economic marginalisation of certain groups, corruption at various levels, irregularities in elections, the #EndSARS protests in 2020, the annulment of the 1993 presidential election, nepotism in some instances, the impact of climate change and flooding, and the efforts of activists and social champions like the late Gani Fawehinmi who have exemplified Nigerian resilience and determination. Despite these adversities, Nigerians continue to demonstrate remarkable resilience, reflecting the spirit of “Anyi bu ndi Igbo. We are resilient.”

The prevailing perception of Nigerians as a resilient people is deeply rooted in their history. From the days of military rule, where protests and civil disobedience were often met with brutal crackdowns, to their unwavering hope during periods of economic hardship, Nigerians have, time and again, demonstrated a spirit that refuses to yield to unfavourable circumstances.

Despite their historical resilience, Nigerians are finding it increasingly challenging to suppress their frustrations in the face of persistent challenges such as corruption, poverty, insecurity, unemployment, inequality, and bad governance. Indeed, Nigerians are seething and groaning, yet are smouldering.

The Paradox of Nigerian Resilience

The historical backdrop of resilience in Nigeria is rich with stories of unwavering determination and defiance against unfavourable policies and governance. From the days of colonial rule through to the era of military dictatorships, Nigerians have shown remarkable resistance in the face of oppressive regimes and unjust policies.


As Emma Jimo rightly observes in his Vanguard article, “Nigerians: Docile or Resilient?”: “Even during military rule, we still had Nigerians who found the courage to rise and protest against unfair policies. The student protests of the 1980s and the labour unions’ resistance to oppressive government actions are notable examples.”

During the colonial period, Nigerians pushed back against British rule, advocating for independence and the right to govern themselves. Protests and movements for self-determination were pivotal in shaping the course of Nigerian history, ultimately leading to independence in 1960. This historical context, as described in the same Vanguard article, demonstrates the resilience deeply ingrained in the Nigerian spirit.

The transition to civilian rule in the late 20th century did not diminish the resilience of the Nigerian people. In the face of harsh economic conditions and poor governance, Nigerians continued to display their ability to endure hardships while maintaining hope for a better future. Despite the adverse effects of this economic reform, Nigerians persevered, highlighting their resilience and capacity to adapt to challenging circumstances. This sentiment is captured in the BellaNaija article by Michael Nwah, where he observes that Nigerians have “endured through various regimes, economic challenges, and other adversities.”

Education has played a fundamental role in fostering resilience among Nigerians. Firstly, it has empowered individuals with essential knowledge and skills, enabled them to tackle challenges, make informed decisions, and seize opportunities, ultimately building self-belief and agency. Secondly, education has promoted critical thinking and problem-solving, and equipped Nigerians with the ability to analyse situations, identify solutions, and adapt to adversity. Education has helped broaden horizons, and instil hope and optimism for a brighter future, while it has also nurtured personal growth and development, enhancing coping mechanisms and stress management.


The Duality of Resilience

Historically, Nigerians have demonstrated their resilience through various means, whether through civil protests, resistance to oppressive regimes, or simply by their unwavering hope for a brighter future. This historical context of resilience, deeply embedded in the Nigerian experience, sets the stage for understanding the paradoxical emotions of contemporary Nigerians as they navigate their nation’s complex socio-political landscape.

While the historical backdrop of Nigerian resilience is compelling, there is a duality to this strength that is intricately woven into the fabric of the nation. This duality is most prominently articulated through the concept of “resilience fatigue,” a phenomenon explored in the BellaNaija article by Michael Nwah, titled “Are Nigerians Experiencing Resilience Fatigue?” The notion of resilience fatigue resonates with many Nigerians who have long navigated the intricate web of socio-economic challenges and political turmoil.

In this duality, there is a struggle faced by Nigerians, who, as Michael Nwah notes, are often burdened with the constant need to appear strong, motivated, and positive in the face of ever-mounting adversities. The prevailing perception of Nigerian resilience can inadvertently lead to the internalisation of stereotypes, perpetuating the pressure to maintain an appearance of invincibility. This enduring facade can take a toll on emotional and mental well-being, creating a psychological burden.

