Page last updated at 09:36 GMT, Wednesday, 24 February 2010

African viewpoint: Suffering and cursing


In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Sola Odunfa considers whether Fela Kuti's song Suffering and Smiling still rings true for Nigerians.

You have to live in Nigeria to get a feel of what it really means and takes to be resident here.

Reading media reports or watching TV does not and cannot convey a vivid picture of the suffering the people are undergoing.

The late music icon Fela Anikulapo-Kuti said that Nigerians were Suffering and Smiling.

They laughed and danced to the throbbing Afrobeat rhythm.

That was more than a decade ago.

Hot air

Are Nigerians still suffering? YES.

Smiling? Definitely NO.

We have not had light for three days now and our generator has broken down
Sola Odunfa's sister

Even the parasitic politicians in the capital, Abuja, can no longer afford to smile, at least not outside their homes.

I phoned my younger sister on the outskirts of Lagos just before I sat down to this letter. Normally the question "How are you?" would elicit the response: "Thank you, we are managing."

But times have changed.

"Bros," my sister said bluntly, "things cannot be worse-o! God will punish all those people who have brought this suffering on us. They and their children will not..."

I interrupted: "Ah sister, curses? You cannot do that. Have you forgotten that we are in Lent?"

man fills his truck with fuel bought in a jerrycan to avoid long queues of vehicles at a Lagos petrol station
Nigerians are sick and tired of fuel and power shortages

"Bros," she retorted, "I could not sleep last night and the night before. At about two o'clock my daughter came into my room. You know she needs to sleep well at night to be able to leave for work by six in the morning, but when she came into my room sweat was streaming from her neck. I too was fanning myself with a magazine.

"We have not had light for three days now and our generator has broken down. The air from outside is hot.

"Bros, I must confess to you that for about five minutes last night my daughter and I were competing for curses on this useless government."

Working late

If only she knew that there was no electricity in my area all through last month, not to mention the nationwide fuel scarcity which grounded our generators.

Ice-cold water has become a luxury for the man in the street

And when power was, mercifully, restored it came intermittently for only one week.

Now we have electricity for one or two hours every other day.

Meanwhile the average temperature daily is approaching the thirties with high humidity.

Ice-cold water has become a luxury for the man in the street.

People are sweating both indoors and outdoors day and night. In Lagos many more residents sleep outdoors now.

An electric fan here is a non-functional piece of furniture in homes.

Office workers who have the privilege stay late at work, not because they want to increase productivity but to enjoy the air conditioning.

Even they too are complaining loudly and are raining curses on those they believe are making life more difficult for them.

Lying prostrate

Who is not cursing in Nigeria today?

Tens of thousands of young graduates are currently being released into the saturated labour market at the end of the compulsory one-year national youth service.

a scramble of power cables in Oshodi district of Lagos
Nigeria is the eighth largest oil exporter but cannot supply its people with power

They are told at their passing-out parade to seek self-employment because there are no jobs for them out there.

Self-employment without capital or experience? They will end up in the army of unemployed youths roaming the streets.

Curses, curses everywhere and by everybody.

Honestly I do not know who the targets of those curses are.

Nigeria as a nation is lying prostrate.

Wasted curses?

If we are to believe media reports President Umar Yar'Adua too is lying prostrate in Saudi Arabia where no-one, except his closest family members, has been allowed to see him since 23 November last year.

The terrible twins called Suffering and Cursing are not in a hurry to leave

They say the Nigerian leader is under the care of the Saudi king's personal security guards and no-one may see him without their permission.

So, the man seems to be impotent - curses on him are wasted.

Luck has re-designated the vice-president as Acting President Jonathan. The office was thrust on him without any effort on his part.

Nigerians will be unfair to direct their curses at him at this time. However once he has served long enough to take responsibility for the state of the nation, campaigns will be in high gear for the next presidential election.

The one-time fisherman's parents knew one or two things when they christened him, Goodluck!

In spite of all that, the curses cannot be mere hot air.

On Ash Wednesday last week, a warning rang out in churches around the country: "Those who steal and they who defraud others, God will judge."

The congregations responded: "Amen, Lord have mercy upon us."

Verily, verily I say unto you, the terrible twins called Suffering and Cursing are not in a hurry to leave Nigeria.

