Conformity and mediocrity, by Isa Sanusi

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Isa Sanusi

In 1929, pipe-borne was introduced in Kano. At that time, many other parts of northern Nigeria were large swathe of bush occupied by people whose interaction with modernity was limited. According to historical records from Alkali Hussaini Sufi’s book “Musan Kammu” after network of pipes through which water was pumped had been provided, colonialist administrators noticed that people still patronize unhygienic water from wells and ponds. Subtle public enlightenment was carried out – but nothing changed. People across Kano city started cooking up a lot stories about possible impact of drinking pipe-bone water “ruwan famfo.” One of the bizarre theories was that drinking or using pipe-bone water reduces one’s faith in Allah. Some even said that patronizing pipe-bone water can get one into a tangle with ‘aljanu.’

Colonialist administrators kept pushing and went further by connecting homes with pipe bone water free of charge. Despite that the suspicion towards pipe-bone water spread across the ancient city. Colonial administrators went a step further by sand-filling wells in neighborhoods and homes where pipe-bone water was connected.

For us, in this age, this may sound strange. After all, everywhere you go now people are yearning for pipe-bone water, but it is nowhere to be found. Taps have been dry for decades in many cities and towns. Though budget for water provision is always high in every state but there is no water.

In education, the suspicion was even steeper. Western education was greeted with rejection and deadly conspiracy theories; ranging from tendency to render one from a believer to a disbeliever, to the fact that western education, some claimed, is shortest route to hellfire. Emirs then sent sons of slaves and concubines to school – perhaps to test the waters. They only started enrolling their own children when they found out sons of slaves with education are acquiring power and influence. Here we are now, in the age that parents go extra miles to educate their children. Many want their children to be educated but there are no enough schools or the cost of education is ridiculously unaffordable for many families. Where there are schools available, they are in dilapidated state, classes are crowded, with teachers without capacity to impart knowledge or shape character. In fact, the teachers themselves, in many cases, need education not job in education.

The point here is every society and people as individuals tend to resist change – real change or innovation. There are so many reasons for this and none is limited to Hausa or African societies. New things always generate questions that can graduate into suspicion. One of the reasons is people, as human beings always want to conform. They want to do things as their ancestors did. They want to stay within the realm of society’s expectations, culture and traditions. Some people view solvable problems fatalistically. People are scared to challenge thieving politicians to account for their actions; because deference to ‘bigmen’ is (sic) culturally correct. People are still afraid and suspicious of people who are not from their tribe. They trust only their own, they assume they are only safe with one of them; whether the person harms them or not. People still want to look at issues and interpret them according the endorsement of the society. People are scared to ask questions – just any questions. Therefore people swallow every rubbish sold to them by fraudsters with a mask.

The instrument that made this possible is ‘fear.’ No one can take the risk of being different. The willingness to conform is just amazing or rather unfortunate. In societies like this a year come and go without any actions or resolution of any big problem. Every year, as far as memory can capture, Cholera kills dozens of men, women and children. No planning. No serious coordination to mitigate the risks ahead. No lasting solution to poor sanitation and lack of portable water supply that cause outbreak of cholera every year – yes it is like an annual festival of death. Whenever the hottest season is here from around March, April to May there will be outbreak of Meningitis – every year. Hundreds of children will die – they die every year – since before the age of vaccines. This year too dozens of children died. These diseases have a strong relationship with poverty. Above all, these diseases continued to kill children annually because no one cares enough to take action; to say there should be vaccines next year, and provision of sanitation and clean water coupled with more enlightenment on hygiene. At least with proactive measures risks of deaths can be minimized every year.

It is a tragedy that people conform to fit-in to be accepted. Conformity is often the resort of irresponsible leaders whose failure to resolve life threatening problems is a means of amassing wealth for themselves and their families. They want things to stay as they are – at least for poor people. People are afraid to tell the truth because they want to conform to the culture of silence while terrible things that can wreck the lives of millions are going on.

The price of conformity, the kind of conformity I took us through is; mediocrity.