What Failure Looks Like in Nigeria


Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it is only with yourself.
– Mary Schmich

Failure in Nigeria is an arbitrary set of rules written in shifting sands.

It is the 35 year old man earning N200,000 a month, driving an SUV but still living with his parents. The women he brings home rarely stay in his life after that first visit; they had not counted on a tête-à-tête with his mother. They get rid of his smell by slowly ceasing contact.

It is the 35 year old woman, unmarried and living on her own. Self sufficiency has been hard won but it is placed beside and cannot stand up to the rules. She is asked continually: “Where is your second half?” even though she insists that she is whole.

Were these two people to swap gender, they would be people on the cusp of success. The self sufficient ashawo becomes a successful young man in his prime, with a set-up home and a woman shaped hole waiting to be filled. The loser who lives with his mother becomes the woman waiting patiently for her mate, doing the right thing by staying under her parents’ roof until she can exchange one roof for another. The voices would say their time has just not come.

Failure in Nigeria is the married woman whose time came but still has no children. She swallows concoctions and judgements and prays for her body to be filled with life instead. But the years pass and she does not hold smooth tiny feet in her palms. Failure is a mother knowing but not heeding the rules. She has given birth to four girls in quick succession and is yet to produce a male child. Her five girls might as well not exist. They just aren’t enough.

Success is having money, no matter the source of acquisition. The senator who returns theGhana Must Go stuffed with cash, asking his sons to carry it back to the pickup truck making the rounds in the legislative quarters is not a success. The crowds in his living room begin to thin out as the news of his drying bank account reach them. He has not stolen enough to last him to old age. He is a mugu. Success is, however, the politician walking down to cast his vote in the senate chambers, cheered on and applauded by his peers because he has successfully escaped the arm of the law. A multitude of sins are forgiven when you have the notes to mop up the stains.

Failure is not burying your father in a newly built mausoleum in the village. Living in the city, it is one you can ill afford and will not live in; a white elephant project which may never be completed. This half formed failure is an emblem of your success. It is the least you can do for the man who trained you. Success is good home training. Bend your children to fit into boxes they were not made for. Stifle their curiosity, they must not be seen talking back. Give away the library of books they painstakingly acquired. Thinking outside the box is taboo. It has always been done this way but we wonder why great dynasties are not built.

Failure is a blue collar job. The taxi driver who ferries successful white collar workers around. They cannot afford to have a full time driver but refer to him as ‘my cab guy’. He makes double what they earn but with half the respect. Dignity of labour and dust covered degrees cannot close the gap between a desk and a dashboard.


Failure is not being able to speak your mother tongue. They say you preferred the tongue of the white man from childhood, as if you stuffed your ears against the sounds of your mother speaking, willfully emerging as an adult who has little or no ties to her tribe. Failure is speaking English with your mother tongue. The treasured becomes a liability when your words are tinged with tribal tones. Your R becomes an L, your H turn to Os and your perceived intelligence drops. You, and disabled people, provide the material on which hundreds of comedians build their livelihood on. This is a sort of success I suppose. In Nigeria.

Happiness is the fortunate person who does not chase after what others have deemed successful. He weighs failure and deftly crafts the rules for himself. Content, he does not whittle his time away trying to write on grains of ever shifting sands. The race is long and in the end, it is only with yourself.


Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight cc

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *