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Wèrè!

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‘When next you hear a man calling a woman a were, know that the woman is not mad; the man is gaslighting her. If you call her wèrè, she will not bother to go to Arò. She will begin to behave exactly the way you want: either as a real wèrè to you, a real wèrè to herself, or ògbólògbó wèrè to everybody. Eventually, everyone will shout: Lé wèrè è dànù!

I WAS passing by a street in Ibadan when I heard a woman speaking to a goat in the Yoruba language:

Ìwo ewúré yìí, a bó e tí tí, ò gbéra so.

I fed you, this goat, all the time, but you did not grow!

Probably not understanding what the woman was saying, the goat opened its eyes wide and used its legs to scratch the ground.

I don’t know the answer the woman was expecting from the goat. Is it for the goat to double in size? She got angry and spanked the goat. The goat must have felt the pain, just like the woman.

“TF, are you not going to say something?”

“Say something?” No, I don’t waste time responding to comments and small talk, the ejó wéwé. I won’t reveal my side on issues. The secret of my life is that I don’t have secrets! Keep talking. I accept what you say, dismiss it in my mind, and move on to my next assignment in life. Perhaps, to wonder why I ever met you in the first instance. Of all the billions of people in the world, why you? 

In Nigeria, where you live, no one is guilty of anything anymore. The goat is guilty of not adding more flesh for the woman to slaughter and consume. It is the other person who is always guilty. Your government thinks you are to blame for the country’s woes. You think it is your leaders. Even when the young woman at 19 forged her JAMB result, a former Minister said it was the mistake of JAMB. It was said that Professor Ishaq Olorode, a Muslim, was against the Christian teenager. Ó parí! The Yoruba thought Bose would have the highest score in JAMB, but it turned out to be Ogechukwu. Even my people engage in a tribal war over a forged result. A state Governor lacking the capacity to solve serious problems such as that of IPOB, who closes offices and markets daily, hurriedly convened a committee of the most distinguished professors and red cap chiefs over a forged result. No shame!  

We live in a country of “gaslighters”. You caught two ships which stole your crude oil. You don’t want the Navy and the Army to be trapped in transgressions, so you quickly burn the ships and the crude oil and then blame the ship owner for hiding the thieves. Can the rich ship owner in Lagos put the oil in his ship? Orísirísi

You, reading this, engage in gaslighting. Your pastors do—you are poor because you are a sinner. What has sin got to do with being poor? The real sinners are rich! You blame the school teacher for the F grade of your son. The teacher should have changed the grade. It is not you who is responsible for your wayward daughter who took to prostitution at 19, but your neighbour who discovered a well after looking for a small cricket hole. It is not you who damaged your life; your wicked girlfriend walked into your life after it had been destroyed. Rádaràda!

You need a lecture on gaslighting. Maybe it will occur to you to stop it when you understand it. Or do you carry the head of a rotten fish which destroys its entire body? Perhaps, you have experienced self-inquiry when you set out thinking you made the right decision, but someone around you acts in a way that suggests you were wrong. Gaslighting is done often, especially by someone or people who possesses some emotional sway over you, and you start doubting your every decision, your rationality. Questions like, “Am I the bad person here?” “What if I’m truly in the wrong?” becomes a dominant part of your psychological ecosystem. My dear friend, what you feel may not necessarily result from some foul personality dimension. You might simply have been responding to gaslighting; you are being converted to a were without a medical diagnosis. 

I can give you a long list of those who gaslight me: I am the ìkà who did not allow them to jápa; the osó who did not allow them to complete their house; the àjé who did not allow their cars to work; the abatenijé who prevented their promotion; the olóríburúkú who did not enable them to publish their books; the olójúkòkòrò who added their salaries to his; the Falola Babalawo who uses jùjú to write books they had in mind to write. Now, you have examples. Let me introduce you to the idea.

Those in the academy, what you call the universities, spend what you perceive as useless time thinking. I get paid to think. Remember Tinubu, your president, telling you that he was not being asked to be a carpenter or bricklayer when he was begging for your votes? You accused him of being sick, as if you, a silly person, do not get sick. We all get sick. What we don’t all get are the good doctors located outside of Nigeria. Poor you, you don’t even have money to go to France when you have malaria. Buhari had ear problems, as we were told, and went to Europe for eight months. The Hausa “native doctor” at Agege would have cured this within three minutes of drilling the canals with a screwdriver and hitting the cochlea with a hammer. 

Your professor at the University of Lagos is not a carpenter. He can be doing his job and drinking beer at the same time. Abi? A drunk can write an essay. A long time ago, while talking and drinking red wine, someone decided to popularize the Yoruba word, o jèbi, into a theory. O jèbi (“you are at fault”) has entered our national vocabulary. Dr Uzoma Osuala of Federal University Lokoja and I were in Enugu one evening when someone told another person, “O jèbi now”. So, the word jèbi has crossed the River Niger to reach Enugu! I also heard it in Maiduguri, in the company of my late friend, Abdul Bello. O jèbi has crossed the Kanuri people to Chad. I even heard it at the beautiful Nigerian embassy in Niamey. If you understand what o jèbi means, you can understand the meaning of “gaslight.” In gaslighting, don’t look for gas or a lighter—look for the blame that will set your life on fire.

