”God, please let there be light.”
I grumpily got out of bed and got into the shower. “It is only in Africa, scratch that, Nigeria that one prays such a prayer in 2019.” I said to no one in particular as I patted my body dry with the towel. The night was not easy. “How was your night?” is a common question that follows “Good morning” in Nigeria. While many people of foreign nationalities find it offensive, we don’t. I sometimes marvel at On Air Personalities when they launch a faux outrage on the radio because of “How was your night?”. Almost every Nigerian language and dialect asks how your night went, after a “good morning”, then they proceed to bless the day for you. Hardly does anyone keep it moving after “good morning” in a cultural context. They would ask if the night was not troublesome in Hausa, and ask if you slept well and woke up hale in Yoruba. You see, the night was warm, too warm. We have been battling with some elevated temperatures in the Federal Capital Territory, it got pretty bad and the Nigerian Metereological Agency announced early in March that the heat wave would linger till May. The Abuja Electricity Distribution Company in the same breath has been issuing public apologies since February to the FCT residents for the abysmal power supply, alleging that some 33KVA transformers developed a fault. Residents have resorted to powering their homes with noisy power plants, which they run all through the night to power their fans, or at least an air conditioning system. So, having laid a good foundation, you can imagine how struggling to sleep through the heat and noise could make one grumpy and tired from sleep. My phone battery was low, my power bank was flat as well. My iPad had some bar left but I was not confident that it would last the entire day, the dress I planned to wear looked rumpled, so I flung my wardrobe open and stared at no particular item while trying to figure out the outfit that does not require ironing. There was not much to stare at anyway, my clothes are organized by colors which makes it easy to pick an item off the hanger without running through everything, but I just needed a distracting stare to take my mind off the reality of the National poverty catching up with the crunching population of the middle class.
” I can’t even afford a power plant. I refuse to buy one. Buying one is me embracing reality and settling. I refuse to settle. I must relocate and give my unborn kids an opportunity at a better quality of life…..maybe you should just buy a plant in the meantime and stop suffering……No! I’m not buying anything! I’d rather invest the money……you’re just suffering for nothing…….I hate the noise, it’s stressful to operate and drag out every night…..you know they make them with keys now, so no dragging…the noise is too much abeg……you still sleep in the noise when different plants are left on in the Estate at night. The noisemakers enjoy the noise and electricity, while you languish in noise AND darkness…..I’m not settling!”
The voices played in my head as I strapped my jacket on and headed to the car. I have been less cheerful to the security guys at the Estate because they would expect me to give them money and better jobs as a friend, and it leaves them disappointed when I am unable to offer them better jobs. Sometimes, in my head, I feel they think I’m unwilling to assist, and this hurts secretly. As I took the turn to the bridge where we often had a beggar or two, I observed about four kids have joined the beggars, waiting for benevolent car owners to drop a note or two. I hate the look of poverty on African kids; the hair texture and color changes, the skin wears a dull brown or ashen look. “Can’t the President see these things? Why are we so wealthy and yet so poor? We’re failing another innocent generation.” I pondered on Black Africa and the Scourge of Poverty as I descended the bridge and joined the ten-lane expressway. After a 25 minute drive, I pulled at one of the car parks of the establishment I visited. The sun was already blazing at 9:45am, so much that I regretted donning a blazer.
I stepped outside the same moment I got into the lounge because the heat was unbearable inside. I positioned my laptop on a slab by the entrance and proceeded to extract some documents online when a middle-aged woman called out to me.
”Good morning. What are you doing out here? Don’t you want to come in?”
”Good morning ma, it’s pretty hurt hot inside and I feared I might hyperventilate. The air out here is fresher, I’ll come in as soon as I’m done getting my stuff from the computer.”
”It’s cool in my office, if you don’t mind.”
I could not reject the offer for anything in the world. I packed my computer and WiFi and of a truth, I forgot the heat outside the moment I stepped into the small office with a powerful air conditioner. I got the needed documents and made to proceed to the office I purposed to visit.
As I got back to the lounge, I saw one of the casual staff with whom I now have a working relationship with. She is a middle-aged woman with a small stature, mostly cheerful, but she looked dispirited on this occasion. I walked up to her, exchanged pleasantries and asked if everything was okay to which she replied that she was hungry. The next thing to do was encourage her to take a break and have her meal, right? That was exactly what I did. Wrong!
” I don’t have money.” Her eyes got a bit teary. “I even need to call my son to ask after his health.”
My heart sank. “What’s the matter? Is everything okay?”
”He really doesn’t disturb me for money. He’s in college. But he got ill and when he called, I ran around and got some three thousand naira which I already sent to him. That’s why I’m broke.”
My heart sank.
I began to force back some gathering tears and steady my voice, so she does not break down into tears by seeing me getting emotional on her. I began to wonder how the son survives in school if it was sickness that made him call his parent and all he got was three thousand naira. I wondered how much the government pays the woman if she needed to run around to gather a meager three thousand naira for her son. Three thousand naira can only buy six scoops of ColdStone icecream without toppings and waffles. Excuse me? You need three thousand and two hundred naira for six scoops. Why are we so poor, Lord Jesus! I could feel the pangs of Poverty. Its fangs, buried deep into people’s lives- into the very fabric of the nation. The least I could do was give her some money for food. I reached out for my wallet and remembered I had no money in it. Lord, No! I was about to leave her without help. I grabbed her hand and pleaded with her that I had no money on me. I promised to get in touch as soon as I can to assist. The plan was to harass people owing me some money to pay up so I could give her some.
I concluded my business and went back to the car, shut the door and shut my eyes when a rattle on my door jostled me out of my thoughts. I wound down and exchanged warm pleasantries with the man. He is a newly employed security agent with an NCE degree. He introduced himself and nearly teared up while begging me for a better job. Oh Jesus! Why am I so unequipped to help your people? All I could do was to listen to him respectfully. He’s willing to do any job but with a better pay, and if possible, more dignity. He asked me to recommend him to a hotel manager because he had gone all around but nobody wanted to give him a job, but he was confident a phone call from someone with some network could change his story. Truly, I have no network, neither do I know anyone to call. Some university graduates doing these jobs earn a meager ten thousand naira and sometimes twenty thousand naira. I perfectly understand why he needs a better job in an expensive city. I left him with words of encouragement.
As I drove back home, I remembered an event some twenty years ago featuring two school kids. They went into the fields picking fruits that dropped from the trees to take back home to their other three siblings as food. I saw them pick up a half cracked coconut 🥥 and that was scavenging to me. Their poor parents could only afford basic education, sometimes, the kids read with the moonlight, optimistic that their liberation would come with them excelling in school. They did excel. But I cannot speak of the liberation from poverty. I see people bent over from the pangs.
And I see a people unbothered as extreme affluence and extreme poverty go to bed in Nigeria every night and wake up the next morning hailing each other “Good morning! How was your night?