By Muyiwa Adetiba
Living currently in an estate where quite a lot of construction work still goes on, I tend to see a bit of how the poor in the community operate. There are those who wake up with the crack of dawn to prepare food for those who have no pot let alone a kitchen. With the exception of one or two, what they prepare is not enough to require public transportation, yet it is the main source of livelihood for these food vendors for the day.
The main ware is carried dexterously on the head while the two hands are carrying supportive items. With this, they are good to go, sometimes to long distances. I can’t help but wonder what would happen to the wares on their heads should something – a stumble perhaps – makes them lose their balance. Then there are those who sit or stand in the open space at an intersection waiting to be called up for hire.
That I see some still loitering around by noon, means there are more available laborers than hirers. Your guess as to how these ones left ‘unemployed’ will feed for the day is as good as mine. They have probably perfected a good credit system among themselves. Not too far from where food vendors are stationed are water vendors – those who push jerry cans of water in makeshift carts and those who hawk pure water.
Fresh fruit vendors cater for richer clients and are usually clustered apart. There is an array of shoe repairers, barbers, tailors and manicurists hanging around looking for elusive clients. Then there are the mobile supermarkets – those who sell almost ‘everything’ in sachets. By dusk they are gone like many of their customers leaving dilapidated coolers and weather beaten umbrellas behind.
These people disappear into many of the uncompleted buildings and shanty homes dotted around. But the day is not done. The weary bodies still have to be nourished with brews made from local herbs laced with alcohol and I suspect foreign drugs. You see the vendors strolling around in the fading light of the evening with different looking bottles delicately balanced on the head while the hands carry baked or fried food in transparent buckets.
A walk round the ‘habitat’ of these people who live on the fringes of life will show their poor living conditions. They live in cluttered, congested and often unhygienic places that are embarrassing in their lack of privacy. God knows how they manage when the hormones rage as they will, and the need for intimacy intensifies.
The products of such intimacies play around as communal children knowing no other life but the life of deprivation and want they are born into. These guys are classic examples of bare, subsistent existence. They are the walking advertisement for poverty. If they have any better plan for the future, it is in the recess of their minds. Sufficient for the day is the struggle thereof. Forgotten and neglected by government, their only dream of escape is through violence and short circuiting of the law.
I wonder often about them. Especially now that the rains are on strike like ASUU, and the farms are deserted. I wonder how they feed with the galloping cost of food. I got an uncomfortable answer last week when a classmate posted an experience on the set platform. A welder had defaulted on his promise to deliver a job. The man went in search of the welder in anger. He was understandably taken aback by what he saw as the welder’s residence. Then he saw a seemingly happy family seated ‘at table’.
The children, four of them, exchanged banters as their hands travelled to their mouths. As he moved closer, the head of the family stood up to meet him. But not before the man had seen the menu. It was a bowl of ‘eba’. Beside it was a smaller bowl of palm oil. That was the meal the children found so sumptuous.
Speechless, he turned back. And the head of the family, the welder, followed. Rather than ask the welder why he defaulted and demand a refund, he instead, dipped his hands into his pocket and gave out what his hand scooped. A meal of ‘eba’ with palm oil should not make anybody happy. But what do you do if that is your best meal of the week?
Why our leaders do not see the poverty and deprivation of their people beats me. Instead, they flaunt wealth so gracelessly. The whole essence of going on campaign trails is to see the living and working conditions of those in your constituencies. I had gone on campaign trails both in the North and the South in my younger days with politicians and I know they see enough.
Why they get into power and decide to do nothing about the poverty they see can only be best explained by them. But it does make one wonder why people venture into politics if it is not to improve the conditions of their people. Why would a man who has attained a certain level in his private and professional life go into public service if the intention is not to give back? This is the question I keep asking my ‘friends’ who venture into politics.
The consequences of this neglect are now all around us in the increased spate of kidnappings, ritual killings, yahoo, yahoo, and other such desperate means to escape the poverty cycle. The result is that neither the rich nor the poor is safe any longer. Life is as cheap and brutal for the rich now as it is for the poor. The looming catastrophe can be averted if our leaders took their job more seriously. It can be reduced if our super rich could shed some weight in a collective resolve to reduce the gap between the very rich and the very poor.
The intriguing thing is that it will not even affect their lifestyle. How much for example, does a 60 year old billionaire need to live well? This is besides the obvious fact that nothing goes with us when we die. A poignant reminder of this fact is the photograph of a late woman of substance who incidentally was well liked when she was alive. She had posed in a room full of local and international awards. And one of the questions raised by a commentator was: Which of these awards did she take with her?
Our leaders irrespective of how they are attired – whether in academic gown, legal gown, cassock or simply caftan – have sent the signal out that making money by whatever means, is imperative in Nigeria. The poor have picked up this signal. And like the rich, are exploiting the inherent weaknesses in the country. There is need for a different signal.