My mother was orphaned at ten. However, she was somewhat lucky to be the last child and she had married elder sisters who were old enough to be her mother. In spite of this, she had to work and didn’t have it easy. In life, there are usually critical points that are the deciders of how the rest of one’s life goes. She told me the story of one such critical point from these years.
She was a very brilliant student and had written the entrance exams for one of the prestigious secondary schools in her native Ekiti. Whilst waiting for this, she went to work with an amala joint owner as a sales girl. After waiting and waiting for the admission letter to come, she resigned herself to a year of amala selling whilst she gave secondary school another shot. She was grateful to the owner of the amala joint. She had hot food, a roof over her head and made a little money to even send home. She told me she prayed and blessed the woman’s good heart every night before she went to sleep.
A couple of weeks down the line, she had to get something from the woman’s bag. As she was rummaging through it, she found an envelope addressed to her. Driven by curiosity, she reached for the envelope and opened it furtively. My mum is continued her education at that time because she did that. The amala joint owner had received my mum’s admission letter, but she hid it from my mum to make sure the letter became useless when the time for admission lapsed. Mum took decisive action, based on her understanding that the future held more. She trekked many kilometers to get to that school and made good her admission. Thankfully, there was free education in the South West in those days, so she could make it through school with that, and the support of her sister’s husband who was a reverend gentleman.
In many ways, the story is a metaphor for how the leadership of this nation has held the future of the youths hostage in an amala-joint situation. To make it worse, they say to us – you shouldn’t worry about the future. In fact they say we should be grateful for the “amala” they feed us. Daily we hear them scream these facts over our heads. They say we should look at GDP growth figures. They tell us to look at how stabilized the Naira is. They tell us to rejoice at the reviving the railway – a revival where it still takes days to make trips which would take hours with modern railways.
But the reality of our everyday lives as young Nigerians should make it clear that we should be dissatisfied with this amala. Last weekend, 20 young Nigerians reportedly lost their lives in the process of applying for a job with the Nigerian Immigration Service. This is in spite of the whole recruitment process resembling a brazen Ponzi scheme to fleece the job-seekers of money, to go into the pockets of some consultant shrouded in mystery. To top this up, the Minister of Interior, Abba Moro came out in classic amala joint-owner style came out to say things that should have earned him a suspension in the minimum. Unlike the case of the suspension of the CBN governor where we were divided as to the powers of the president to suspend/remove the CBN governor, no one is in doubt that the president has the authority to remove the Minister of Interior. No minister should remain in office when the lives of young people are lost needlessly under his watch in the manner of the NIS recruitment. Beyond removing the minister, the whole recruitment should be investigated independent of the minister and if he is found guilty, he should face the music. We can take a cue from the Chinese in this.
We give the title of elder statesmen to the various people who have eaten the future when they had the opportunity to build this nation and exhibit the Stockholm syndrome to those who have deprived us of this future. It is these amala-joint owners who make up the majority of those who are gathered in Abuja for the National Conference. People who have eaten the future are asked to discuss it, a future which they have no stake in. what will motivate them to work to create a great future when they know they will be long gone before that future comes. It is a sad commentary on our nation that young people who should ask questions are stuck in the rut of being grateful for the amala these joint owners offer, seeing them as my mum saw her own joint owner until the revelation of the woman’s treachery. In our case, even when the treachery is blatant and in our face, we allow ourselves to be blinded by partisan sentiments, ethnic sentiments and religious sentiments and end up defending the same people who are depriving us of a future. I’ll wait to see how the Confab goes before I make further comments on it.
It is also what is responsible for our inability to say a thing is right or wrong in its own right. Rather we point to the other side and look for a similar wrong they have done to justify our own current wrong. It was wrong for people to have gone on a Good Governance Tour in Ekiti State and collected money without declaring same (especially after bashing those that did exactly the same thing in Labaran Maku’s Good Governance Tour). However, pointing at that incident to justify the untenable cost of the National Conference (estimated at 12Million Naira per participant for the 3months period) is a classic amala joint sales person behavior. Justifying a conference delegate pushing for allowances for their aides is the height of amala seller behavior. In a country where we have continually made the point that the cost of governance is criminally high, as characterized by our National Assembly’s jumbo pay, it is wrong from every angle one looks at it that a gathering meant to chart a new course for the nation tows exactly the same lines. What that tells me is this – remove all the NASS members and replace them with a fresh set of Nigerians and nothing will change. The cost of governance will remain the same. Nigerian turn-by-turn-ism.
I read Chude Jideonwo’s piece on why people change when they get into power in Nigeria and it couldn’t be more apt. There is something about our current worldview that makes a small sip of power toxic to us. We begin to behave like the amala joint-owner, not caring about the future of the commonwealth for what we can gain in the now. We get insulated from those we lead and their aspirations and problems become alien to us. We wonder why they are not grateful for the great leadership we are providing, as confirmed by our throng of praise-singers.
It is up to the majority of us, the ones that circumstances have made the amala sales people today to discover the power available to us as my mum did, realize that the future is more important than the morsels of amala we are swallowing and take action to make that long trek to freedom as she did. We need to discard the waiting for my turn to come mentality and know that being a big man in a poor nation or a nation with great potential while actualizing none is nothing in the world scale of things.
Tunde Leye @tundeleye is a fiction writer. He believes that the stories written form a priceless resource that is the basis of society, all the other arts (film, music, theatre, visual arts) and hence he is committed to telling stories out of Africa that show it as it was, is, and is going to be.
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