By Muyiwa Adetiba
According to some statistics, about 30 million Nigerians go to bed hungry every night. Only about one in four has one or more meals per day.
About three in five start the hustle of the day without breakfast. About two in three earn less than a dollar per day while graduate unemployment is a whopping one in two.
As grim as these statistics are, they are not 2020 statistics. And everybody knows this year has been exceptionally brutal on many fronts. Just as people were trying to recover from the yuletide and beginning of the year expenses, the dreaded pandemic struck, literally asphyxiating everything that dared to breathe.
We came up for air on realising God had spared us the worst of the pandemic. But the tentative walk that would have made the economy stand on its wobbly feet was immediately knocked off by the #endsars protests which first re-paralysed the economy before culminating in a wanton carnage towards the end of October.
On top of it all was the toll on the country of banditry from high and low, and the destruction of farmland by man and flood. All of these helped plunge the country into its worst recession in years. All of these mean the living conditions of a hundred million Nigerians can only be described as pitiable. All of these mean the already grim statistics I raised earlier have become terribly worsened.
The realisation that Nigeria is not a rich country has been long in coming but I think it is finally dawning on the generality of Nigerians that we are in fact, a poor country. We are not only poor, we are technologically and industrially backward. The Fourth Industrial Revolution has taken hold around the world while Nigeria is still trying to grabble with the Third. Serious countries are focused on the implications of the digital world while Nigeria is perennially focused on political musical chairs.
Yet, the perpetrators of the economic stranglehold, those who have placed their knees on the neck of the country are unrepentant. Fortunes are still being amassed, state funds are still being misappropriated, lavish lifestyles are still being promoted.
It is hard to believe, but Nigeria has more private jets than commercial planes. Only a handful of countries have more planes in private hands than we do and they are rich countries. Only a couple of weeks ago, a State Chief of Staff was suspended by his boss for a vulgar display of funds at a public function. He represents the profligate lifestyle of the political elite and the new rich.
More representative of this lifestyle is a story which appeared on the social media about a Senator who pulled out all the stops for his daughter’s wedding. According to the report, the cake which is built in the shape of a cathedral, is 48 feet tall. It reportedly took 125 days and 18 bakers to build at a cost of four million Naira.
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This is just the cake alone which by now would have been flushed down the toilet by those who ate it. I am embarrassed to go further on the insanely opulent wedding which gave out a car to a surprised Uber driver as part of its celebration, so as not to offend the sensibilities of those who have been badly damaged by the vicissitudes of 2020. But I will say this. If our political leaders don’t change, if they don’t address the plight of the people, if they don’t stop flaunting wealth amidst poverty, then what would confront them will not be the coming Industrial Revolution which they are ignoring, but a different kind of revolution which they are unwittingly inviting.
It is less than a week to Christmas. There is no gainsaying the notion that it has come too soon. Very few homes are prepared for the financial rigours of this Christmas. The gaiety, the joy and anticipation of Christmas are significantly dampened due to the prevailing conditions. Even the weather is refusing to adjust for Christmas! Even in normal times, Christmas usually highlights the frustration of poverty and the despair of loneliness. And these are not normal times.
Many homes will go to bed hungry unless you and I try to do something about it – no use thinking that those who hoarded palliatives during the lockdown will suddenly remember and factor in the poor this Christmas (there is a report that agents of Ogun State Government recently sold COVID 19 grains to poultry farmers at exorbitant prices).
This is supposed to be a season of goodwill. Let us act out our goodwill by reaching out to the hungry. Every neighbourhood has its share. One of my favourite Christmas stories is that of a war hero who came home for Christmas. As he was heading home, he saw a destitute huddled in the cold of Christmas winter without a cloak. He took out his own, cut it into two with his sword and gave half to the destitute. The people who came to receive him were said to have been hushed into shame by his gesture.
At night, Jesus appeared in a dream to thank him by wearing the half cloak he had given the destitute. That war hero has since been canonised by the church. The person whose season we celebrate said ‘when I was hungry, you gave me food. When I was thirsty you gave me drink and when I was homeless you gave me shelter. For as long as you do it to the least of my brethren, you do it to me’. This time is as good as any to act this injunction out.
Let us cut out the usual feeding frenzy of the season so as to be able to give to those who really need help – our poorer neighbours, our poorer cousins. We can come together as a community or as individuals to cook or parcel food for them. Or provide money for at least a meal. If we can’t provide for a family, we should at least save a mouth from going to bed hungry this Christmas. Let us go beyond the professional or institutionalised beggars to individuals and families who are really hurting but might not ask. They are around us.