He said: “Two prayer bullets are replacing them: One, Lord open the eyes and minds of Nigerian leaders to let them see the world of the led they have pauperised the way You opened mine to discover their closet. Two, Lord, let the president and governors take turns to visit me every festive occasion, bringing with them the presents they reject.”
Christmas came at the wrong time for my friend, 40-year-old Citizen Nigeriana. His singular contribution to his country is that as a poor man alienated from the good of the land, the common wealth of the land, he numbers among those responsible for the classification of Nigeria as the global hub of poverty. When I told him he has joined others to put his country on the world map, in the history books, in the forefront of the wretched of the earth, he asked if the ‘feat’ would attract a dollar or naira ‘rain’ on him the same way all the members of a gold-winning Nigerian relay team get financially rewarded for drawing world attention to their country at such major sports enclaves as the Olympic Games. “After all,” he said, without a hint of sarcasm, “what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” The denomination doesn’t matter, he adds. Any would always make a difference in the life of a man the system contemns.
Three months before Yuletide, Citizen Nigeriana told me he would take a trip to some other parts of the country to seek the proverbial ‘greener pastures’. Christmas was approaching at a pace beyond the speed he had known it for. He didn’t want it to come upon him and family – a modest troop of one wife and six children – like a ‘thief in the night’. It did in the past. He was always out of job during the period, pushing a household of seven to do without the joys of the season. No culinary excitement. No new apparel for both his wife and children. No festive mood in the apartment, a room and a parlor affair in a barracks-like structure, where the lowly are consigned to in Nigeria. There was no music that enlivened the home. It was a graveyard mood that always sent the whole home to embrace sleep early, as early as 7 p.m., even on eves of Christmas and New Year.
So, this year, my friend sought to break the annual affliction. Since he couldn’t afford the overseas ‘greener pastures’, he went for the local pastures somewhere up North and South-East. The southwest states had failed him in his quest for employment and the good life. His trade, tailoring, had also become treacherous. There was no money in the system to free up some extra for the people to patronise the tailors. What the government and private sector give their workers hardly suffices for the most basic need: Feeding to survive. How would they then attend to the ‘secondary’ cravings? By his reckoning, only the politicians and those linked to them are afloat in the country’s storms.
Citizen Nigeriana’s trip to the North of the country was a disaster. He fled back to the South on the eve of Christmas, lamenting that both divides of his fatherland had failed him. He said there was no difference between the twain. They were both killer zones that disavowed the growth, development and progress of its common citizens. He regretted leaving one evil for another. According to my friend, both threw him and his family to the dogs at Christmas.
Finally, he concluded that Christmas came at an inappropriate time, when his nation had been failing in its responsibilities to provide a supportive ambience for its people. How could he respond to the challenge of the season when he didn’t have a stable supply of electricity to work with? How would he expect business if employers dished out ‘partisan’ wages that only took care of the stomach and not of the outer concerns like clothing? “In Nigeria at the moment, you’re what you eat, not what you wear,” he says. The government, my friend argues, has driven the poor to the point where they worship the food the opulent dangle at them. He believes that only his country’s politicians and their friends and kinsmen are empowered to be what they wear and not what they eat. They can as well afford to be both what they eat and what they wear.
So when I met Citizen Nigeriana somewhere in inner Ota, Ogun State, as he gathered his family and told the sad story of his trip to parts of the country, he painted a picture of despair. It wasn’t a narrative different from the mire and neglect of his community: No single totem of civilisation that the presence of government and private industry signifies. No hospital. No school. No Police post. No market. No nothing to suggest the community has ever been captured in any official demographic survey for planning.
My compatriot told me he has decided to take a major step in his prayer regime. He said although the move is based on the raw deal he got at the hands of the state during the trip, it had been made to wear a garment of urgency by a news item that broke upon his return. The media reported that an extravagant Christmas gift sent to a former state governor by a sitting governor had been rejected by his predecessor. The executive presents included “four cows and ten bags of rice”.
When our compatriot calculated the market prices of the gubernatorial boon at Christmas, he concluded that “they exceed the combined earnings of my wife’s income and that of mine over the past ten years.” He wondered if Easter and the Muslim festivals offer similar avenues for more of the state largesse just reported. His imagination then went on the rampage. Does each state governor take of the people’s wealth to give to those who already have, while the ordinary men and women are told there isn’t enough to pay the slavish minimum wages apportioned them? Isn’t this a perpetuity scheme to let the haves to have more and the have-nots not to have?
Whether he was right or not, a chink had been opened to reveal that his country wasn’t poor after all. The small keyhole divulged a secret: Nigeria is stinking rich! So how did the verdict of poverty on his fatherland come about? Are there conspirators at work to keep him and the other poor folks stuck in the valley? To keep them chained to the notion that they should not expect any improvement in their fortunes as the land is too ravaged by misery to help its equally miserable inhabitants? Or was it a different country he saw through the aperture? Could there have been some illusory optics?
At the end of the day, my friend, Citizen Nigeriana, told me and his family that if Christmas time is prayer time, when God is all ears, then this Yuletide, he is throwing away his old prayer points that asked for chicken and rice and hampers and the elusive 13th month salary and new clothes and shoes and new furniture and the much-sought-after eleventh hour breakthrough. He said: “Two prayer bullets are replacing them: One, Lord open the eyes and minds of Nigerian leaders to let them see the world of the led they have pauperised the way You opened mine to discover their closet. Two, Lord, let the president and governors take turns to visit me every festive occasion, bringing with them the presents they reject.”
Banji Ojewale writes from Ota, Ogun State.