Saturday comment

Bob MajiriOghene Etemiku argues that it is ironical that the country could not care for its citizenry

Some years ago, I was in a European country on one of those scholarships. It was an intensive training programme which allowed you little or no time to hop around or do your shopping. So, what we used to do then was an adlib kind of thing. As we walked along the streets to the training centre, we would look around for any item that may possibly catch our fancy. If we found any, we’d make a purchase and just toss the item in our wardrobes. Doing this everyday meant that I eventually bought just the items I needed. On one of those days, I had budgeted 50 Euros for my shopping. I loved the 50 euro best, and I think that this was especially because of its resemblance with our own N50 note. If some of us are familiar with the euro, you’d ordinarily know that what difference there is with the 50 euro and our own N50 note is in power and dignity. But I didn’t know this at that time. So, I walked that day along the Potsdamer Platz Arcades with Marco Hamacher our coordinator, my 50 euro note at the ready. But something in the way Hamacher looked, first at me, and at the 50 euro dancing between my fingers again and again stopped me in my tracks. I looked at him. ‘What’s the matter Marco?’ I asked him. He looked forlorn, and at me before saying, ‘Bob, that’s a lot of money you have there!’

Incredulity took me over. I found out eventually that that 50 euro which I was fiddling with could get an average German family by in two weeks. Where I come from in the goodest and badest times, a N50 note has some ambivalence. In the goodest of times, it is money used for church offerings, tossed at beggars and you leave it as tip to that little boy who runs your errands. All anyone can buy with it are toffee sweets, tom-tom and groundnuts. In those good old days, even those who sprayed those notes at funeral and at outlandish parties do not get as low as spraying N50 notes. The disrespect in spraying either N20 or N50 notes can be better avoided if you swallow your pride and break your one thousand naira notes into clear crisp notes. For those who brave the odds to spray notes above N50 notes at parties and funerals, they have a way of either reducing their spray to the merest decimal or have their people hang around to ensure that what has been sprayed is collected back pronto.

But today however, things are at their badest. Most Nigerians can fight to the death to secure and extend the spending life-span of their N50. In Benin, Edo State, (and I guess in many cities in Nigeria), if a commuter has N50 and the fare from point A to point B is N40, commuters and transporters insult each other’s grandfathers and spit in one another’s face just because of the change. Yet it is at these very precarious and uncertain times that we hear of unbelievable sums of stolen money either being hidden in villages, stored in cemeteries or high-brow edifices. The first most of us heard about was in February this year. A former boss at the NNPC reportedly hid $9.7million and 74 euros in liquid cash in a village in Kaduna. It was said that that village had no roads, no hospitals, no good schools and no water. A rough estimate/calculation of that sum of money in our currency would translate in some of the cool billions which would easily take care of those amenities lacking in that village.

While we thought that nothing worser than that could ever happen, various sums of money in cool billions began to be dug up from Bureau De Changes all over Nigeria. This month alone, more than N449millions were found ‘abandoned’ in a shop in Lagos. But it was the Ikoyi haul which dwarfed all our expectations of the kinds of monies which are still in existence at this critical epoch of recession, suffering and hunger. In an EFCC bust-up which threw up conspiracy theories aplenty, Nigerians were left gasping at the sight of those crisp dollar, euros and pound notes.

They say the love of money is the root of all evils. In Nigeria, money has become the root of poverty. Nobody yet has been able to sum up the damage which these monies being dug up from villages and abandoned shops and high-brow buildings have wreaked on us. But while these monies being recovered, a 2016 United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, Report positioned Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, on the same low rank, while ‘smaller’ and lesser endowed countries like Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Zambia and Ghana fared better on the HDI statistics. People in countries like the Sudan, Kenya, South Africa Egypt, Morocco and Libya have a life expectancy of 64 and above. Nigeria is among Lesotho, Cote d’Ivoire, Chad, the Central African Republic and Lesotho as countries where the people will most likely die by their 45th birthday.

Etemiku is ANEEJ Communications manager