By Muyiwa Adetiba
I don’t know about you, but I cringe anytime I see my fellow humans ferret the dustbins like animals. I cringe at the filth. I cringe at the dehumanisation. I cringe at the desperation.
They start early and go on until past dusk, looking for anything of value. Except that very few things of value end up in a dustbin. In fact, the name suggests the opposite of value.
Yet, like a neighbourhood supermarket, these places of waste, of filth, sometimes get eight to ten visits in a day. They are visited more in desperation than expectation.
The visitors search amidst putrid smells; amidst crawling insects; amidst buzzing flies; amidst slimy worms. They compete with cats, sniffing and sieving the garbage like them and taking what even cats reject.
My skin crawls just looking at them and wondering at the level of hunger that has led to this debasement.
Some forty years ago, a prominent politician snorted at those who insinuated that Nigerians were poor stating that no Nigerian was searching the dustbin for food. Today, the statement looks like a prophecy which has come true.
Our successive military and political leaders have made sure of that in spite of the years of petro-dollars. Today, the unemployment figure is unacceptably high – varies from 30% to 60% depending on who you are listening to – while the desperately poor according to the UN is over 50%.
Yet in the same country where citizens are ferreting dustbins for survival, a form for an expression of interest in the presidency is costing a whopping 100 million Naira in the ruling party and about half of that in the other party.
There is no shortage of takers. Of the motley crowd, only two or three, to the best of my knowledge, are employers of labour – yet you wonder what a hundred million could do by way of empowering the poor.
The rest are more or less professional politicians whose sources of wealth are questionable at best. One serial contender virtually lives abroad and comes up for air at every election cycle. A few are governors – or ex-governors, of very impoverished states including strife-torn ones. One, a younger man, forgot the name of one of his three wives during his declaration.
He was the same one who denied the existence of Covid19 in his state as if the air his people breathe is a different air from the rest of us. Prosecuting a presidential campaign, even a failed campaign, is not cheap. The budget runs into billions of Naira. This raises at least two to three questions.
Why should prosecuting any election in a country as poor as Nigeria be so expensive? How is flaunting such a huge war chest among people who live off the dustbin not embarrassing to those flaunting it? Or even contradictory? And why is the source of election funds not investigated like it is done in the US where we copied the presidential system from?
Politicians travel a lot. It is part of the job. So they must be aware of the excruciating poverty of their people. If they did, many are doing nothing about it beyond exploiting it. I am more than convinced that most want power merely for its sake or as a means of enriching themselves.
Yet all the power and the so called wealth and connections that accrue from it, can be lost in a twinkle of an eye. Watching the Russian-Ukraine war is very sobering. Ukraine is an affluent European country in its own right with very successful institutions and people.
Within two days of the war starting, many of the affected people had lost everything. Members of middle, and upper middle class families have become refugees sleeping on camp beds and eating whatever is made available to them.
The suddenness of these reversals of fortune shows how fragile life really is. Anybody who has been involved in a fire incident will know the futility of acquisitions. All you have worked for can be lost in an hour of fire.
And those who are busy stoking fires in Nigeria thinking they can walk away unscathed or that they have money and properties salted away should think again. Fire consumes; literally and figuratively. What is happening to the Russian Oligarchs should be a lesson. No money or property is completely safe anywhere in the world if the system wants to punish you. A blackman who stacks his eggs in a foreign land would fare far worse than those Oligarchs. Home is the best place of refuge, but only if you help in its development.
Otherwise it will be a place infested by bandits and terrorists. Like Nigeria where its leaders have either gone AWOL or are more interested in the game of politics than the goal of it.
It is in the nature of man to strive for success. But true success is not in personal acquisitions. That is fleeting at best and satisfies only an unevolved mind. A man can only be truly successful if his positive impact on his children is successful – many of our multi-millionaires have failed in this regard.
A king can only be successful if his subjects are developed in a way that promotes development and peace. Success is about impact. It is not about personal wealth. Our three founding fathers understood this and strove for success in their different ways; or as they understood it.
One strove for unity among its large, diverse, multi-religious people. Another strove for education and the economic development of his people. While the third strove for the positioning of his people in strategic places.
They were successful to the extent of the impact they made on their people – the result of which we are still witnessing today. None of the three was known for primitive acquisition of money and land the way some today have used their positions.
They were successful to the extent of the number of people who could say ‘I am here because you were there’. Or in the common parlance, ‘you made me what I am today’. If people in their numbers cannot say that about you whether you are a President, Governor or CEO, and if your impact on them has been more negative than positive, then your stewardship is a failure irrespective of your personal success.
Those of our leaders, especially the younger ones, who are concerned with the verdict of history; of posterity, should examine their ways and move away from the looting crowd. The names of many of the actors on the stage today will be stained down generations. History will record them as failures.