Thanks for your comments. Please read a selection below:

what will you say again no electricity but NEPA bills are coming every month. SOLA, cursing and smiling na be yam.
JOHNNY, kano

Sola... You've summarized our dear country and Fela was a soothsayer I'll give him that. Nigeria hasn't just gone downhill but it's now under the hill. What pains me the most is that our upcoming generation are diligently following in their footsteps. It starts from students politics, they embezzle out rightly and no one is there to call them to order. So the thought is, if I can do this now and go scot free why stop. We need to rebrand our mindset and with that arm ourselves with the right ammunition to kick those lying, thieving and corrupt leaders we have who parade themselves as martyrs.
Iyorshase Mbapinen, Makurdi, Nigeria

I have read the article and the comments made. Nobody have written lies. We pray everyday but the situation seems to deteriorate. Am a student that is scared of the Future. God help us!
Enamerherhe Donald, Delta state University

Whenever I call a friend or family to find out how they are, the only thing I hear is 'I am fine, it's only hunger', 'The heat hear is horrible', 'John was involved in an accident in Lagos-Benin express road', 'Armed robbers went to Mrs Adekunle's house', 'They found a dead body near Festac Junction'. Na wah oh. Whwn will we begin to hear good things from our relatives. This sort of thins discourage people from going back. I plan to go back home sometime, but I will delay it as much as possible.
Nocho, London

Rubbish! I can better that. My mother house had no light for almost 3 months, and yet without fail every month she received an electricity bill. When I enquired why she paid she said she was scared of being disconnected.
Sola, Beckenham, UK

I left Nigeria a few months ago to join my husband. On arrival, passing a fuel station, the first thing my 3-year-old son said was "Mummy they are selling fuel and there is no queue". In order to get him to bed we have to switch off all the lights and tell him NEPA has taken light. Everyone, including children knows what it means to live in Nigeria. But that is not the end of the road us, Nigeria is a blessed nation, God has made it so. For these blessings to be made manifest in the lives of the average Nigerian, I think we should seek the face of God and pray more for our leaders. Very difficult I know, but possible. The government has all it takes to provide basic necessities like light, water, good roads, shelter, hospitals etc. These are luxuries to the average Nigerian that curses will not provide. If God has blessed a nation no man can curse it, not even bad leaders. So let us do one thing, PUSH - Pray Until Something Happens.
Meg, San Antonio, Chile

If Fela were alive, he would have rained tons of more potent curses on our corrupt political elite. Truth - Having a conscience is extinct. Many a time, in the middle of an internet chat with friends, they seem to go offline suddenly. I get angry...They return to say it was a powercut. They remind me, "Have you forgotten?" We'd love to speak better of our country out there and not paint out some facade. Nigerians are one of the most enduring homo sapiens on the planet but for how long will these continue?
Emmanuel, Windhoek, Namibia

Why would we not suffer and Smile, Like Sola said, when fela was singing, we were dancing, we did not take it as a cue to stand up for whatever rights we had left, now look. One things if for sure, the ruling class only think of themselves, because they are taking us for granted, until we show them that we(the People) are what democracy is all about. This will all continue.
Gabriel, Lagos, Nigeria

Sola, you are doing a great job. suffring is a national anthem in Nigeria to day. My whole body has become heat rashes because of no power supply.
Thompson idagu, Lagos Nigeria

suffer and smiling went to suffer and grin, now we are close to suffer and cry.
fred, holland

The truth of the matter is that Nigerians are yet to define what they want as pretence and sentiments beclouds our sense of reasoning. To me, the worst part in Nigeria been faced with electricity problem is kano State. A place where you eat, sleep and dream of generator noise and fumes.
Amana Akoh, kano,Nigeria

Nigeria, is simply defined as land of paradoxes. First, we produce crude oil but buy its end products. Second, we die aloud yet keep silent inside. How come we swim in blessings and sweat with curses? Time is now! Talk, seriously, is cheap!
Michael Irene, London

I guess we've been cursing since the Babangida days, and it has only grown worse. Maybe we should stop cursing, mobilize people and take proper actions.
Ogundipe Olusegun, Brussels

Thanks 4 d opportunity to contribute, u see d words suffering and smiling in-sha Allah it will end one day but d truth of d matter is that d so called PDP is satanic agent have nothing to offer dis country, they all know d people that are capable, inteligent and have wisdom to govern us but they will denying them. Honestly if Baba himself i mean Asiwaju were to be giving only two years u will see that Nigeria will be better than London that we are all running to. Anyway any hw they run d affairs of dis country God will always see us through
Murtala abdul waheed, Ilobu osun Nigeria

