Respect is a word every Nigerian born in Nigeria or brought up by Nigerians hears on a daily basis.
The dictionary defines respect, "as a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements".
But in Nigeria, this definition holds no ground as respect is seen as an act, and not an emotion.
There is an obsession with the public show of respect in Nigeria.
Kneeling to greet in public, or calling someone two years older Aunty/Uncle, is more important, than how you feel towards the person.
Being polite and submissive all in the name of respect, is highly praised and considered a show of good manners, even if it is purely performative and brimming over with the hypocrisy that is so prevalent in Nigeria.
As a Nigerian child, there is no room to talk back especially in public, you are not allowed to have conversations or even arguments with your elders because the elders will shut you up by yelling at you, calling you names and sometimes beating you up.
Our “Respect Culture”, is part of the reason why Nigerian children today are wary of holding conversations with their elders, including their parents, as any slight disagreement can be seen as a challenge.
In the name of respect, a child sometimes endures emotional abuse from various elders around them.
Children are forced to kneel down or lie down on floors to greet their elders and family relatives, and some are forced to accept and condone hurtful jokes and comments about their weight, height, academic achievement/underachievement, marital status etc. because they have to seem respectable.
Left –handed children are constantly verbally and physically abused, and sometimes forced to learn to use their right hand, because giving a person something with your left hand is considered disrespectful in our culture.
The obsession with respect in Nigeria goes far beyond the home.
Over the years, working professionals have been known to kneel down publicly to beg their supervisors in apology for missteps they may have made, or to keep their jobs.
And sometimes, these supervisors, because of the privilege of being superiors, take advantage of this deference culture and abuse it.
For example, back in 2017, players of Rivers United FC prostrated before Gov. Nyesom Wike to beg for their unpaid backlog sign-on fees from the 2014/15 football season. Another example is a month ago, when the captain of Nigeria’s Falconets had to kneel to collect their earned money from the sports minister Solomon Dalung.
People are constantly expected to not react to disrespect and abuse from their elders/superiors, because the belief is as a young person/worker, you can’t be disrespected you can only be disrespectful.
This culture of deference ingrained into our psyche from a very young age, teaches us how to accept our abuse with silence, because as a young person/ worker you are not allowed to speak up.
It is an enabler of abuse as it forces victims of verbal, physical and emotional abuse, to keep quiet and accept/condone abuse so as not to seem disrespectful.
Words by Eugene N