In Michael Nwah’s article, the call to “give ourselves permission to express a range of emotions, including moments of weakness” is an essential revelation. It underscores the importance of acknowledging the emotional and mental challenges that accompany the burden of resilience. By allowing the expression of vulnerability, frustration, or fear, Nigerians can not only nurture their emotional well-being but also forge a more authentic path toward resilience. The duality of Nigerian resilience is thus a complex interplay between strength and vulnerability.


As Nigerians grapple with their nation’s challenges and the expectation to remain resilient, the importance of recognising and addressing emotional and mental well-being is paramount. Michael Nwah’s article states, “Acknowledging and addressing emotional and mental health is an important step in navigating the paradox of Nigerian resilience.”

From Laughter to Anger: A Shift in Narrative

The paradox of Nigeria’s high ranking in the World Happiness Report, which places it as the second happiest nation in Africa, is a subject of examination. While this ranking appears to be a testament to the resilience and optimism of Nigerians, it raises a crucial question: does this happiness serve as a veil, masking complacency and hindering the demand for positive change?

As Michael Buraimoh asserts in the BellaNaija article, “Why Nigerians should swap laughter for anger,” there’s a pressing need to transition from laughter about the nation’s problems to expressing righteous anger and actively demanding change. This paradoxical happiness, while reflective of Nigerians’ remarkable ability to find joy amidst adversity, may have inadvertently contributed to a degree of complacency. Buraimoh notes that Nigerians have often resorted to humour as a coping mechanism, and this laughter has, in some instances, been an effective way of dealing with challenges. However, the danger lies in laughter becoming a substitute for action, where societal problems are chuckled at but not addressed.

Certain issues in Nigeria, such as police brutality, corruption, and the inadequacy of public services, demand an urgent transition from complacency to activism. As echoed in Michael Buraimoh’s article, “For Nigeria, it is time to take off the mask of complacency and put on the armour of activism.” This shift in the narrative from laughter to anger, constructively and purposefully, is essential to propel the nation forward. It’s a call to channel the nation’s resilience not only into enduring hardships but into confronting and resolving them.


The Mental Health Crisis in Nigeria

Nigeria grapples with a burgeoning mental health crisis, characterised by a complex interplay of challenges, reflecting not just a shortage of mental health resources but also a societal narrative that prizes resilience to the detriment of emotional well-being.

The reality is that Nigeria faces a dire shortage of mental health professionals, as emphasised in “The Guardian” article, which states that Nigeria has only around 300 psychiatrists to serve a population of over 200 million. “The only reason why they are unable to access qualitative mental healthcare services is inadequate manpower,” notes Dr. Olugbenga A. The gap between demand and available care results in about 75% of those who need mental health care having no access to it.

A significant treatment gap prevails, with more than 90% of those in need unable to access appropriate care, as underscored by Dr. Taiwo Obindo, President of the Association of Psychiatrists in Nigeria. This treatment gap results from multiple factors, including limited awareness about mental health, traditional beliefs, and insufficient facilities in rural areas. In addition, stigma and the expectation to exhibit resilience can deter individuals from seeking help. As Dr. Fisayo Adesokun notes, “A major challenge in accessing mental healthcare is stigmatisation.”

In Nigeria, the narrative of resilience can inadvertently contribute to a neglect of mental health issues. Traditional expectations of unwavering strength can stigmatise expressions of vulnerability, leading to a “resilience fatigue” and a widespread tendency to underplay emotional struggles. The high prevalence of mental disorders and limited access to care underscore the urgency of changing this narrative. In essence, Nigeria is increasingly becoming a psychotic ticking time bomb.

Religion’s Role in Nigerian Society

Nigeria boasts a diverse religious landscape, where an intricate tapestry of beliefs weaves through the nation’s culture, values, and social structures. This multifaceted religious milieu comprises traditional African religions, Islam, and a multitude of Christian denominations, shaping the nation’s identity and its response to social and political challenges. At its core, Nigeria’s religious landscape is a reflection of its rich diversity.

Traditional African religions, with their deep-rooted beliefs and practices, coexist with the world’s two major monotheistic religions—Islam and Christianity. This diverse religious fabric has played a central role in defining the collective identity of Nigerians. The influence of these belief systems extends to their cultural traditions, moral values, and social norms.

