When this word 'tufiakwa' is uttered, it is usually accompanied with sighs, tightly folded arms, heavy breathing, an almost violent jerk of the neck and shoulders and there could also be the intense snapping sounds of fingers, depending on the severity of the anomaly. The faces of the observers, accusers, critics, analysts, judges, Gbegoruns, Amebos always seem to be in some trance that levitates and traps their bodies in the bubble of the offender's iniquity or the wonder at how anyone at that, would give in to such debasement. Regardless of their positions in the country's socio-cultural, economic and educational strata, that trance-like look on their faces always shares striking similarities. And these shared similarities transcend widened eyes, opened mouths, pursed and pushed out lips that mimic a duck's beak and the consequent sucking sounds that follow, to one of a heated-ness that has the effect of sobering the offender to a state where he does not feel guilt for the crime that has been committed, but for a graver and more sinister one, that he fails to grasp, but his accusers, the Tufiakwa spitters, fully understand.
Though, the word has it's many equivalents-God forbid, Olorun ma je, Abasi Mbo, Jesus is Lord, Wonders shall never end and the very un-razz and still dismissive 'that's just sick'-that have become even more popular than it, it still retains its strength in its condemnation of anything that non-conforming to standards, that have come to be accepted and placed on a high pedestal. A pedestal that people in society strive to reach, even if they have to resort to hypocritical acts.
Having given background information-which might be meaningless info.-on the Nigerian word 'Tufiakwa', I proceed to the main point of this post, which tries to delve into the Nigerian People and our reaction to non-conformity. I will not try to fill this post with the obvious of how the Nigerian society is a conforming one,that sometimes inhibits individuality, but I will ask questions, that hopefully do not end up sounding too rhetorical.
I have always being perplexed, back in Nigeria, with how everyone seemed to be chasing the same things all in the bid to reach some acceptable level or attain success in society-success that seemed so uni-dimensional. To my young mind, it was surprising that diversity in the way people thought and approached life was almost non-existent. I still find myself asking if it is our sense of community or the ease with which we form tribal and gender-specific camaraderie, that makes us feel that we have to live our lives conforming to community or having to meet up to societal expectations of success. And when people do fail to meet up, they become topic of our side talk, something for us to look at with condemning awe. It is remarkable how Nigerian communities even in different parts of the world continue to live by or even create rules, values and moral obligations that sometimes streamlines them. And this communal action of creating sets of values also take form in young people setting up these expectations around themselves that they must meet in order to gain some kind of respect. Is it not alarming the motivations-Plasma screen, Lamborgini, house in South of France-young Nigerians have when choosing careers or the things they want to do? We also have the religious sort, that would even live by doctrines extreme than those in their holy books. Hence, they have to and expect others to conform to these set of values that sometimes remain unreformed. And it is not hard to find scenes of Nigerians reflexively changing who they are, when they get into their community. It is even deemed reasonable that one compromise oneself, in order to fit into community, society at large and consequently reaching that high pedestal.
Sometimes I feel that individuality and nationalism are so opposing, and can be likened to oil and water. There is that feeling that it is impossible for one to represent society, without compromising self. Does it mean that if one is to lead life, knowing that one is but responsible for oneself, and still carry out the selfless task of representing ones society, people or history? Can one truly define ones core identity without referring to one's nation (especially if it does not fully support ones dreams)?
In contrast, there is that part of me that believes that one can still be as individualistic as one chooses, without compromising oneself in representing one's background. There is that part that feels that referring to nation, background and history, when trying to define oneself does not tamper in any way with individuality. So what is stopping me from being nationalistic, without compromising myself? Maybe I have a problem with the way my country reacts to non-conformity, because my self, my core seems so out of place in the scheme of things. Sometimes, I feel that if life in Nigeria was to be likened to a novel, people, that I love and claim to love me, would become antagonistic to me, not for some intrinsic vileness in them, but for the reason that my core contradicts their beliefs and convictions. Yes, this might be the reason why I find the need to use the colloquial "Tufiakwa" to allude to our reaction to anything different, the reason why I feel torn between being the 'true Nigerian' or being my true self. Finally, I've come to reconcile all this, knowing that if I'm to lead a life not filled with mediocrity and compromise, I'll have to disappoint and confuse some people-and maybe live outside the shores of Nigeria.