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Jan 23, 2017
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You Can’t Stay Rich Here Pt. 1 – Akpa Arinzechukwu

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Every nation generationally has something to pass down to the next one – anyone it is, mostly, they include wealth and rich and ugly history – for learning and motivation. Countries like America though not yet an ideal state strive to reconcile her historical self with the other self according to Claudia Rankine – Germany is still picking pieces of her broken self. They have a history, ugly one – the war but they are winning. But Nigeria, with her bloodshed and ethnic tensions and wealth, chooses to distribute poverty and corruption. This generation is only poorer than the last and the next becomes poorer than this. Continuously in circles. Same leaders, same policies, same promises and same tyranny. Every Nigerian leader since independence in 1960 is a messiah with brand new chains – The living conditions of Nigerians actually have not changed since 1970.

So, what next?

It was the early hours of another day in the month of December, Mama was compiling results of her pupils. She was handling two classes – primary one and two. The classes had twenty something and thirty something pupils respectively but the Local Government Education Board wanted all the schools to manufacture ghost pupils to make everything on the result sheets fifty. My mum handled two classes, so, she had one hundred real and ghost pupils to work on. She hissed continuously and would end each hiss with: “I’ll never allow any of my child grow to become a teacher. Never. This government is sick.” As expected, we would echo Amen, even when she was not directly referring to us. We knew what she was going through and never wanted it ourselves. It was better to use the blood of Jesus to destroy anything that would make one become a teacher.

My mother earned eleven thousand naira. She later got promoted and started earning twenty something thousand which was after she got another degree from the university. Going to a teacher’s college was not all the government wanted any longer. Both her eleven and twenty something thousand were all that got paid, no allowances, no leave, no awards, no weekly stipend or entitlement and sometimes, for an unknown reason, the government slashed their salary, so every teacher got half of what they are paid. Mama earned lower than she worked, so, she had to borrow from people to feed and send us to school. “You’ll become an engineer, you got me? You’ll get a job and help your family out,” Mama would say and I nodded.

Years later, my older sister graduated from the university. It was a relief, Mama would now focus on two persons – my other sister and I. She studied Food Science and Technology and we hoped she would get to work with any of the big names and start sending us money. We would never get to live poor anymore. I called her one day and wished for a brand new phone and laptop. She would soon get a job. Everything would fall in its rightful place.

“You’ve still not gotten any call from this people?” Mama quizzed my older sister. There was an unintended silence. The fan was spinning though there was no power, the breeze outside was strong – we could hear our hearts beat and the blood running through our veins. Everyone looked at no one. We had grown tired of talking about jobs – applying and responding. “You mean they’ve not called for an interview yet?”

“Yes, I was told that I didn’t make it through to the next stage.”

“What criteria? How could someone know whether you were qualified or not if there’s no interview?” No one said anything. “What about the Civil Service Commission stuff?”

“No response yet, but someone told me some persons got employed last week.”

“And your application has been there for almost two months. Why is this country like this?” Mama was worried and angry. I left while the ladies had their talk.

It was years after my sister’s graduation – 2014, someone called my sister to know if she was interested in a teaching job. My sister was joyous, she liked the idea – she remembered how she loved teaching as a child and no longer how she longed, dreamed and loved working in a food producing factory. After the interview, my sister got employed. She became a teacher and her salary too is twenty something thousand. She doesn’t cry about it, better than the days she stayed without work. But her twenty something thousand can’t pay her rent and get her other things needed by the ladies. She sells things after school to raise some money.

I decided to tour the five eastern states of Nigeria after my graduation from the university, but before then, I had to go round schools within my state to distribute books to them and raise awareness on reading. I found out that most of the high school students pay their ways through school – most of them who are unable to read are the ones who go to work immediately after school, only to come school the next day to sleep. “Sir please, I dunno how to read,” the small handsome boy I called up to read said. He was looking down at his feet. His mates laughed. He was shy. Although the principal chastised him for openly saying he couldn’t read when he could have made an attempt like others. I told him never to stop believing. It was later the principal narrated the boy’s story to me.

On the bus from Ebonyi State to Anambra State, I discovered how things kept dragging other things down just to remain tall. Some of these are things no one would ever imagine can. A typical example is a commercial cyclist overtaking a bus driver without honking or slowing down a bit. He does that so well that he cusses the bus driver for trying to catch up with him. Or a cursory look at some of the buses on the road, whose roofs are nothing but scraps. They drive, they exist, they charge and they survive mostly by their abilities to fight with other drivers or conductors over passengers. Look through the window to get the view. A fall into a pothole and I remembered a conversation with Mama. “What next?” Mama’s voice swallowed my consciousness. “What next? Get another degree.”

“Won’t you go get a job yet? Even if it is teaching, it’s better than staying idle.”

What next? I wish I could ask the struggling drivers and conductors. But for sure, they would tell me: what next? We’ve got you. You are seated and the money comes – your money is the most important thing. My driver’s English was close to Queen’s English. He was funny and accommodating. Didn’t act like most drivers who are generally seen as touts. I found out through our discussion that he graduated from the university the same year my sister did. The bus is not his and he is married. He tried to cover up some distances in a day to make certain amount of money. He accounts for the bus and takes the other home. “My brother, we must survive any way,” the driver quipped. “My only regret is the years I spent in the university.” His eyes widened in regret as he tried not to speak again. He wished he had used those monies he spent on books and tuition in starting a business. “I’d have been big now,” he chuckled.

2016 unlike any other year has seen most people out of their jobs than most persons got employed. Thanks to president Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign promises and reform policies and continuous blames on the past administration which was  revealed would not stop any time soon, people are taking to the streets with arms and placards. Kidnapping is on the rise, Niger Delta Avengers blow up the oil pipelines every other day and the anti-graft agencies have been turned into witch-hunting tools. According to Ayii Kwei, the system has no justification.

For the first time in history, Nigeria – the northern part experienced an earthquake or tremor (using the language of the media to make it less alarming) because of the president’s directives to dig everywhere in the north in search of oil instead of listening to the demands of the people or creating a conducive environment for entrepreneurship which is every country’s priority as it adds to their GDP. The tremor got some roads broken – this needs money to be fixed. The buildings that may be affected are not excluded. Many things affecting the economy and nothing is done.

So, the economy is in recession now (thanks to the President’s economic reforms), what next?

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