I totally subscribe to sola view. Nigerians are suffering and smiling, fela kuti is a prophet and everything he was saying about Nigeria and It's government then were right. Fela speak for the people, because Nigerian were afraid to stand against their corrupt leaders. And because Fela was a brave man and he sacrifice a lot to the goodness of Nigerian nation. up till now nothing still work in that country called nigeria. It is only in Nigeria that people sample and sale things in high way and the authority even patronise them.
Paul Chibuzor Anyaorah, Huesca Spain

Sola, you actually write for most of African states, what ever happens during birth, that we always end up with such bad leaders. We never seem to get anything right its amazing. Nigeria produces oil and has not fuel, Kenyan leaders feast on donor money meant for children and patients. what happened to our morals?
Dee Rwigi, nairobi, kenya

I may sound like a mad man but i feel it is high time we hand ourself back to the europeans for recolonization
Abdulfatah Odua, Maiduguri , Nigeria

i refuse to agree with you sola. you are always painting this country black. mention how many people run their mouth and pen castigating their nations in the media. its only you. we are not worse than other nations.

our country has its challenges, but we will get out of it. i have faith that when the population decide to believe God and put the right people in charge things will change.

but pls we are not the only ones passing tru these challenges, Sola if i may ask you , did you have light in your village when you were born?

we must not be like europe, they did not become what they are in one year. it took years of challenges and commitment, which we dont have here in Nigeria.

i rest my case
asieco, akure, nigeria

The wickedness of our leaders will never allow them to 0ffer anything good to the ordinary man.
Dozie Aniobi, Enugu Nigeria

I agree with Sola. Now, it's 'suffering and cursing.' Next phase, 'complacency and siddon look syndrome.' Finally 'fire on the mountain, run run run' Enough is enough.
Francis, Okobo

I live in Ukraine which is nowhere close to 'MY' oil-rich Nigeria in terms of resources and abundant manpower. But since my arrival I've never seen anything like that power black-out am so used back home. Ukrainians have 'nothing' to sell to the world unlike Nigeria: but are living comfortably far ahead of most Nigerians. In as much as I want to see my parent and friends during my summer break due in July I feel discouraged.
Munzali Sunusi, Kiev, Ukraine

Sola's story gives me the creeps! It sounds like the description of the place "hell" where we are told is a place of darkness where people will be screaming and cursing. We, Nigerians, made it the way it is! If we do not like the way it is then we should tell ourselves the truth and change it.
Chigbo Mgbemene, Nsukka, Nigeria

I totally agree with Sola. Why would people not curse when the situation in the country has become so unbearable. Bad leaders, no jobs, no good healthcare service, education zero, everytime fuel scarcity. I must confess sometimes I wish I weren't born here. Our sick President is back in the country and we are waiting to know his condition. Well, maybe there's hope for Nigeria, but let it comes fast.
Annabel Okweri, Lagos, Nigeria

the man clamouring 4 good news should come down nd see if there is any good news xcpt 4 d rich livin in stolen luxury if dts good news 4 him
olaitan lanre, festac town lagos

true talk sola. Lets not say things with the pains and hatred in our hearts it can no longer get worse for it has gotten to its peak it can only get better. Imagin stayin for three month without light how worse can life be?
Vivian Onyenekwe, Imo state,Nigeria

Speak up Sola, speak up! These are the sad realities fuelling the mass exodus of skills and knowledge which we Nigerians are so capable of.

Fela sang, you write and countless other Nigerians across the global village prove why we are the Giant of Africa. Yet the irony is, a Nigerian only ever succeeds once they are out of Nigeria.

You explain the reasons for this well.

Speak up Sola because I hear you and feel this suffering of which you speak.
Sophia Binaware Clark, Pretoria, SA

Fela's shuffering and shmiling is no longer a song to our ears but the very reality before our eyes. The Power calamity ravaging Nigeria didn't start yesterday... e don tey! What baffles me is that, the president, governors, senators, ministers and even local government chairman don't sleep in darkness like the average Nigerian and they seem to get fuel readily available to run their luxury cars, jets and helicopters.... I think something is seriously wrong somewhere.
Seyi, Lagos, Nigeria

The problem is Nigerians are waiting for Jesus to come and save them from the everyday suffering. and behold Jesus is coming soon!!!! yeah right!!! well, i smell revolution around the corner.
Ladi, London

All, I repeat all of Fela's songs about the socio-economic or socio-political climate in Nigeria remain relevant. The tragedy is the conditions have worsened tremendously since he sang them. All these 'Vagabonds In Power' simply seek to lead Nigeria to her ruination at this point, but they will not succeed.
Mohammed Anjorin, Atlanta, GA

i grew up listening to fela's music and at that time it was just nice music; but now im just amazed at how true those words are; he was the greatest philosopher out that entity called nigeria; the most corrupt nation in the whole universe; i've tried to relocate back to nigeria several times and the suffering is just unimaginable; so i;ve completely given up on that suicide venture; i've resigned to the hands fate had dealt me; being born a nigerian but dying as an american; its such a shame; i'm sorry!
olugbenga awe, hinesville, ga, usa

Sola, thanks you!

