Nigerians and their Stockholm Syndrome

Various commentators have blamed the Nigerian Masses for the ugly state of affairs in the country. In a society where those in positions of authority display paternalistic attitudes by arrogating to themselves the monopoly of wisdom that they are always right, prominent lawyers under the aegis of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) have decried that Nigerians do not hold their leaders accountable. Some of the legal luminaries who spoke during the First lecture to commemorate the Anti-Land Charge 2018 protest in Lagos agitated for change. This charge comes at the heels of a culture of impunity and manipulation of the masses as willing tools in the hands of a ruthless political class.

It is essential to not that every political culture which includes elections and electoral practices shapes the fate of any modern nationstate. As such the political elite often take advantage of the hoi polloi by balkanizing them based on the fault-lines of religion and ethnicity. As perpetrators who feed fat on their victims, political juggernauts are guilty of creating an enabling environment for Stockholm syndrome which conditions victims (citizens) to bond strongly with those who have put them in that condition (poverty).

Psychologists define Stockholm syndrome as the response of a captive by identifying closely with his or her captors with their demands. The relationship is initially created when a captor threatens the life of a captive and chooses not to kill him or her after much deliberation. Usually, the captive feels relief at the removal of death threats and begins to develop a feeling of gratitude towards the captor for saving his or her life. In the face of a kidnap, it does not take long before a connection develops between a captor and a captive. Soon, the victim’s desire to survive overtakes the desire to hate the person who created the situation in the first place (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2021).

Stockholm syndrome derives from a botched bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden which occurred in August 1973. The incident involved four workers of Sveriges Kreditbank who were held hostage in the bank’s vault for six days. An apparent incongruous bond developed between the captives and captors. While on a telephone conversation with the Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme during the standoff, one of the hostages revealed that she totally trusted her captors but was afraid that she would die in a police assault on the building.

At the heart of Stockholm syndrome is survival instinct. In a country which now bears the title of World Poverty Capital, victims (the poor masses) often live in perpetual dependence and translate rare or little acts of “kindness” by politicians amidst horrible conditions of extreme poverty as benevolence or good treatment. Perhaps this is why politicians are often protected, defended and decorated with traditional titles even when they do not deserve such. Once you dare criticize a political leader, his or her kinsmen plus those of the same religion would be up in arms to protect that person. “The syndrome is marked not only by a positive bond between captive and captor but also by a negative attitude on behalf of the captive toward authorities who threaten the captor-captive relationship” (Encyclopædia Britannica, 2021).

Unknowingly, Most Nigerians are hyper-vigilant to the needs of their captors (politicians) by developing psychological links between the happiness of their captors and theirs. Like one scholar opined, “While the political gladiators constantly manipulated the people and the political processes to advance their own selfish agenda, the society remained pauperized, and the people wallowed in abject poverty. This invariably led to weak legitimacy, as the citizens lacked faith in their political leaders and by extension, the political system” (Ejimabo, 2013).

Like a kidnap victim, the Nigerian masses have suffered the ravages of poor infrastructure, moribund economy and extreme poverty. Yet most people absolve the leadership for such by bonding with them. By so doing, the polarized citizenry is not able to form a robust synergy towards salvaging democracy from political buccaneers. For the most part, the last nail that hit the coffin of EndSARS agitations was occasioned by Stockholm syndrome. By dividing the masses into “Us” versus “Them,” the elite have exculpated themselves from all wrongdoing. They now enjoy a cozy life while their lieutenants remain active foot-soldiers ready to protect the queen-mother.

In Kidnapped Democracy: How Can Citizen’s Escape? Freenstra Ramon (2020) decries that: “A significant part of the population, while certainly not the entire population, seems to be complacent about today’s kidnapped democracy. It is as if they have surrendered themselves emotionally and given themselves up to their captors.” The Moral Philosopher further asks: “How many voters, even those aware of their captivity, justify their kidnappers’ decisions? How many brush off austerity policies with a simple “it’s just what has to be done”? And how many economic and political leaders are paradoxically received as liberators of a population?” Truth is, the situation in Greece is not any different in Nigeria.

Civic education and synergy on the part of the citizenry are crucial to reducing the Stockholm syndrome. “Unveiling and demonstrating with evidence the extent to which our democracies have been kidnapped is necessary, not least to promote public reflection on the problem. But the key to renewal surely lies in new democratic mechanisms and forms of citizen participation that are capable of ending the concentrations of power that are kidnapping our democracies and victimising their citizens” (Ramon (2020). Those who are content with interpreting the Nigerian reality in terms of religion and ethnicity must have a rethink. Unless we clearly distinguish between perpetrators and victims and seek the path of truth, justice and peace, we would remain eager instruments in the hands of cruel power mongers. God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!

Fr. Dyikuk is a Lecturer of Mass Communication, University of Jos, Editor – Caritas Newspaper and Convener, Media Team Network Initiative (MTNI), Nigeria.


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