Need anyone be surprised that, out of 140 countries, Nigeria was ranked the 95th happiest nation in the world and the sixth in Africa with 4.981 points, according to the latest edition of the World Happiness Report? Ordinarily, a report of this nature may seem trivial because of its perceived distance from hardcore political and economic matters.
However, when one considers the fact that the physical and mental well-being of people in a nation is intrinsically connected to their socio-political existence, the import of this report would register properly in the minds of political leaders and opinion molders.
The report, which was recently released by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, is a significant revelation for the country. By this latest ranking, Nigeria seems to have justified its stagnancy in the last 15 years, at the bottom rung of the happiness quotient. How is that so? Since 2014, when the super religiosity and unusual level of optimism of its people took Nigeria to the top, Nigeria has shamefully never made it to the first 50. In 2015, it ranked 78th, in 2018 – 91st, in 2019 – 85th, in 2020 – 115th and in 2021 – 116th.
Woeful though it is, this year’s report not only mirrored the precarious state of the nation at the time of the study, but also provides an alternative testimonial to the ostentatious self-eulogy with which this administration has adorned its ill repute.
In the last few years, Nigerians have been pulled further apart by rhetoric of hate and suppression fuelled by religious intolerance and ethnic crises. They have been pushed to a breaking point where resilience and the Nigerian spirit no longer count.
In a country where criminals, who kill helpless Nigerians are given state protection, where justice is sold to the highest bidder or brought at the price of blackmail, where leaders are insensitive to, and unperturbed by horrendous massacres of its own citizens, and where government’s perceived inaction creates ill-feeling amongst its citizens, citizens are unlikely to find happiness.
Consequently, this report is not surprising for it reflects the true state of affairs.
Certain critics and pundits have questioned the rationale of happiness being rated at all. Some, in reducing happiness to subjective levels of positive emotions, have argued that it is private affair that is different from one person to another, and hence may not be measured. Others have also discredited any survey on happiness as an unjustified scientific exercise since happiness is a state of being that is in process and is concerned with various values.
Overlooking the abstract nature of the concept, there are obvious indicators by which the quality of people’s life and the state of their existence could be analysed. For instance, the reports on world happiness are aimed at influencing government policy with data accrued from Gallup world polls, real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, healthy life expectancy, corruption levels, and social freedoms. Suffering, anarchy, chaos, pain, poor living standards and all that cause unhappiness make sense to people not only because there exist obvious opposites with which to compare them, but also because human beings conceive of a maximum on the basis of which this comparison is possible.
Therefore, although happiness is considered a trivial issue owing to the simplistic presumption that it concerns only personal affairs, it is a very important indicator of well-rounded social stability and existential well-being. By predicting positive outcomes in terms of mental and physical health, happiness makes people better in that it provides positive space for people to thrive. With a positive environment to thrive comes increased confidence in investment possibilities, conviviality in socialisation, a high sense of fellow-feeling and political stability.
The idea of happiness as an indicator of well-being and optimum existence may not be unconnected with the ethical philosophies of Western thinkers down the ages. One influential theorist on happiness was the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, who, in his Nicomachean Ethics made happiness the ultimate purpose of human actions. Centuries later, British philosophers, Jeremy Bentham and J. S. Mill would ‘utilise’ distilled principles of hedonism as a demographic calculus for happiness, and put forward one of the most popular ethical theories known as utilitarianism.
Whether Nigerians’ understanding of happiness coheres with the postulations popularised by these Western philosophers is a different matter entirely. What is evident in the state of affairs in country is that there is an abysmally low quality of life propelling negative emotions and outcomes.
The revelation relayed by this finding is a warning of intended doom. At the time the survey for this result was carried out Nigeria had not descended into the depth of social precarity and imminent chaos it finds itself presently. The low life of impunity exhibited by political leaders prior to the elections, the anguish of cashless slavery to which Nigerians were subjected and the uncontrolled invocation of religious and ethnic differences trailing the elections, all compound Nigeria’s infamous dismal record of insecurity and economic doldrums to project this country as one humongous space of anger and discontent.
Today, except for free-wheeling profiteers in the establishment, Nigeria’s uncanny optimism has been replaced by mass resentment; its admirable resilience has been re-channeled towards self-seeking projects and clannish agenda. Nigerians can no longer cope with the negative emotions dispersed by its institutions and environment. Indeed, the probability of a bleak future charged with acrimony and frightful hopelessness seems to await Nigeria. The implication is that should another survey be carried out, Nigeria may plummet further in the Happiness Index.
Notwithstanding the position, Nigerians should not be hysterical over this report, for the Happiness Index is not a competition or a sport in which prizes are won. Managers of human resources at both the private and public sector should see this as an opportunity for calm introspection. While Nigerians may not need to cultivate positive emotions just to climb up the Happiness Index pole, they need, however, to rejig their capacity for coping well amidst challenges in order to flourish and expand the space for national well-being.
If the Nigerian government cares, it would use this report as an ad hoc worksheet to address lapses in the quality of life of Nigerians. It will be able to see forces dragging the rest of the country down to a state of subterranean existence.
Leave a Reply