Metaphor is a widely acclaimed literary tool for direct comparison. In a way, it can be described as a sacred mechanism in the hands of the gods for establishing eternal truth in the arena of comparison. When two objects are contiguously juxtaposed, metaphor is always present, uninvited. The informed mind does not need any mental elaboration to understand the nuanced provinces of metaphor. As an essential ingredient in literary menu, metaphor maintains an awed fidelity to the comparison enterprise and in this, its meaning is rooted. It will be a sheer discourtesy to invite simile, another literary tool, where metaphor is convened. Although both of them are tools of comparison, while simile is fragile and timid, which is why it must approach a beautiful maiden indirectly, metaphor is bold, daring, and direct. Therefore, by including metaphor in the title of this essay, I am interested in the direct comparison between “I can’t breathe” and the unpronounced Nigerian conditions.
The expression “I can’t breathe” directly compares to the unexpressed feelings of Nigerians induced by the conditions in their country but in different complexions. For those who may not know, “I can’t breathe” was uttered by the late George Floyd, a black American man who was killed recently by a white police officer in the US. The police officer, with hands in his pocket, had knelt on Floyd’s neck with sadistic triumph as Floyd writhed in pain, begging his assailant to save his life while he grappled with death. The white police officer didn’t let go and Floyd died facing the ground with both hands handcuffed behind him. His death has since provoked violent protests across the US and other parts of the world.
Since Floyd’s death, his last words “I can’t breathe” have come to symbolize suffering, injustice, anguish, degradation, physical/psychological brutality, and other near-death conditions. Today, the almighty US, the acclaimed God’s Own country, is in flames with a general demand for the realignment of racial relations. However, in Nigeria, while we do not worry about such things as racism, “I can’t breathe” is our subdued, collective echo in the face of different anomalies ranging from poverty, insecurity, nepotism, anaemic economy, comatose educational system, collapsed healthcare, and decrepit social structures. Unfortunately, we have unconsciously imbibed the mentality of – it is well – a common salvo of conquered, defeated consciences while our assailants continue to screw their knees further into our necks. We are suffocating under severe conditions and if our assailants do not let go, then death is imminent. When I use the word death, I do not mean the inevitable way of all mortals, rather, I refer to the gradual depreciation of our lives which also has implications for the future.
Nigerians can’t breathe because our country is suffocating under heavy debt due to constant borrowing by the present government. Recently, the national assembly approved a loan request of $5.513bn by President Muhammadu Buhari. According to Mr. President, the loan will be used to finance the deficits in the 2020 budget. Presently, Nigeria’s total debt profile is N33 trillion. Most of these funds were borrowed in the first four years of the present administration through multilateral, bilateral, and commercial loans (Eurobonds and Diaspora bonds). Shockingly, the Federal Government has also slashed the 2020 budgetary allocations for basic healthcare from N44.4 billion to N25.5billion, and for Universal Basic Education (UBE) from N111.7 billion to N51.1 billion. While funds meant for healthcare and education have been reduced, N27 billion has been earmarked for the renovation of the National Assembly.
This is the kind of inexplicable contradiction that has characterized Nigeria. With our present debt profile, the economic future of our country is in a shambles and the effect may be cataclysmic in the future. If we can’t breathe right now due to our economic situation, in the future, we may all go the way of George Floyd, this is the naked reality. I am aware that countries of the world have been returning millions of dollars stolen by the late dictator, Sanni Abacha. What was the Abacha loot used for? What is the government doing with all the borrowed funds? Into what projects are they committed? Already Nigeria is faced with an imminent recession, we can’t breathe.
Nigerians can’t breathe properly due to issues of insecurity especially in the South-East and South-South parts of the country. In these places, armed jihadist and herdsmen have occupied farms and villages, threatening to massacre the people, raping mothers and daughters, and literarily vanquishing the entire region. The governors in these regions are helpless because they want to pursue their inordinate political agenda therefore, must not offend the centre.
Curiously, the Nigerian press is not adequately reporting the level of mayhem in these areas. The minister of information, Mr. Lai Mohammed, regrettably betrayed a condemnable level of insensitivity when he said that those scoundrels in the South-East and South-South are there to do business. Nigerians in these regions can’t breathe, they are suffocating and living in febrile anxiety. Is the Inspector General of police not aware of these events? Is the Senate President not aware of these developments? Is President Buhari, Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces, not aware of what is happening within his domain? For the death of one black American, the whole world has stood still.
But for the death of several people killed in the South-East and South-South by jihadists and herdsmen, Nigerians are moving on as if those who died are not human beings. The despondency in the South-East and South-South is palpable. Their lives are currently wobbling on tentative foundations as they are smashed repeatedly by their assailants committed to achieving a determined, premeditated purpose.
Nigerians can’t breathe because the healthcare sector is redolent of decay and abandonment. Many teaching hospitals in the country do not qualify to be so considered. They are empty and lacking modern medical facilities while the government expends funds on white elephant projects that do not affect the lives of the people. The education sector, especially Nigerian university education, is a sad story to recall. Before the lockdown, all public universities in the country were grounded due to ASUU strike. During the lockdown, the education minister ordered all universities in the country to embrace online teaching but no public university could do this due to acute lack of the required facilities. Students, lecturers, and parents can’t breathe, yet government officials send their children abroad for education.
Nigerians can’t breathe, they are groaning under the knee of police and military brutality across the country. All the pleas and public outcry for the government to address issues of police and military brutality seem to be a waste of time. The federal government must realize that many Nigerians can’t breathe, they are suffocating under terrible conditions and the sooner the government reacts responsibly, the better for everyone. If the government remains lethargic and fails to react, these suffocating conditions may provoke the kind of reactions in the US and other parts of the world. Rest in peace George Floyd.
Dr. Adiele teaches in the Department of English, Mountain Top University [email protected]