Killings in Nigeria – Our Business and The Theory of Learned Helplessness


As I sat with a bottle of Heineken to watch the Nigerian match against Argentina, a day after 200 people were killed in cold blood. I had no feelings whatsoever for those killed a night before. I also felt no form of heartlessness, no one around me in the hall did too; also, not a single player in the Nigerian match we watched wore any black ribbon to commensurate, not me too!

How did we get here?

Answer: same way Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Palestine, Somalia and the Gaza Strip got here.

The psychological theory to postulate why we have become immune to killings in other part of Nigeria, is called Learned Helplessness. That powerful concept in psychology is now our reality as a nation.

Learned Helplessness – a feeling of numbness, or mute or of low expectation as a result of repeated experiences of near misses to us, or past experiences of defeat, past occurrence and repeated failure.

In business, it’s the same reason why badly-behaved staff are still in our organisation. In Kano Model in MBA school, I am thought that it’s how performance curve drops to MVP (Minimum Value Proposition) till bad customer experience becomes normal. It’s how bad leadership also became normal in Africa.

This is why every time you cover your nose after a smelly garbage truck passes you or your car, if you open your eyes alongside your closed nose, you’d always find people who work with those trucks on top of that smelly truck unconcerned. They are sometimes eating or having a gist on top of what is grossly smelling to you. They just seem to not smell it anymore. Nigeria is turning to that.

Canadian psychiatrist, J. T. MacCurdy, in his book The Structure of Morale postulated this using the effect of the consistent bombing of Britain during the Second World War and the cushion effect on the psychology of the British People.

Let me break it down: years running up to the beginning of the second world war the British government was extremely concerned that in the event of hostilities breaking out, the German Luftwaffe would launch significant attacks against Britain and especially London. With an estimated 250,000 casualties in the first week alone, the consensus was that millions of Londoners would either riot or flee, leaving the industrial war engine to grind to a halt. Several crowd and trauma control mechanisms and psychiatric hospitals were even set up on the outskirts of London to handle the huge numbers of casualties psychologically affected by the bombing.

History tells us this was not the case. People took it better than envisioned when the bombs started hitting, despite horrific numbers of casualties and extensive damage to homes, property and businesses throughout London. It’s the Theory of Learned Helplessness at play!

Naturally in psychology, frequency of evil takes away shock. It makes us immune. It takes away humanity.  It replaces it with a culture of cushion.  This is why people still live close to Sambisa Forest or the Gaza Strips. They have subconsciously built a culture. And culture in social studies is defined as the way things are done around here.

People are bombed and killed every day, and having, seeing or being aware of it more becomes inversely proportional to shock. It’s a very strange place to be as a nation. It takes an effort to get off that trap. And we are getting deeper in it, especially in this world where Twitter helps us find a new topic or hashtag that trends to distract our woes. We have to consciously prioritize what should trend in our hearts, a call for change.

Whenever we hear of a killing, a massacre or a bomb blast, we have empathy. But the more we hear of it more often, the less we begin to feel that way. We begin to feel less concerned. Learned Helplessness begins to creep in.

Strangely, the more the blast, the more we feel more invincible! We don’t need to do anything different at all, because we are survivors!

It’s a strange phenomenon.

How does these massacres get to you; as a Direct Hit, Near Miss or Remote Miss? Why you are less concerned and more confident it won’t hit you than you should be.

Every time we are not breached, we become more confident that we will not be breached and become over confident and convinced we are having the time of our lives doing great stuff in this cold world and not being breached. Let’s hope that bomb or Herdsmen Killing doesn’t drop too close to home to burst that bubble. Learned Helplessness is a trap. It reduces our view of the world to self. If it doesn’t concern us directly, then we care less. And then it reduces self eventually to death. In the words of Marie Curie, “each of us must work for self and his own improvement, and at the same time share a general responsibility for all humanity”. This is the real life. Anything else is death while still alive. We begin that death when we begin to lose our sense to feel. In the words of Horace Mann “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity”. What victory for it are we winning in Nigeria when we lose our senses of feel.

As a nation, we have to get off it. It takes inertia, a conscious and intentional force to get off.  We should do much more to find our humanity. We should demand for order. Learned Helplessness makes things like order, humanity, compassion and a call for personal excellence look like luxury.  Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive. I personally feel so. Take the precautions now too, let’s reach for inertia, take the threat seriously, and do what you can now, before it is too late. Humanity, peace and a sense of protection through accountability should concern us all.

Eizu, ©Hexavia!

Strategy. Business Start-ups and Corporate Restructuring. Projects. Training. Consulting


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.