Nigerian, is your life really beautiful? A different way of thinking, a different way of looking at the world…

The concept of measurement is alien to many Nigerians. We are not a nation that uses data. Reality is too painful to bear. We prefer to lie to ourselves, to delude ourselves.

Every year pastors come up with slogans: 2011 (or whatever year it is, is your year of breakthrough) and a crowd of 20,000 in an auditorium respond with a chorus amen. The crowd of 20,000 is made of artisans, traders, junior and senior civil servants, entrepreneurs, oil and gas workers, captains of industry, in short a wide variety of humans. At the end of the year, 10 people climb the podium and give testimonies that they bought new cars. Or built houses. And pastor will insist that all who are present should be grateful for the “miracle” of being alive and well provided for.

The crowd focus on the stories. It doesn’t occur to them that 10 out of 20, 000 is a tiny fraction. That last year, it was 5 out of 10, 000. That the guy who bought a car is just one out of the 200 engineers and he has a first class degree that got him a job with Shell, and not one of the 5000 artisans. That the man who built a house has been saving half of his earnings for the last 10 years; not the junior civil servant whose salary has never lasted beyond the first week of the month. That only those who are alive go to church and the dead are not there to give testimonies. That it is only a fraction of those in church that are well fed. That there are countless outside who are hungry. That they have not taken an objective measurement of anything. They have only listened to stories. Stories that appeal to the emotions but that do not reflect population realities.

We are religious in Africa. We attribute life and well being to deities. Our own personal deities. As long as one Nigerian is well fed and alive, the world is at peace. He is blessed. Every other person should also pray for blessings and everybody will be blessed with long life like him. But he forgets that he is a senior banker and not everybody is a banker. There are questions we never ask ourselves.

How come it is that the world’s hungry, diseased and dying are more in the religious African countries? How come life expectancy don’t tally with religiosity? Shouldn’t the more religious countries have more people benefiting from the “miracle” of “being alive and well provided for”?

If we compare sub-Saharan Africa and Scandinavia in terms of religiosity and human development indices and in terms of the strength of health systems, the data tell us a different story. How come the strength of the health systems and social inclusion tell us more about health and longevity than religiosity on a population scale? In Sweden, Denmark and Norway, 17%, 19% and 21% of the population respectively say religion is important to them, compared to 94%, 95% and 96% in Congo DR, Liberia and Nigeria. Life expectancy for the three Scandinavian countries are 82.4, 80.6 and 81.8 years respectively, while those for the African ones are 59.8, 61.4 and 54,5 years respectively. The percentages of those living below poverty line are even messier.

There are people who plan and work hard at achieving mundane daily necessities of life and there are people who pray for basic needs of daily living called “miracles” in Africa. The results are there to see. Religious persons see health and longevity as personal favour, based on their goodness and the grace of a particular deity (there are about 5000 of them by the way), serious people see population health and longevity as public health and social policy issues, where everybody is planned for, irrespective of which deity they believe in. Therein lies the difference between those who have a personal, fatalistic and parochial view of well being and those who take a pragmatic, rational and population approach to well being and longevity.

Summary: we must learn to think in numbers and statistics. “The population life expectancy in Nigeria is 55years compared to Sweden’s 82 years” (for example). Not “my father was in church yesterday to celebrate his 100th birthday, so God is faithful to Nigeria”. Similarly, we must stop saying “your case is different in Jesus’ name; when others are dying at 50 years, you will live to be 100 years” (only monsters should think this way!) but ask ourselves what we can do about our social policy and health system to increase the percentage of our elderly who live to 100 years in good health, irrespective of the deity they believe in.

That is how normal humans think.