The 5k Naira Republic

 

I PITY the almighty . This is not what it is supposed to be. It has seen its plum days. It did not only rule; it reigned. It did not strut like the dollar or the pound when I was a child, but its notes rustled with promise. The huffed and puffed. It was worth its weight in gold.

 

When we transitioned from the pound to the naira, we chanted and hoped. In memorable notes, Baba Sala gave us minstrelsy performances in jingles and dance, celebrating and delineating the various naira notes.

One Naira was a lot to hold. A thousand naira was a salary of big men. Company managers in the 1970’s earned gloriously who took home three hundred naira a month. Car loans of three thousand naira gave you a good car. You rented a great flat in choice areas of town with N40 a month. Even up to the 1980’s, N5000 gave you a car, a new one.

Now we are demonizing people with N5000. In this COVID-19 era, anyone who has a bank account of N5000 or more is regarded as happy enough not to qualify for federal government cash transfer, although the COVID-19 palliatives differ from the conditional cash transfer. For the poor, the distinction is not necessary. They will accept anything to tide over this turbulence.

Suddenly we are giving value to the Naira where it does not deserve. The world ridicules us that Nigerians live on less than two dollars a day, and that amounts to about N8,000. That sum, by world standard, is awful. But we are making those who earn even less than one dollar a day look like princes.

Five thousand naira could buy a car in the blossomy days of the naira. What can it do today? It is like a former millionaire who lost the luxury years of posh cars and decadent parties to the locust of bad times. He now waits at bus stops to commute.

Five thousand naira cannot feed a family for a week, no matter the frugal genius. We should not make it look like those who earn 10,000 or 20,000 earn anything in this cash transfer. They will accept it. But it does not save them.

Another condition for cash transfer is that it should focus on the urban poor. That’ s a good idea. The urban poor, the sufferers of capitalism, are worse off than the rural poor. In rural Nigeria, they feed on what they plant and pick and kill. They retain the hunter-gatherer instinct. They thrive on what they get. The urban poor live on what they are given, and they don’t get anything near what the world calls a living wage. They are like the characters captured in Festus Iyayi’s novel, Violence.

The naira has failed, but it has not fallen. The Bible times bewailed the poor fate that befell money, and it wrote, “money failed in the land of Egypt…” The apocalypse can fall on a currency as we have seen in some countries like Argentina, Ghana and Zimbabwe. Money became a burden more than an enabler. As Isaiah noted, “the land is utterly wasted” and explained earlier that “as with the people, so with the priest, as with the servant, so with the master…as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower…”

Money value falls gradually all over the world. In his classic, The Return of the native, Thomas hardy writes of a man who in the 19th century came into money and how much was it? Eleven thousand pounds. He was a wealthy man. Not in today’s England.

So, we should be mindful of those we think can flourish, so we know who to nourish. Anybody earning N5,000 is like a destitute in today’s Nigeria. By taking it for granted that the money should go to people with bank account, we take it for granted that the very poor can be reached in the banks. Many of them have no bank accounts. It is a failure of imagination to think that bank accounts will do. They should follow the Lagos model of employing political mobilization tools to reach the destitute among us.

The system also assumes that those who top their phones with less than 100 Naira are a tool to reach the needy. That might be true. There are many, though, who cannot afford a phone, and they borrow to make calls. There are too many things that are luxury to many people in this society. Just as one generation’s rich is another’s poor, a pauper in a rich man’s imagination is actually a comfortable man. Our comforts make us into snobs but make the poor sob. George Bush Sr. fell into a storm when he walked into the supermarket and did not know of the new sales machines. Marie Antoinette made her husband Louis 16th the last monarch in French history when she asked protesters to eat cake if they could not afford bread. It is the same acceptance of low standards that made graduates hot cake first and wastrels of the economy now. We have disenfranchised some citizens with our opulent imagination. By making the poor look rich, we have made the destitute a non-citizen, like Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man.

We are now a 5000 Naira by that policy. The notion may be noble, but not wise.

 

A tale of two bags

 

ORDINARILY, her name does not ring a bell. And even as politics goes, she is not even a belle. But she is trying to bell a bad cat. An APC cat.

The task is to divert the attention of  Akwa Ibom State from high and sublime issues of development. Blessing Osom Edet is going junk and prurient. If she is a party face, she is also the APC façade. She wanted to represent the people under the APC in the state house of assembly, and the people spurned her. And now, her idle mind is accusing the government of parsimony. What does that mean? That Governor Udom Emmanuel’s government is not opening the state coffers for lazy drones. She wants a rebirth of stomach infrastructure, Akwa Ibom style. It has spun attention and a flurry of backlash on the social media. She is invoking corruption as an instrument of governance.

Because of that alleged stinginess, the allegation says women are now bidding farewell to their marital vows to bow to men of means in the PDP with their husbands’ tacit consent. She is, in essence, demonising a whole generation of Akwa Ibom women as citizens of what novelist Henry James calls “the big, bright Babylon.” They have abandoned God and their faith for filthy lucre. Evidence? She has none. What a self-indictment! But many are saying her cry is not about money, or faithless wives, or conniving husbands, but about 2023.

Haba! If they want to focus on a battle for the next set of electoral champions, do they have to invent ghost stories? Why not focus on the issues, and not tissues of lies. Why make a bedlam out of marital beds, or lies about who lies with whom?” alt=”” aria-hidden=”true” />

Issues abound to tackle rather than who sleeps with whom? First, why is there a bout of tranquility in a state in which blood and death was routine. A man of peace put an end to an era of human waste. Rather they are romanticising the pre-Emmanuel era of Ghana-must-go bags. They want it back. Well, if we recall, it was an era of two bags: moneybags beside body bags; deaths and dollars. But Governor Udom Emmanuel said he has come so his people may have life and have it more abundantly. They should take him to task on that. No news of shootings at churches, or at homes or rallies. Is that not true?

He is staking claims at making an industrial hub of his state, from coconut refineries, to syringe factories and metre hub, etc. With Ibom Air, he has lined the Nigerian sky with its top-of-the-line aircraft. Any counterpoint? We should focus on facts, not phantasmal delirium that fuels tabloids and the nadir regions of the internet.

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