For this topic, I would probably need a whole website to properly discuss it. In fact, I could write a book on poverty and I still would just be scratching the surface.
“Poverty” is probably the most popular word in the average Nigerian’s vocabulary.
The first memory I have of the word itself is sometime in my early secondary school days. A music video by MC Smoke was playing on NTA, and I probably would have just ignored it but the instrumental of the song was one I knew and recognised. It is instrumental for a song by a rap group called Mobb Deep, Hell on Earth.
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So I listened and watched MC Smoke’s song – a song about a man who is frustrated and beats his wife. Memory fails me now, but I think by the end of the song his wife leaves him and returns to her parents. And the chorus/refrain told the moral lesson of the song
“Na poverty dey cause all these things. Na poverty.”
It’s not hard to imagine the kind of impression those words would have left on a mind as young and hyperactive as mine, but they stayed there. And in my ever-curious nature, I went to consult my constant companion at that time for the meaning of the word.
From my companion (a dictionary actually) and even images in the video, I knew this poverty thing was not friendly; it destroyed homes, wrecked marriages, and played hell on a man’s self-esteem. Since Africa was (and largely still is) a patriarchal system, a man who couldn’t and cannot provide for his family is a failure.
I was afraid of poverty. Who could tell me then that things with my family would change and that I would come to know poverty intimately?
But I digress.
Someone once said to me: “I’m sure Jesus was talking about Nigeria when he said, ‘The poor you will always have amongst you’.” I didn’t think it was funny but I realise that there’s some truth to it.
There is a lot of poverty in Nigeria but in this writing I’m talking in terms of impoverished mind-states and not just people with financial challenges. Let me share an example.
There’s a woman who teaches in a school in my neighborhood. As far as I know, she is a good teacher and dresses prettily. Her husband is an Okada rider.
None of all that so far bothers me.
My issue is this: sometime last year this woman put to bed. She already had a son of about two years of age, so this birth was for a second child (as far as I know), a girl. That was just last year. This year, a few weeks ago, I saw her – pregnant again.
You read that right. She’s about to have her third child – and the second is not a year old yet. She is not alone. This is the kind of thing you see every day. Some even have seven and counting without spacing.
It’s really none of my business; to each his own and all that. After all, they haven’t come to ask me for money to take care of the kids. But the Nigerian in me cannot help but be concerned. I’m asking myself: “How much is this woman paid? How much does her husband bring in daily from his okada endeavours? How much do they, as two adults consume monthly and how much do the kids need for good development? Can they really provide for the children the way they ought to?
These are just a few of the questions I ask myself.
I am confident the average Nigerian knows characters similar to the ones I just described. It’s interesting to note that for the most part, it’s almost as though it’s the poor people that have the most kids. How is that supposed to work?
Everybody I mentioned this matter to expressed similar sentiments: “The poor don’t have anything to do except sleep with each other. That’s why they have so many children.”
Can this be true?
True or not, I think things in Nigeria are difficult enough without individuals making stuff even harder for themselves. I saw a tweet someone shared during the week. The original tweeter asked: “Bill Gates dropped out of school, Mark Zuckerberg did too. What’s your excuse?”
Someone hilariously responded with a classic Nigerian line: “There is no light.”
I laughed. It is funny – but it is a sad reality. Let’s not get into the way electricity is these days. It’s enough to discourage even the most stout-hearted of entrepreneurs.
But how much of an excuse is lack of electricity? Would improved infrastructure make any difference to those with a poverty mentality? Can it?
Does poverty mentality even exist?
It is said that “a lizard in Nigeria cannot be an alligator anywhere else.” That makes sense, does it not?
To be continued.
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