The Boiling Frog Syndrome

a frog thrown in a pot of boiling water will jump out. However, if the frog is placed in a container of warm water and gradually heated, it will not notice any considerable temperature difference, go into a state of tranquil stupor and be slowly cooked to death.

The musical icon, Fela AnikulapoKuti, in his 1977 classic, ‘Schuffering and Schmiling’ opened the record with the lines: ‘suffer suffer for world, na your fault be that’.

Just under 50 years post-release, those lyrics and indeed, the realities of his time; including poverty, religious fanaticism, societal dysfunction, leadership crises, police brutality, career dissatisfaction, intolerance, injustice, etc. among others still hold true in present-day Nigeria.

Being a metaphor, the ‘boiling frog syndrome’ describes the failure to act against a mild situation which, in turn, increases in severity until reaching catastrophic proportions.

It is based on the premise that a frog thrown in a pot of boiling water will jump out. However, if the frog is placed in a container of warm water and gradually heated, it will not notice any considerable temperature difference, go into a state of tranquil stupor and be slowly cooked to death.

Change is hardly ever acute. Instead, it assumes a chronic manifestation- like a worm eating out the insides of an animal gradually wearing it down until nothing is left of it.

This is especially true in a country like ours that’s a melting pot of interests, beliefs, customs, faiths, ethnicities and so on.

Below, we’ll be discussing the Nigerian perspective of the boiling frog syndrome from the (inter)personal, political and institutional standpoints.

To begin, the human race owes its survival through its millennia of existence to adaptation and evolution. It is therefore unsurprising to have those instincts kick in when unfavorable conditions set in in our individual and communal lives.

We tend to explain it away or brush it off altogether but those attempts take nothing away from the impacts (in the interim and long-term) on our lives.

There’s a reason why the average Nigerian is known to have a high threshold for pain and is largely desensitized to discomfort, maintaining good spirits in spite of unsavory living conditions and expected life outcomes( Hello, Stockholm).

There’s a reason why the  Nigerian experience is characterized by reaching for new lows and rationalizing endless suffering and pain; there’s a reason why unpopular opinions are quieted and regarded as anti-establishment; there’s a reason why the Nigerian people excel at sports, entertainment, the arts and other escapist human endeavors, there’s a reason why we resort to humor and comic relief as coping mechanisms to hide our pain; why we endure toxic and abusive relationships, there’s a reason why there’s such a thing as regression to the mean.

The survival paradox, if you like.

Nigeria’s education system has been faced with a lot of problems. These include but are not limited to poor administration, corruption, and outdated curriculum frameworks. One would expect that over time, these problems are looked into, but it has only gotten worse in Nigeria. Strikes happen more often and take longer to be settled, curricula are rarely updated and the facilities are slowly disintegrating. The education system, rather than improving, has only been faced with old problems and newer ones. As a result, Nigerian children are deprived of fair opportunities to escape poverty, obtain decent jobs, and contribute to community development, making comprehensive education reform a crucial need for the country.

The law enforcement agencies that we ought to run to for help need help. Through the years, they have been faced with a lot of challenges which include corruption, poor training, inadequate resources, and politicization. Corruption has become a major problem with officers engaging in bribery and accepting bribes from criminals. Poor training has grown into an issue, leading to a lack of skills and knowledge among officers. Inadequate resources have also meant that many police stations lack basic equipment and facilities, making it difficult for officers to carry out their work. Additionally, law enforcement agencies have been politicized and used to target political opponents rather than to maintain law and order. How then do we expect an institution riddled with so many challenges to enforce law?

The World Bank’s statistics on Nigeria’s population and economic growth rates for the past decade reveal a significant story about the country. While the population growth rate has remained steady at 2.6%, the economic growth rate has only been 2.2%, indicating a mismatch between population growth and economic development. This has resulted in a reduction in the purchasing power of the Naira, leading to increased poverty. As a result, goods and services have become more expensive, forcing Nigerians to adapt by purchasing smaller sizes of commodities. A sachet of water used to be N5, but now it’s N20; a liter of fuel used to be N87 but now it’s N350, an egg used to be N20 but now it’s N100 and the list is endless.  Despite these challenges, Nigerians have continued to persevere and adapt to their changing circumstances.

Also, the political events of the last eight years can be understood through the lens of this phenomenon.

 The slow and steady decline of the Nigerian government has forced Nigerians to come up with ever more creative ways to cope with their erratic environment.  The gradual decay of the standards and honor of our political setup is reflected by pessimism and cynicism becoming the order of the day. Corruption and blatant disregard for the rule of law have come to characterize our leaders, terrorism and anarchy our lands, poverty and hunger our people.

If the duty of a government is to provide the bare minimum with which a man is to make an honest living for himself – food, security, etc. then it has failed even at that, and in fact, deprives a man of what he needs so that he cannot survive without becoming a shadow of himself.

There are things you must lose to survive in a lawless land, your morals, your values and your principles. Holding on to them only makes one thin-skinned. Thin skin means you feel the sting of the water more acutely.

In saner climes, this collapse into ruin would have been halted a long time ago, the fire would have been put out before the water boiled so to speak. Here, the perverse is normal and the government’s slide into dereliction has been justified by its citizens.

It is a sad thing to see the victims of an incompetent government make excuses for its failure. The average Nigerian is proud of his ability to withstand the heat. “It is what it means to be a Nigeran,” he says. He is happy because it is proof of his hardiness.

It becomes a competition to see whom it takes the longest to boil. Becoming Nigerian Starter Pack : A Medal in the ‘Suffering Olympics’. Regardless, the result is that he is cooked. His superhuman efforts to adapt have only served to extend his pain.

Perhaps, if he had not been conditioned to expect and withstand negligence from his leaders, that might be possible. Unfortunately, like the proverbial frog, he will adapt till he is cooked alive. The desire to expect better of its government has been stamped out of the Nigerian spirit. Adaptation to the scalding hot water of ineptitude is now the crown jewel of the Nigerian zeitgeist.

Conclusively, there must be a grand and total rejection of settling for less, of adapting to what we do not deserve, of mediocrity. This has happened before. The frogs have come together in recent memory to say “Enough is enough, we will no longer bear this heat”. Yes, during the End SARS protest.

Despite how it ended, the undercurrents which brought it about are still alive in the Nigerian people. Its spirit can be felt fermenting in our youth. It is ready to bear fruit this Saturday. Nigerians stand, as the wanderer stands above the sea of fog, on the precipice of our future. Tomorrow promises a cornucopia of rewards if we decide not to sit still.

 We should hop out while we still have the legs.

 The future we deserve is ours. All we have to do is reach out and grab it.

Tolulope Odueko, Chibuzor Okoroafor.

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