In the late 1980s, a weakening of the naira, coupled with high inflation, unemployment, and poverty increase, forced Nigerians to seek escapism. In search of hope and solace, Nigerians embraced a Pentecostal movement that propagated the ‘riches of the gospel’ and the ‘abundance of God’s grace.’ Before anyone could bat a lid, orthodox churches had lost thousands of young members to these charismatic Pentecostal movements.
Not only did these churches provide a level of escapism for their new members, but they also provided a community where members helped each other out of difficult situations. It was a masterstroke where everyone won. There was an astronomical growth in membership for the Pentecostal churches that saw their popularity travel abroad. For the new members, they had a community where they could lean on, a place where they could ‘dance away their sorrow,’ and a place that gave them hope. Interestingly, society was the biggest winner as these churches provided a coping mechanism for citizens who would otherwise have stirred unrest.
Three decades after, it would seem that Nigeria’s current leadership is bent on taking the country back into the wilderness of the 1980s. Asides high level of corruption and government incompetence, Nigerians have to deal with widespread insecurity, record unemployment, massive poverty, inflation, abysmal power supply, and the rising cost of living. All of these while the first family takes personal and medical vacations abroad without any empathy for the challenges ordinary Nigerians face back home. Not to mention other elected leaders and public officers brazenly flaunting their ill-gotten wealth before the Nigerians without any accountability or credibility.
In October 2019, Jeffrey D Sachs argued in an article for the Project Syndicate that “economic growth without fairness and environmental sustainability is a recipe for disorder.” He noted that despite Hong Kong, France and Chile having relatively decent economies, those cities were rocked with several protests and riots because citizens were dissatisfied with an extradition bill (in the case of Hong Kong), a fuel tax (in France), and higher metro prices in Chile. Hence, if rich countries with a per capita income of $40,000 and $60,000 can riot over fuel taxes, how can a relatively developing country like Nigeria, with a corrupt political elite and a dysfunctional system, cope with all the hardship thrown at its citizens?
Astonishingly, Nigerians, especially middle-class Nigerians, haven’t reached their breaking point. How can people take so much dysfunction, hardship, and incompetence all at once without going over a cliff? The only rational explanation for this irony is that Nigerians have found a better coping mechanism.
Today’s Gen Zs are not as religious as their parents were in the 1980s, so they aren’t necessarily trooping into churches to paint a new reality for themselves. Instead, they find other routes of escapism via tick-tock, Instagram, and YouTube. These kids could care less about what makes the National dailies’ front page or what stories are covered by significant broadcast stations. They would struggle to name five ministers in the current administration even if a gun was held to their head; neither could they be bothered about who becomes the next president. As long as they can banter about their favorite musical artist or football club, laugh over a Mr. Macaroni’s comedy skit, they will find a way to cope, at least until they can ‘japa.’