I always knew it but the privilege of having to live in another country in West Africa helped me confirm it beyond all reasonable doubt that we do not respect each other in Nigeria. And this lack of respect taints almost everything we do as individuals and as a country.
In eateries and bars, the disrespect is brazen for waiters or servers who some disoriented Nigerians automatically equate with call girls. In banks, clients have to be “humble” when they approach the almighty bank staff else they might spend more time in the bank than necessary. Even gatemen, as security guards are commonly referred to, always take their pound of flesh when they can. Unlike what I have seen in other climes, simple polite acts like saying “please” or “thank you” is a lost art in Nigeria probably because we feel entitled or out of frustration. The latter explanation seems more plausible. The government seems to have done a great job of frustrating everyone and we are taking it out on each other.
Let me give a detailed example of my disrespect experience at the hands of my compatriots. In 2017, I had to travel urgently to Abuja from Senegal to attend an interview. Given the short notice, I could not find an affordable direct flight. So, I decided to fragment the trip. My flight to Nigeria was with a non-Nigerian airline. The service right from checking in to boarding was impeccable. All passengers, irrespective of their perceived societal status or behaviour, were treated with respect. The service onboard was also courteous; the faces were smiling, the tone was amiable and sentences punctuated with “please, thank you, sir, madam” even when passengers were not properly behaved. I landed in Lagos and had to board a flight to Abuja, and I could not but notice the sharp contrast in service.
Right from the point of check in, the airline staff seemed to be talking to you like an idiot especially when you can not “shake body” or “drop something for the boys”. Onboard, the service was outright aggressive as the air hostesses sauntered along the cabin aisle like they were aunties attending to unruly school children. Instead of politely passing out instructions, the beautiful, yes really beautiful, air hostesses seemed to have a tight grimace on their faces while shouting out instructions “Sir, please sit down, let other people pass”, “Madam, your bag cannot stay there, remove it”. While I was onboard, it felt like they were rendering us an unpaid service…lol. Anyway, my mind was on my imminent interview so it did not bother me.
Fast forward to 2020, I have been in Nigeria for a couple of months now because of the pandemic and I see the brazen display of disrespect everywhere I turn. We do not respect each other yet it is amazing how we change whenever we leave the country. So, I guess it is a Nigerian thing.
Being polite is almost a lost art among Nigerians in Nigeria. So, the next time a Nigerian is polite to you in a bank, on a queue, or in a eatery, cherish that moment. It is a rare one!