I went to buy subsidized Premium Motor Spirit (PMS, otherwise popularly called fuel) for use in my generator recently and I was told with terminative converse, in a non-gracious manner by the petite pump attendant that fuel was 500 naira per litre. No haggling; and of course, no bargaining. 500 naira in the pockets of an American, at the rate of 180 naira to a dollar, would be enough to sustain his standard of living for a whole month. People around, as usual, complained about such exorbitant price of something we get in our own backyard. The attendant asked us, with a benign frown plastered over her face, if we didn’t know of the current strike by Petroleum marketers in the country which caused fuel scarcity and which more or less raised the price of fuel. It was an accurate yet depressing question. And nobody had any answer.
Now every one conversant with every day happenings in Nigeria would not be surprised to know this. This is because that is the reality on ground. Bizarre occurrences are as common as the incessant power outage in the country. It was a reasonable question the attendant asked though. As a Nigerian resident, you are bound to be frequently encountered in unusual, not to say peculiar, situations. Will one ever forget the incessant power outage in the country? So, where indeed was I that I never knew of the strike by petroleum marketers nor of the increase in fuel price? The truth of the matter was that it will surely be stretching a lie to the point of impossibility to assume I was not aware of the situation on ground. But because one as part of one’s existence as a Nigerian could be counted upon to face any grim adversary with a smile and a stiff upper lip, I momentarily forgot anything was amiss. We have been in worse situations before; this certainly can’t be the last of them. People make fun of the Nigerian for maintaining normal standards even in grostequies, but I am of the school that believes such efforts have a beneficial effect not only upon the participants but also upon the observers.
From the arid savannah of Northern Nigeria down to the water-logged swamps of the Niger Delta, the country is currently undergoing what may safely be adjudged the harshest economic situation ever experienced. Prices of foodstuffs – as common as salt – have all skyrocketed with explosive force. One begins to get the point though that sufferings are part of ones’ existence as a Nigerian. Initially it was deregulation, and now it is the subsidy palaver. However Nigerians, as usual, have plodded on doggedly with so strong and irresistible determination. Even in the face of all these current strikes, fuel scarcity or no, high cost of living, Nigerians are nevertheless looking forward to the next day – still engaging in the business of the living, as if nothing was ever amiss.
The concept and reality of poverty was not born today, nor was it yesterday. But it seems there isn’t a time when Nigeria was ever free from one shackle of hardship or the other. The history of our great country is not without a whole bunch of tragedies: The Civil War of 1967-70; the gobs of ethnic rivalry; unemployment; poverty; bad roads; epileptic power supply; slothfulness; greed; religious animosities; tribal bigotry; and, of course, the mother of them all, corruption. All caused by the so-called oil boom (doom?). That much is no longer denied, the sad state of the nation is no longer disputed except by the deaf and the blind. The puzzle which persists is why some, but not others actually enjoy, indeed relish the pitiful state of the country. Of tragedies, French writer, Jean Anouilh writes, “they (tragedies) are restful. And the reason is because hope has no part in it.” Why be a Nigerian? One might be tempted to ask. Could that be the fate, then, of the ordinary Nigerian? Apparently not.
One might safely concoct a theory of identification through adversities which runs in the Nigerian. Ever wonder what is it then that makes us Nigerians surge through life’s adversities with commendable pride and steadfast passion? It is because we are everyday people. We go through the hellish gates of life with courageous propensity. Granted we might not recall our hardships with admiration nor nostalgia, courage is the thing. It certainly makes it easier to understand why day after day, hour after hour, indeed in our entire existence, we trudge on without rest, because courage, in the form of fortitude fortified us. Though we might be deprived, reviled, sabotaged and subverted by perilous forces, we nevertheless resist. Yielding no quarter, saying only, no, singing rather, for our people sing out their souls in adversity.
To us, living our life – be it sorrowful, or burdensome – has no counterpart. It is like a dammed river which must seek an outlet in surviving no matter the odds. Even if those Abuja politicians would have us believe that all is milk and honey from their paper economics, we know best that the current despair and gloom is but for a while. For the civil servant in Makurdi to the trader in Onitsha Main Market, down to the Office Executive in Lagos or even up to the Fulani herdsman in Sokoto, the passion to confront the conundrums of life is so overwhelming and compelling that one dare not contemplate suicide as an option. Being happy, is after all better than being a king.
I think that it is an important aspect of our education to train ourselves to make a fitting response to whatever challenge life brings our way. First the response. In making this response, it could help us if we realize that the whole harsh condition is for a reason. “Nothing puzzles God,” they say. And as we are responding fully, we should constantly be on the alert and we can keep ourselves working to remember for instance past incidents which we survived; to follow a pattern in such situations; to catch nuances of meaning in them, and overall to appreciate the immeasurable miracle of being alive through it all. Only then will life carry maximum value for us.
The bonds forged by Nigerians strengthens them though major prognosis appear gloomy and moribund. Even in despair, there rests a certain positive core. The fact that though a person has to die through no choice of his, that there is something else of tremendous value he can do before leaving life; that thing is called hope. One sure thing, every problem we encounter in this country is a deep reflection of human situations, generally. And every human situation teaches us a lesson or two. Thus it is generally true to say that every problem has a message of some sort for us. It is only left to us to grasp what message lies embedded in the current economic crises.
It is presumably true to say that in the days when men had to struggle for survival against difficult environmental circumstances, the active qualities of fortitude were the ones most frequently called upon. I believe fortitude is an important aspect of our being Nigerians. We can be poor, sick, impecunious, deprived, and yet enter freely and happily into this great state of being a Nigerian. Being that Nigerian provides us with a vicarious experience of life – gentle, harsh, tragic as the case may be. Nonetheless it is the hope of a better tomorrow which spurs us on. “Hope is not a grain of sand,” says the Gambian poet, Lenrie Peters, but even if it were so tiny, it would be sufficient to keep a man alive and sane in the most extreme of circumstances. This anchor of Hope is what keeps the ship of the Nigerian self steadfastly afloat whatever the high stormy seas of life that batter against it.
The sheer drudgery of making a living, of winning some hard-earned kobos from our daily toils and sweat – toils that go on day after day, incessantly, laboriously – has left little or no room for many a Nigerian to leave his mark on the world stage, but for a few. The European Union recently confessed to the tremendous discrepancy of Nigerian professionals adding to the economies of Europe. In plain language, Nigeria, as is evident, has lost most of its productive capacity. Though some, blinded by their greed (or incapable of transcending their petty clan loyalties?) might desert the lofty heights of our vision as a country, they can only succeed in burrowing beneath the mountains of our dreams. Nigeria’s wealth and dignity shall soon be restored.
Have you ever paused to wonder why green should be considered the colour of Hope? Perhaps it is because of the perennial miracle of the tiny shoots of life bursting through the earth with tremendous pace and considerable amazement at the beginning of each season of growth, or mayhap because of the fact of the meretricious hope which with which tender shoots sprout from the ground. People living in well-watered lands where the earth keeps her soft covering of green all year round cannot remotely appreciate the miracle the same way as those in arid climes where the first shoot, tentatively pushing its delicate head through sandy soil brings new life and hope. Still wondering why green was made Nigeria’s National color? I am proud to be a Nigerian. These thoughts of hope we can hold in our hearts as our earth, that green-patched ball hurtled through space. Our experience as a growing nation cannot be different from that of others. Take hope, Nigeria. This is what makes us everyday people. We will get there. God bless Nigeria.
WRITTEN BY COLLINS ARIKOR