The thing that makes me so sad about our beloved country is the waste. Nigerians are one of the most hard working people out there, but no resources. Because of that, we have to go and stay in foreign countries for better living and collect insults from people who depend on our oil.

How is it we have the source of power but yet very powerless?
Lomlom, Houston TX

"Hope for were" as Nigerians always says, i think if our African brothers(Nigerians) will sit down and want someone to build their country for them then i say poor them, when will Nigerians forget about the past and concentrate and present and build a better Nigeria, when will they talk as a country and forget about their tribalism and individual self benefits, when will they be proud of their country and say Yes we can do it as Ghana has done .
Massoud Abdulraman Yembone, Kumasi, Ghana

That Nigerians are suffering and cursing is no longer news. What is news is that those who we believe can turn the situation around have become a proverbial dog that breaks the bone that is hung around her neck. We need prayer in this country.
Chris Nnadi, Nsukka, Enugu state, Nigeria

kudos to baba fela. he has said it all. i see baba fela as a prophet. he saw things and he told the world about those things through his songs.

YES we are still suffering. worse than when baba fela sang this song.

NO we are not smiling that much this days. this is because the suffering is getting unbearable.

still there's no light, no house, no food, no water...
Agun 'wale Ayodeji, Lagos, Nigeria

Nigerians are total fools. we certainly deserve the suffering that has fallen upon us. we all wait for divine solution to our problems . there's no divinity anywhere. its either we are ready to sacrifice with the last ounce of blood in our vein or continue to live in the misery. . . . have a story of mine: 2day ago there was a massive queue at one of the petrol station and people were shouting at each other and there was some sort of commotion, i tried with the attendant on duty and some other people also waiting on line to get fuel, for us to reach a selling formula at least to reduce the level of disorderliness on that nozzle as we call it here. we reached an accord which is 4 jerry cans, 2 keke maruwas and a car. that was the selling formula... then sudden a 2008 prado jeep drove in, went to another nozzle and was attended to immediately. in the process i looked at every one and i started shouting that this is wrong, that this shouldn't be allowed, i tried to raise a consensus to stop the sale but do you know what my fellow Nigerians were saying leave him alone his a 'big man', his not disturbing your nozzle why are you complaining abi u bi human right activist. my heart cried. but i relented not i walked up to the attendant laid an offensive complain which i made sure the driver of the car heard.... and started shouting insulting everyone in the petrol station calling them fools. they were just staring, didnt talk, didnt act, plainly scare for nothing. i dont do internet complains and all those stupid noise making on the net, it makes no sense. the solution is action. if we want change we need to start acting rightly, we need to be the change we desire. we need to start not later, not tomorrow, we need to start now. So stop this cyber action and re-divert the energy where it is need, in the real world , where real things , real events and happenings meet at a cross-road. we are dwelling too long on this awareness train . . . !
Tolu Adams , lagos, nigeria

Electricity? thats a laugh where i live at Iju. we rarely have light, we provide 99% of our own electricity with the generating set. fuel is meant to be 65naira per litre, but the fuel attendent tells you its 80naira while the machine reads 65 naria. Its anonying when some Nigerians abroad think we are whining without doing anything, we talk and they hear us.Sooner rather than later, a revolution will take place in this Country and heads will roll.!!!!
miyaki, lagos

I remember dancing to Fela's music in the late 70s and early 80s. I spoke to my Dad this week and he was complaining that it was quite unusually hot, maybe its this global warming thing going around the world. I partially agree with him, that the changing climate might have something to do with it, also will be the fumes coming from the millions of generations running day and night due to power outages. The wrong people are trying to implement the uninterrupted power supply goal, how can managers who not experienced uninterrupted power or implemented one be in charge. What we need is experienced power professionals from Ghana, Europe, US, Asia, who have it many times before to come to ur rescue. They need to be supported by qualified programme and project managers, change managers who know how to implement change, not pen pushers in the office, who cannot manage office move from one location to another. China delivered a fantastic infrastructure for the Beiging Olmypics, London will deliver its own for 2012, SA will deliver for World Cup, Why, they used professionals from any where in the world who can help them achieve their set goals, not the Nigerian corrupt and nepotism approach. Change is coming soon through the young generation with global exposure. Fashola is using this approach I have explained above in Lagos, keep watching and you will see an amazing transformation of Lagos.
Dipo Onasanya, Preston, UK

