Monday, April 4, 2011

A Meal From A Dustbin In Lagos

Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

It was a very beautiful evening in Lagos. I had parked the car in front of my wife’s office, and was inside the car waiting for her to get her bag from her office so we could go home together.

And then, I saw the man as he passed, looking very hungry, haggard and harassed. It was quite clear that he was not mad. At least, not yet. What was easy to notice was that he was greatly traumatized by the impossible conditions under which he struggled each day to exist in this impossible place called Nigeria, a country so richly endowed, but where life for the majority has become hellish. 

Victim Of Corruption And Failed Leadership

Recent studies have shown that due to boundless plundering of the public treasury flourishing in Nigeria, about 99% of the country’s resources are in the hands of just 1% of the population, and more than 85 per cent of Nigerians live below poverty level.

Well, suddenly, the man’s hungry eyes caught the dustbin outside the office complex, a few meters away from where my car was packed. He appeared so elated at his clearly delicious find. His face creased into an awful gesture, which he probably meant to be a smile.

Then, with a quickened pace, he made for the dustbin, and began to desperately rummage in it, among its decayed, putrid, stinking contents. He seemed afraid that someone might come out to drive him away before he was through. His diligence, meticulousness, and sense of urgency would have been very infectious were it not that were deployed on the clearly diseased contents of a refuse bin.

An idea occurred to me immediately. Nigerians ought to share this heart-rending image with me, to see one of their own reduced to such a sorry spectacle in a country that was overwhelmingly prospering from crude oil exports. Perhaps, a few would weep and think deeply about the unbearable condition that years of abysmal misrulership have reduced many Nigerians.  

President Goodluck Jonathan Of Nigeria And Other
 African Heads  Of State: What Are They Doing
About Widespread Poverty

Yes, my camera was at the backseat, I remembered. I quickly reached for it, and with a greater part of me hidden behind the windshield, I took two shots of him while he was still busy searching and collecting some items triumphantly.  Then my third shot caught him as he made to move away with his booty. 

And within a few minutes, he went down the street and was gone.  Perhaps, very fulfilled that for that day, he would not, like countless other impoverished Nigerians, go to bed (Did I say bed? Could he afford one?) on an empty stomach.

That man, too, is a Nigerian, with flesh and red blood running in his veins, like you and I. Like President Goodluck Jonathan, whose daily campaign expenses, as Professor Pat Utomi has told us, and which no one in the Presidency has convincingly denied, exceeds a hundred million naira daily!

     Just Enough For One Evening

Yes, that scavenger is a human being just like our distinguished Senators whose annual allowances have been put at $1,500,000 (You can convert that to naira and see what it amounts to!) Yes, the man is a human being like Olusegun Aremu Obasanjo (the man that loves to be called founder/father of Modern Nigeria – whatever that means) whose multi-million dollar farm is flourishing somewhere at Otta in Ogun State. 

Indeed, our dustbin man is not less  human than our State Governors, ministers and Super Special Advisers and Assistants, Local Government Chairmen, many of whom are now incredibly wealthy after just a few years of “self-less service to the nation.”

Now, if this hapless Nigerian ever heard that sometime ago, specifically under the tenure of a certain lady called Patricia Etteh, as Speaker of the House of Representatives, that a house was renovated in Abuja with the “paltry sum” of N628 million, he didn’t show it.

Nigeria's Former Heads Of State: Ibrahim Babangida,
Olusegun Obasanjo And Muhammadu Buhari 

If he had heard that some $16 billion dollars that were sunk in the power sector only succeeded in generating uninterrupted darkness, he never betrayed. He was just content to invade the dustbins, to fill his stomach with its putrid contents, until life, his life, reaches a T-junction, where, his candle would be cruelly extinguished by the violent wind of the unspeakable callousness of Nigerian leaders.

By the way, is Mallam Umaru Dikko reading this? Then he should rejoice that his prediction had come true, for Nigerians are now feeding from dustbins. Where are our rulers and former rulers? They should rejoice because that proud scavenger out there is a living evidence that their many years of altruistic, selfless leadership in Nigeria had yielded far greater dividends than we had imagined.

 That is the reality of present day Nigeria. And make no mistakes about it, there are several others like that man, who would never have anything to eat today, until they are able to find a dustbin rich enough to yield them a meal.

His condition is like that because those who are supposed to take care of him are out there in Abuja and other points of power engaging in unspeakable profligacy, with the commonwealth, from which they have carefully insulated him. While he dies slowly, and miserably – a victim of boundless greed and callousness among the ruling elite. 

Indeed, everyone appears to accept this very glaring truth that any day Nigeria is able to make up its mind to end its obscene and ruinous romance with the stubborn monster called “Corruption”, this country will automatically witness the kind of prosperity no one had thought was possible in these parts.

 Just imagine the amount of public funds reportedly (and un-reportedly) being stolen and squandered daily under various guises by too many public officers and their accomplices, and the great transformation that would happen to public infrastructure and the lives of the citizenry if this organized banditry can at least be reduced by fifty percent! 

Can Nigeria ever drag itself out of the muddy waters? Can we ever destroy a monster we have all clearly identified and agreed constitutes our worst undoing? Let’s hope that post-May 29, 2011 will usher in some fresh air.

Hope did I say? No! What I actually mean is that Nigerians can strongly desire that change, insist on getting it and never give up until it materializes. It is quite possible, if not very easy.

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