The term ‘gaslight’ gained popularity after its use in George Cukor’s 1944 movie with the same name. Starring Ingrid Bergman (Paula) and Charles Boyer (Gregory) as a married couple, the movie itself was a spinoff of the Broadway original by Patrick Hamilton, also titled Gaslight. It chronicled Boyer’s (Gregory) attempts at tricking his wife into believing she was insane so he could steal her fortune. Wèrè, Oba olè! The techniques, which now serve as a rudimentary template for understanding what gaslighting is in contemporary times, involved leading his wife to believe that the house’s dimming lights were a result of her imagination. The eventual goal was to get her institutionalized. Those who call me names want to get me to do things for them, are unsatisfied with what I have done, or want to damage my name. My failure, in their were-were, is their success!

  Today, the term ‘gaslighting’ is used in various social circles, attaining the status of a buzzword. It is common to hear it bandied around by young people with or without depth or understanding. Trust people to use new trending words to describe how they feel, whether it applies to them or not. Its popularity is affirmed by the Merriam-Webster dictionary’s acknowledgement as the ‘2022 Word of the Year. However, while this status may attract academic curiosity from linguistic quarters, beyond, its omens are far more severe. According to Merriam-Webster, the 1740% spike in searches for the word indicates growing awareness about gaslighting and a possibly high occurrence level. Ìwa wèrè!

Merriam-Webster describes gaslighting “as the act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for a personal advantage.” Elétàn! The deception, the deceiver, the manipulator. A less concise definition by the same source views it as psychological manipulation that extends over some time, the impact being that the affected person questions the validity of their thoughts. For researcher Page Sweet, it is even more extreme. She regards it as a set of attempts to inspire feelings of craziness in another person. The person sees himself as a wèrè

Wèrè lo pè mí?

Are you calling me a mad person?

Beeni, wèrè ni é.

Yes, you are mad!

You have come across one wèrè today. Iyabo and Samuel are both lovers. As of today, one of them will become converted to a were by tomorrow.  Romantic relationships are perhaps some of the most fertile areas for gaslighting. Iyabo sees Samuel as a were. Samuel sees Iyabo as an ògbólògbó wèrè. Out of the many couples you see in your church, half of them are already wèrè. Wèrè aláso. Given the emotional attachment and consequent vulnerability to the opinions of a significant other, it is not difficult to see how manipulation might come into play. What increases the potency here is the familiarity shared between both parties. Understanding another person’s character can constitute a handy tool in making them believe that they are only acting in a certain way because they are thus inclined psychologically.

For instance, awareness of a partner’s tendency to overthink or be outrightly emotional provides a straightforward path to convincing them that they are wrong and have only acted out a characteristic script. The result is doubt in the quality of one’s actions and gradual reliance on feedback from that partner. This is driven by the fear of losing the vital companionship provided by that person and can be worsened by sociocultural influences and obligations. In marital arrangements, it is substantially difficult to push back against manipulation, especially when the likely outcome is disruption of the family home and societal disapproval. The presence of children for whom a spouse finds proper parenting integral and an imbalance in the economic capacity of one partner concerning another are additional factors that extend the vulnerability.

From this, it can be deduced that women face greater exposure to gaslighting in spousal relationships, tipping the discourse towards gender. Growing up in Ibadan, I saw too many wèrès everywhere, but they were not those roaming the streets, but those the husbands call wèrè all the time. “Ìwo wèrè yìí, where is my food?” “Ìwo wèrè, kò tíì ready!”  The discrimination against women in numerous areas of socioeconomic existence doubles the risk of manipulation at every turn, and worse, there is the inability to withdraw even after recognizing it. We can expand this web to include statements we have learned to consider fairly innocuous because of our culture. Statements that explain behaviour as a simple product of gender qualifying it with remarks like “you’re/she’s a woman, after all.” The downside is that such views tend to be internalized by the victims of gaslighting themselves such that their attitudes are rationalized as birthed by their gender. Subsequently, without direct male interference to drive it across, it becomes circulated among females, establishing a degree of subservience and an idea that particular outward expressions are wrong when relating to their partners.

However, gaslighting of this nature is not restricted to African or stereotypically patriarchal cultures alone. The researcher Page Sweet documented that it exists even in liberal societies like the United States. The author described domestic violence cases, many of which relied on exertions of psychological control by the male partner. Data gathered by the National Domestic Violence Hotline in 2014 revealed that 73.8 per cent of adult female hotline callers had experienced and admitted that their partners had tried to make them feel like they were losing touch with rationality. To inquiries on whether they had been threatened with involvement of the authorities on the state of their mental health by a partner, more than 50 per cent responded in the affirmative – a discovery that bears a distinct similarity to the plot in George Cukor’s movie.

As expected, gaslighting and physical violence in romantic relationships are complementary tools. To preserve the relationship, an abuser defines aggression as a consequence of the victim’s acts. “If you had not acted that way,” “Look what you made me do,” and a variety of other tonalities are ways blame is transferred to the embattled partner. Similar responses are leveraged at a broader societal level when casting aspersion on rape victims, weaving the violation as a fault of the abused’s dressing, their overly affable demeanour, adventurous spirit, or even naivete. We can thus begin to see how embedded gaslighting is in some elementary facts of existence that are easily taken for granted.

When next you hear a man calling a woman a were, know that the woman is not mad; the man is gaslighting her. If you call her wèrè, she will not bother to go to Arò. She will begin to behave exactly the way you want: either as a real wèrè to you, a real wèrè to herself, or ògbólògbó wèrè to everybody. Eventually, everyone will shout:

Lé wèrè è dànù!

This is how marriages end: the termination of a relationship when the other person becomes a were. Gaslighting!

  In the next Part, I will tell you about àwón wèrè ibisé, that is, gaslighting in the workplace, as common as those in households. Only God knows the number of wèrè at Aso Rock, although not as many as those at Alausa in Lagos!

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