I'm on my bed soaked in my own sweat because of d bad power supply which as bin out for 2wks...e no go beta 4 d unborn children of those in power who are making life difficult for us. amen
Yimika olabode, lagos. Nigeria

D 1st question i'll ask God whenever i see him is, why did u make me a Nigerian? A country so rich(with resources) but poor, blessed but cursed(wit corrupt leaders). A nation filled with intrigues, yet the more things change the more they remain the same. I weep for this great nation with it's handful of corrupt leaders.
Sunny amanda, Kaduna Nigeria

we nigerians are like doves - so quiet and calm. with no mother to look after us we have been taken by vultures. where do we start from?
ifeanyi chukwu anunwa, guangzhou, china

fela kuti is just a prophet. you have to be in nigeria to know how we suffer. it is not that we laugh or enjoys it, just that we have no choice. sola is right.
Elochukwu, anambarg, nigeria

Sola has said the truth, nothing but the truth. Nigerians are no longer smiling to what is going on in the country today. Everybody is trying to see that his or her voice is heard, and those in the outside world hear them. Nigeria is one of the largest producers of oil, but look at what is going on around us. It's very bad. I just want to say one thing. It might not be published, but let me just say it. To Nigeria's leaders: It's a shame, with all the natural resources we have, what have they done for the country? Nothing. All they know how to do is steal from the country and save for their unborn children. Anything that has a beginning must always have an end.
Omobhude, Port Harcourt, Nigeria

I have only one comment to make - you have spoken the mind of the teeming population.
Sola Adegoroye, Lagos, Nigeria

Fela's words are as true as hell. Nigerians still suffer and smile. Do you know of any country on earth that has vast crude oil and natural gas fields yet there is no functioning refinery? Petrol is as rare as gold, power stations go without gas supplies yet citizens smile? That's Nigeria!
Chinedu Igwe, Barrow in Furness, UK

The suffering continues but the true problem of Nigerians is our docility. We seem to think its okay to 'manage' whatever situation we find ourselves in no matter how dire. We need to stand up and soon. I wish I could type more but my battery only has an 8 hour life and I've not had electricity for 3 days!
Tome Obaro, Lagos, Nigeria

Sola, though I might not know you, your story seems similar with mine. I made the same phone call to my sibling back home in Nigeria who lives on the outskirts. All they said was it's been four days no light. The situation seems hopeless. Isn't this barbaric from our so called leaders? For years we have been clamouring and protesting for a better Nigeria, but instead they continue plunging into a deeper abyss, without human conscience. I weep for my beloved country.
Jibolajosh, Beijing, China

Smiling and cursing is an everyday slogan in Nigeria. For example, my younger sister woke up on Sunday morning to narrate to me how she fought with vampire in her dream and she woke up to discover she was in absolute darkness. Her next action was to run out of the house to curse those in in charge of government in Nigeria, by saying "e no better for people wey spoil Nigeria". So is the order of the day and so shall it be.
Ibitayo Ogunmola, Lagos, Nigeria

I agree with Sola. Everybody is cursing this useless government, but so have they for the past 30 years so it's not news at all. I would like to see a positive item of news about our beloved Nigeria from Sola Odunfa written here on the BBC, because I know it cannot all be bad news from Nigeria all the time.
Richard Orishaba, Enfield, UK

I grew up to Fela's revolutionary and thought provoking music. In one of his songs he said the cost of food was high and the general standard of living was horrendous. But then, life in Nigeria wasn't bad at all. Little did we realise that he was ahead of the game, he knew where we are heading to. He was a great man who forever live in our hearts.

Rotimi Akano-Williams, Buckinghamshire, UK

Thanks Sola, a well written truth that more Nigerians are feeling the heat now. Not everyone is smiling anymore as even the ruling class seemingly is becoming smaller and smaller in size, throwing more people into an opposition camp. People that once had power are shoved away from government - joining the general public in suffering. But the smiling is gradually disappearing as this set of people complain of the heat of hardship they face too. The ordinary Nigerian will keep smiling no matter what. "Where there is life, there is hope".
Nemi, Southampton, UK

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