The influence of religion in Nigeria’s history is profound. Post-independence, religion continued to hold a prominent place in Nigerian politics. The role of religious institutions in shaping political narratives and agendas is unmistakable. This role is multifaceted. On one hand, religion provides hope, comfort, and a wellspring of resilience for Nigerians in times of adversity. People turn to their faith as a source of strength and solace amid challenges such as poverty, corruption, and insecurity. Faith communities act as support networks and religious leaders offer guidance in times of crisis.

On the other hand, there is a belief that excessive reliance on religion can lead to complacency in addressing societal challenges. The ongoing paradox of Nigeria’s high ranking in the World Happiness Report and its persistent struggles underscores the complexity of religion’s role in the country. This paradox raises questions about whether happiness is masking complacency and inhibiting the demand for positive change. There is a school of thought which opines that Nigerians should transition from using humour to cope with issues to actively expressing concerns and actively demanding change in areas such as police brutality, corruption, and inadequate public services.

In essence, Nigeria’s religious diversity and the historical and contemporary role of religion in society underscore its complex and multifaceted nature. Religion acts as both a source of comfort and a potential hindrance to addressing societal challenges, shaping the nation’s identity and its response to adversity. Religious leaders thus need to address areas where their messaging can be more pragmatic and beneficial to forming the right attitudes and mindsets for dealing with societal gaps.

Karl Marx’s Perspective

Karl Marx, a German philosopher and economist, once famously remarked, “Religion is the opium of the people.” In the context of Nigeria, this quote holds relevance as it sheds light on the dual role of religion in society. Karl Marx believed that religion could act as a tool of social control, used by those in power to keep the working class in check. He argued that religion not only provided solace to the oppressed but also made them more accepting of their conditions. Marx envisioned a world where, without the comforting embrace of religion, the oppressed would be driven to address their dire circumstances actively.

In Nigeria, religion is a significant part of people’s lives. It offers hope and support during challenging times, making it a source of comfort. Many individuals turn to their faith to find strength and solace in the face of issues like poverty, corruption, and insecurity. Religious leaders often play a crucial role in guiding their followers and offering assistance when needed.

However, some argue that focusing too much on religion has deterred people from confronting the problems that exist in their society. It has created complacency, making individuals less inclined to demand changes in areas like police misconduct, corruption, and public services.

A Call to Action

As we’ve explored the intricacies of Nigerian resilience and the challenges it faces, there emerges a compelling call to action. The mental health crisis in Nigeria demands immediate attention. “The Guardian” highlights the limited access to care, the high prevalence of disorders, and the treatment gap. We cannot overlook the factors contributing to this crisis, including the scarcity of mental health professionals and the impact of stigma. Therefore, we must encourage Nigerians to seek help for mental health issues and promote mental well-being.

We must foster an environment in which it’s not only acceptable but encouraged to express a range of emotions, as suggested by Michael Nwah. The first step toward change is acknowledging the problem and taking proactive measures to address it. This includes improving access to mental healthcare, raising awareness, and addressing the root causes of mental health problems. Nigerians need to reflect on the critical nexus between resilience and discontent.

The profound historical backdrop of Nigerian resilience, as individuals and communities has demonstrated the strength to resist unfavourable policies and endure hardships. However, this resilience is not without its challenges, as the concept of “resilience fatigue” reminds us of the emotional and mental toll exacted when appearing strong in the face of adversity. Nigeria’s high happiness ranking in the World Happiness Report presents a paradox.

While it might seem that Nigerians are content, we’ve discovered that this happiness can mask complacency in addressing issues like police brutality, corruption, and inadequate public services. In light of these revelations, it’s evident that a shift from laughter and contentment to active demand for positive change is paramount. At the heart of the matter lies the mental health crisis in Nigeria, a challenge that should not be underestimated. This crisis is intertwined with the nation’s resilience, and addressing it is pivotal.

Furthermore, the multifaceted role of religion in Nigerian society adds layers of complexity to the discussion. To navigate these intricate dynamics, we must balance resilience and discontent effectively. Our call to action encourages seeking help for mental health issues and taking proactive steps to address governance and societal challenges.

In the duality of Nigerian resilience and discontent lies the path to a brighter future. As we move forward, let’s seize the opportunity to create positive change, harnessing our strength to overcome challenges, and address the issues that hinder our collective progress. In unity and determination, we can pave the way for a Nigeria that is not only resilient but also thriving.

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