Nigeria is an interesting country in every sense of the word. A friend told me of a friend of his with seven cars parked in his Abuja house and some other luxury machines in his village starting a sentence with “we the masses…” Of course, I used to think that I was part of the foot of the Nigerian pyramid until January 2012 when I was faced with the folly of my illusion. I had lived in my usual way, in a distorted reality all along.
To put things in context, I attended a relatively expensive private school, though not too expensive, I was a student at King’s College and my dad collects rent from at least 300 people and he had enough to spare at least two buildings for poor people evacuated by the government to live in free of charge. I was born into wealth but I appreciate the opportunities I had at tasting the bitterness of poverty. I felt what the poor feel and my works at making life better for everyone I can help is born out of that experience. I grew up with all my essential needs met. My dad had more than enough to host public Christmas parties and enough to spare for another car every now and then. Through this experience though, I never for once thought I was different from other poor Nigerians. This must be because my dad kept us grounded in that reality. That totally changed for me during the Occupy Nigeria movement. I had left the Gani Fawehinmi Park at the Ojota end of Lagos in a clean, air conditioned Toyota car with my friends Olumide Gbadebo (@msgbadebo) and Tolu Obamuroh (@toluwabisi) for the Alagbado studios of Africa Independent Television AIT. Tolu was driving on this day. We were going to express the views of other poor Nigerians – or so we thought – but the truth stared at us at least four times on this day and each time with the ugliness of danger, fear and for me regret.
Angry young men were collecting tolls on the road. This is a common sight even during days the nation is not on a total lock down. On my way from the Abuja airport recently, just before the military check point, just after you turn into the Umaru Yar’Adua way, on the right side of the road, I saw young men and women collecting tolls on a dusty road. That hurt me because that’d send a striking message to a new visitor to this country. The difference on this day was the anger on the faces of these Sagamu express road toll collectors. We were asked to “kill the AC! Wind down! Wind down!” and don’t even think about making a dash off because you are certain to hit one of them and while that’d put you in police trouble you’d not need to go through the legal wahala because these boys had more than enough anger in them that day to kill anyone and enough left to burn the car and whatever. I was totally pissed off. So I spoke out of anger. I told them we were running late for an appearance on AIT on our way from the Ojota Park end of Occupy Nigeria. “Efi yin le, a wa o ko yen je o” (forget that story, we are not interested). I told them we were one and the same and we were in the same struggle but that apparently got them a lot angrier. “Eyin te wa ninu AC en wa oko ayokele eni ba kan na ni wa. Etu imi pa. En ya were!” (You are in a posh car with AC and you are claiming we are one? Tell another lie. You are mad!”)
To cut the long story short, Olumide waded in with a calmer voice. She told them the long and short of who were and they were interested in listening to her. Olumide wears contacts and that really got them to shut up and just get enraptured in her looks. They even made comments like “Oju Olongbo” (cat eyes) but it was in a calm way. I am not good at recalling bad experiences but I recall I felt closest to danger on this day. That happened a lot more times on our way but by this time I was so angry and when I get to this point within me, I lock my mouth. It is most deadly at this stage, apart from the dangers of talking to these mobs.
At the Ojota end of the movement, we – rich and poor, old and young, touts and gentlemen, the famous and the practically inconsequential etc – were all united and there was peace. There was no single incident. It never looked like we were from different levels of the Nigerian pyramid of deprivation. The journey to AIT offered a stark reality. It was on this day I realised that whenever the revolution of the poor rises – if it ever does – even I will be seen as one of “them” and the them here includes those the poor feel are responsible for their poverty. When I was making this point, someone said he earned his money legally without stealing from government and I told the person that when the sword of anger sweeps the city for whom to devour, it would have no time to ask you how you became rich. Your only passport to death would be that you are rich.
I have made these points to send a message to Nigeria’s rich. Charity is good. My dad for all his human imperfections taught me the art of charity. Charity will not save us from the anger of the poor. If we do not do all within our powers to make this country work for the benefit of the majority, the rich and privileged minority will not live in peace. We hear tales of kidnapped popular and influential figures in the news, we are not privy to the news when it affects the less famous or influential but that really is the order of the day.
They may not read newspapers or pay attention to the numbers in the news but they cannot be unconvinced that their poverty is not because some have chosen to have more than is due them from the national treasury. The ministry of petroleum needs $41m (6.2b) for the PIB awareness campaign, the President needs $15m (N2.2b)to build a Club House or what do you call a Banquet Hall in a deep sense? The principal members of the national assembly are waiting to move into their $7m (N1b) – per person – houses. Last year the Federal Government claimed it had over 71 thousand ghosts in its employ costing the nation $186m (N28b) but no one has told us why this money has not been accounted for after the revelation. Are we still paying these ghosts or we simply diverted the money elsewhere? $31b (N5 trillion) has disappeared under the watch of this administration even as it claims it is on top of the fight against corruption. The Swiss government has told us it returned $700m to Nigeria but the Nigerian government still plays deaf and dumb. Mothers and children are getting killed every day in the North-East, their sin, they live in the same land where terrorists have made their abode. Trillions of naira upon trillions to provide security yet what we have is more deaths, more kidnappings and more insecurity in every sense of the word. The President of Nigeria himself does not feel safe.
The flood displaced millions of people after killing some others, Gen. Owoeye Azazi who failed woefully after supervising the expenditure of trillions as National Security Adviser heads the Committee on Flood victims.
As a people, we trudge on, looking to get the chance to have our chance at the national cake. The richest amongst us are not safe here so they make homes in far lands. What is the point of a home where peace is not seen let alone recognized? We are the 7th most terrorized country in the world and yet we think there is no revolution yet. The revolution has started, it has only not started in the way that you imagined it would start. In the coming months and years, the fear of living in Nigeria would be more than the fear of being in a plane the pilot just announced an impending crash-landing. We can change this impending reality but first we must all as one people agree that if Nigeria does not work for all us, it is not working. If the transformation of the land does not transform the lives of the common man, those who tell lies of transformation should keep their tears within their eyes when the street comes looking to unleash bloody justice. A word is enough for the wise
Japheth J Omojuwa is the curator of Omojuwa.com and Editor AfricanLiberty.org