By Akin Ojumu

As hellholes go, Nigeria is a maximum-security prison. For the vast majority of the population, living in Nigeria is like being condemned to a life sentence without the possibility of parole. As the British like to say, Nigerians are doing a whole life order. Daily existence for many is extreme hard labor in a Soviet-era gulag.

Typical of those who are incarcerated, Nigerians manifest all the biopsychosocial traits of institutionalized inmates. The people are characteristically violent and habitually cruel. Anxiety and depression are common occurrences and hypervigilance is a way of life. Distasteful aggression and off-putting belligerence are the very nature of many Nigerians. 

After years of existence in the jailhouse called Nigeria, the jailbirds experience a gradual erosion of their physical, mental, and social well-being. Over the course of their imprisonment, Nigerians become defined by stress and everyday life is like being locked up in a pressure cooker. 

Overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness and loss of control over their lives, the Nigerian jailbirds pour into the miracle grounds to stretch their faith and they flock the prayer houses to pray for a turnaround. Subjugated by the jailers to lesser than human status, they eventually resign themselves to fate and accept their misfortune as their fortune.

The incarceration of Nigerians has many other serious consequences though. As their essence as persons is ignored and their humanity denied, they experience what’s called social death. This is a situation where someone is regarded as less than humans and are told they don’t deserve to be treated as humans. Although Nigerians fully function biologically and physically, they are socially dead because those who run the jailhouse called Nigeria treat the inmates as if they were dead or non-existent. 

This structural violence is inflicted on Nigerians by the turnkeys of Nigeria jailhouse for the purpose of advancing an objective. They do it to perpetuate themselves in power while they subjugate the masses to their every whim and caprice.

As if being institutionalized is not bad enough, the social death of Nigerians is a slow death that worsens incrementally. Nigerians are dying a slow death as they go about living a mundane purposeless and hopeless life. As life in them fades away, they wear out physically and deteriorate slowly. This is the defining condition of the experience and historical existence of Nigerians.

The sad thing about institutionalization and slow death is that the effect is long-lasting and difficult to overcome. After spending a considerable length of time locked up in Nigeria’s jailhouse, the inmates become accustomed to life behind bars. Lacking a frame of reference for what life is like outside jail, it becomes difficult for the released convict to shake off the mindset of a jailbird and hard for them to fit into regular society and operate like a normal person.

Every four years, the Nigerian inmates get an opportunity to be freed from incarceration. The institutionalized prisoners are paroled and released from jail. Shockingly, the captives often refuse to leave. Given the chance to have their freedom back and take control of their destiny, they habitually turn down the offer and they beg to be kept permanently in jail.

Another parole hearing day has come for the Nigerian prisoners. This is the day Nigerians get to prove they are not recidivist felons. The inmates have another chance to choose freedom or to remain incarcerated. Whether or not Nigerians choose differently this time around remains to be seen. Given their antecedents, however, I don’t expect them to want to be free. 

Call me a skeptic if you like. Me thinks Nigerians love life behind bars. The corruptive nature of institutionalization and slow death is so ingrained in the Nigerian psyche that I doubt they’ve got what it takes to choose liberty. They’ve been locked up for so long, I don’t think they know what it’s like to be free. 

But, hey, I wait to be proven wrong.


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