by Muyiwa Adetiba
This is a true story. A close friend was driving on a fairly busy road on Lagos Island when he was stopped by a traffic light. He looked right and his eyes caught a nine or ten year old child crying uncontrollably by the side. The sight so moved him that he parked his car and got down to see what was making the child so distraught. It turned out that the figures didn’t add up for the poor child. The money she had on her from the day’s sales did not correspond to what was left of her wares and she knew all hell would break loose at home. My friend solved the problem the only way he could – by making up the difference. But it was a disturbed man that walked into his air-conditioned SUV. Emotions welled up inside him as he narrated the story to his wife. At a point he started sobbing and had to park the car for the second time. The wife who had hardly seen her husband of thirty years cry had to take over the steering that evening. It was a sober couple that went to bed at night.
I am sure it was not the first time my friend was seeing children dash in and out of traffic with goods that amounted to very little as it is a common sight on many, if not all Nigerian major roads. But something tweaked inside him that evening. His brief conversation with the hapless child brought home the importance of ten, twenty Naira to a family that is really struggling to exist.
In a normal setting, a ten-year old should have finished her home work by six, had one or two hours of play time with her peers and be looking forward to an evening meal. She should not at ten, be balancing books with dire consequences if they didn’t add up. She should not have to miss out on the joy of childhood so easily or lose the innocence of childhood so quickly. A child on the road at six in the evening is at a considerable risk. What the danfo drivers might not do the okada drivers will accomplish. Then there are the child molesters, child abductors and child rapists. In all probability, her walk home at dusk, would take her through short cuts that would further expose her to untold risks. Would she tell if she was raped or molested? In any case who would listen? Her death would be as insignificant and invisible as her life has been. And how far would she go to get an extra Naira into her pocket?
I don’t know what actually made my friend to cry that evening. But the story of the very poor in Nigeria will well up emotions in you if you have a compassionate mind. I know I have had to look away sometimes when a particular scene disturbs me. It is true that Nigeria has no business having over 60% of her population in extreme poverty when we pump two million barrels of oil per day. It is true, and studies have proved it, that just 10% of the money our leaders and their cronies fritter away will reduce the poverty ratio by as much as 30%. But what about you and I and the life styles we lead? How many of us spend considerable sum on consumables and goods we don’t need against Warren Buffet’s injunction to spend only on what we need?
An average ‘middle class’ Nigerian should plead guilty and I will explain why. Once a month, he attends his old school meeting. After an hour or so of a directionless meeting, the food comes out along with expensive liquor. He and his mates gorge themselves on these until they are satiated. The rest is put in the freezer or thrown away. The next Sunday is the church society meeting. Again we permit ourselves an hour of a directionless meeting before the food and drinks come out. The following Sunday is a town meeting and so on. The Saturdays are filled with weddings and birthdays. The success of these functions is measured by the quantum of food served and wasted. A very successful wedding is the one that has bottles of champagne on every table and is able to serve three, four course meals.
Now, before you attend your next function lets crunch some figures. More than half of the world’s population lives on less than 500 Naira per day. Over one billion children live in poverty with over 20,000 dying every day due to poverty. Almost 30% of children in developing countries are underweight or stunted. Nigeria has not in any way helped global statistics because we are actually above the global average in almost every index. So a 12-year old on the streets in Nigeria might actually be 15 or more. It gets disconcerting when we read that the wealthiest 10% use 60% of the world’s consumption while the poorest 10% use just 0.5% and even more so in Nigeria where the richest 10% corner almost a whopping 90% of what all of us consume. So each time you want to indulge yourself, think of the fact that one billion out of 2.2 billion children are in poverty.
So why did God create the poor?
A man of God told a story of a wealthy man who found himself in a poor neighbourhood. He saw congestion, he saw leaked roofs that could only promote diseases and he realised that his domestic animals had a better living condition. He went home a sad man and for once, the ambience of his home only depressed him more. A rich array of food was waiting for him but he couldn’t eat. So he went to his room and stared unseeing at his panelled ceiling. In frustration he cried out; ‘God if you are so compassionate then why did you create the poor and allow so much suffering?’ A soft voice replied him; ‘son that’s why I created you’.
All Christian youths know the story of the three servants who were given talents. Two invested and one buried his. The moral was that we should never bury our talents otherwise it would be taken away from us. But have we ever stopped to think of the master who gave out the talents and in so doing shared his possession, his estate? That the moral might actually be that we should also share? The GDP of 41 indebted countries is less that the wealth of seven of the richest combined. It’s a no brainer therefore that poverty would reduce if they could just shed a bit. After all just one percent of the money spent on arms would put all children, 72million of them, in school.
Muyiwa Adetiba is a journalist and former editor of Sunday Punch who resides in Lagos.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.