Skip to main content

Iya Biliki's Plight By Pius Adesanmi

July 23, 2017

Three failed attempts so far to pick up a few things I need at Shoprite.

On each occasion, I see a sea of shoppers massed at the pay points. The queues are long, very long, with orbs of Nigerian chaos in places along the way. It's almost like the faithful circling Kaaba. I am not going to spend an hour or more waiting in line to pay for items I can still pick up from Iya Biliki of Alanamu in her roadside store.

I am not thinking of the killing that Shoprite is making in this land. I am thinking of the sociology of the crowd that has abandoned Iya Biliki of Alanamu for the aisles of Shoprite.

You look at those very long lines of people waiting to pay: 99.9% are single-item shoppers. One loaf of bread, you go to Shoprite; one pack of Indomie, you go to Shoprite; one apple, you go to shoprite; one tomtom, you go to shoprite. At the pay point, the two-kilometre queues are a wonderful spectacle of red shopping baskets and shopping carts containing a single item.

Although I have thus far yielded to the supremacy of the one item shoppers and embraced Iya Biliki's provision store rather than subject myself to time on that punitive Shoprite queue, the student of Nigerian sociology in me cannot let go of what I believe is happening.

As they wait in that tortuous queue, their single-item red baskets on the floor in a long serpentine formation, they are selfie-ing away with reckless abandon. It is a mass selfie process: click, click, click, upload to Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter instantly.

What is happening here, I think, is a class struggle for the atmospherics of modernity and gloss. Nigeria is peopled by the most atrociously class conscious social and political elite in the world. The identity and the psychology of this elite is fed by and dependent on a gulf that must exist between them and the lower classes. Only this class must have access to the glossy atmospherics of modernity and civilization. The lesser classes must be in squalor.

It is precisely this atmospherics of modernity, which used to belong exclusively to the elite, that Shoprite has banalized and brought within the reach of the lower classes. If Kasali needs to buy a tin of Peak Milk at N400 from Iya Biliki, he will spend a week saving an extra N100 to be able to afford that same tin at N500 in Shoprite and take selfies as empirical evidence of his access to the atmospherics of modernity.

Iya Biliki has been abandoned by majority of her customers who now go to Shoprite to buy one bar of canoe soap. At this rate, her source of livelihood is threatened. In fact, she doesn't even know what to make of me since she started seeing me stop by. She's convinced I belong in the Shoprite class. Yet, for some strange reason, I keep coming to her roadside provision store.

I don't blame Iya Biliki's customers for migrating. They are telling an elite whose lives have meaning only when there is a gulf between them and the people: you may go to Macy's of New York for your shopping all you want; you may stop over at Harrod's in London on your way back. Don't worry, we dey here for Shoprite. It's the same gloss, the same modernity, the same mall culture. Your exclusive ownership of access to the atmospherics of modernity has been demystified.

But the Nigerian elite would have none of this. The democratization of gloss by Shoprite and the consequent accessibility of mall modernity to the little people means that the political elite must steal more and more to increase the social distance.

The worst thing that can happen to Oga is for him and his driver to be rubbing feet in the same Shoprite queue.

Oga will have to steal more to raise the level...