• Friday, July 19, 2024
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BusinessDay

The futility of Nigerian hyper-individualism

I realised something the other day — it took me 27 whole years to start bringing in significant returns on everything my parents ever invested in my life via education and upkeep.

It was especially poignant for me because literally the day after I verbally negotiated and agreed on the employment contract that changed my life and transformed my career, something happened that highlighted the fundamental inefficiency of it all.

After six turbulent post-university years spent doing everything from stacking shelves at Asda WalMart in New Pudsey to being owed by a video animation client on Victoria Island, I finally got the Skype call that changed everything on Friday June 2, 2017.

I was being hired as the first team member on a revolutionary political satire primetime TV show called ‘The Other News,’ after beating out thousands of applications to come first. I was even given the unique opportunity to recruit the rest of the creative team behind the show.

Nigeria is stressful

Finally, my talent as a writer and comedic genius was being recognised! No matter that I wasn’t on speaking terms with my dad, he would soon see his son and namesake on TV and in the news, and he would finally know that the £50,000+ he invested in my weird university program was not wasted money.

I would yet make something of this professional writing malarky! I would take this David Hundeyin name to places he couldn’t, and he would see me and feel proud and fulfilled even if we weren’t speaking. Daddy would finally see his favourite become ‘somebody.’ So naturally, he died the very next morning.

Within the space of 24 hours, I went from being on top of the world to literally watching my old man die in my room, on my bed.

He never got to see his son featuring every week in the end credits of a TV show watched by 2 million people. He never got to see “David I!” featured in the New Yorker Magazine and the Washington Post.

He never witnessed his own name “David Hundeyin” becoming a globally recognised name for something positive because of the results of the investment he made in his son’s life. He never even got to hear me say “Thank you for everything daddy.”

He just had a stroke on the morning of June 3, 2017, and died a painful, preventable death.

This is what individualism looks like in Nigeria — the closest place in existence to the dystopian Libertarian world of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged.” From Day 1, dad was never assisted, enabled or eased by Nigeria to do anything for his five children.

We were all born in private hospitals and we grew up effectively being our own little Hundeyin Republic in Ogudu GRA with self-generated power and water, private education, and privately-funded roads, security and street lighting.

Dad had his first child at 28 in 1979. From December 1979 to June 2016 when his lastborn graduated from university, all he did with his life was basically work to invest as much as possible in his kids’ lives.

I don’t remember him ever actually taking a holiday. I vividly remember sharing a Mercure Hotel room with him in Lomé back in 2010 during a family “vacation” and spying him hard at work close to midnight while the rest of the family lounged by the pool.

Unsurprisingly, he was also diabetic and hypertensive because taking care of his health took a distant second place to insulating his kids and wife from Nigeria.

Even when I insisted on studying my airy-fairy Arts & Humanities university program in a family where everyone else is an engineer, doctor, banker and stockbroker respectively, he still made that significant investment in my life to make it happen.

That is not to mention the other types of investment right from my childhood, like buying every edition of Newsweek, TIME, The Economist and Readers’ Digest every week, from 1994 to 2005 which gave me a solid grounding in relevant global knowledge and writing techniques.

By my estimation, dad must have spent nothing less than N65m cumulatively on just tuition fees for his children.

And all that effort and expenditure just to die exactly a year after paying his last set of tuition fees while managing diabetes, hypertension and a kidney problem.

Hyper-individualism in Nigeria is unintelligent

Despite his considerable economic acumen, dad discovered that Nigeria could make nonsense of his individualism in the most ridiculous ways.

For example, as I later learned, while trying to manage his kidney condition, he realised that most private hospitals in Nigeria generally do not — cannot — employ the most experienced medical specialists full time.

The doctors you meet at Reddington, Gold Cross and Eko Hospital are unlikely to be the nephrologists, neurologists, cardiologists or any other kind of highly specialised medical professional who have 25 years of practice experience. To get those, you would probably need to book an appointment at a teaching hospital.

In other words, after an entire lifetime spent cocooning himself in conscientious individualism as Nigeria tells us is the way forward, David Hundeyin Snr found himself at LASUTH hoping to meet with a specialist who might or might not be around on the specific day of the week they chose to be present.

While I was struggling with career stasis before joining TON and making belated returns on the massive 25+ year investment in my life, dad was struggling with the realisation that his individual hustle — impressive as it was — could only get him so far in Nigeria.

In a society where public good is prioritised over individual hustle, neither of us would have been in those situations.

In such a society where merit is treasured over individual relationships and “leg,” it would have taken a lot less than four years for someone to notice that I actually had a lot of value to add.

The folks who did notice, by the way, were Americans. If Nigerians were in charge of that recruitment process, I am 99% sure the outcome would have been very different.

In the non-individualistic society, public healthcare and education would have been such that dad would never have needed to destroy his health to send his kids to private school just to give them a chance at being internationally competitive.

A nephrologist would have been able to see him within a few hours or days, as against the appointment date he got which incidentally, turned out to be roughly two weeks after he died.

Individualism is a false god that afflicts Nigerians with a false sense of personal optimism in lieu of pursuing better collective results.

Having grown up within a reclusive religious cult in addition to being part of a private family republic governing ourselves and providing all our services to ourselves, I understand individualism to a greater depth than most people. My summary of it is this — it is a lie.

It is a cruel, unfunny joke that deceives us into thinking that it is possible to be a rich man in the village of the poor, and not be poor too.

Read also: Leadership and the unhappy Nigerians

The truth is that no matter what one achieves individually in Nigeria, one is constantly at risk and in danger. The “anyhowness” will get you.

An unfastened shipping container might fall on your car in traffic. A petrol tanker might overturn and burn you to death for the crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A simple health crisis might become a death sentence. Giving your kids a high-quality education might compromise your physical and mental health.

Heck, as recently as 2012, a plane crashed and killed hundreds of people including a friend of mine.

After initially swearing that I would never have anything to do with that airline, I later found myself buying tickets on it for friends and loved ones, because the odds of a crash became less favourable than the odds of getting kidnapped or killed during a roadtrip.

This is what Nigerian individualism is — escaping general dysfunction on the roads by taking flights using the airline that killed your friend and hoping that it won’t kill you.