Abuja: Tweets from Nairobi

My colleague was out of town and I was unusually lonely in the office. I needed the company of friends who could get me lightened up. I didn’t need any of my intellectual friends this evening, nobody who would remind me of Nigeria’s realities in some overused big words. I thought of the cinema, but who goes there without his girlfriend in President Jonathan’s Nigeria. It’s unwise to impress oneself, and funny to be another girl’s deputy boyfriend on social outings. This dilemma shouldn’t have set in if I had not lost my phone the previous day. I would’ve just pinged any frequenter of a hangout we call “Shisha Lounge” in a quiet district in the city. Shisha Lounge is like the parliament of Big Men’s children, but to me it’s simply an avenue to interact with friends, friends with whom I’m different, friends to whom books and literature and public intellections and social crusades are seen as outdated engagements. Oh, a few love books. I met them through a schoolmate who is also not a fan of books; so we only discuss European Premier Leagues, music, movies, schools and anything that influences the pop culture over shisha pots. I don’t smoke Shisha, though. You don’t have to believe me. Doesn’t mean I’m better, anyway.

Lest I forget this; whenever they seek cheap jokes, they would turn to me, pick up a line like “That reminds me, Mr Activist…” – and then an obviously sarcastic question on what I think about a particular politician or a policy that doesn’t sit well with the masses. Jokes like that are the elixirs that get me going, and I was ready for a lot of their puns as I finally made up my mind to visit there unannounced. There was a burst of laughter when they noticed my entry. They laughed because I had just turned myself in, for a jovial member I had not met in a long time, one who had called to warn that I have been banned from coming to the Lounge when I captured an aspect of Big Men’s children in a piece titled “Big Man’s Burden”. Thankfully my case died with the laughter and, as if something was missed in the cyber-world with that interruption, we all returned our phones and tablets.

Later, we discussed politics, and politicians. And possible sources of General T. Y. Danjuma’s wealth, whose philanthropy they didn’t seem to understand. Before midnight, which was around the time we always bid farewell, I had read some tweets that ridicule the happenings around me. The thing I read that stirred up my social consciousness while I was in the lounge were actually tweets by Nigerian novelist, Richard Ali who was in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, for an event. His posts, which are his views on what set the Kenyan city apart from Nigeria’s Lagos and Abuja, validate my fear for our wide social disparity, and the insensitivity of our governments to this social disaster. “So, middleclass,” Richard wrote, “should mean something. A middleclass person in #Nairobi can afford to enter A-list club like Tribeca. Not so in #Lagos. (22/June).” I have written against attempts by elitist Governors like Babatunde Fashola to turn our cities into paradise of the rich and the western, especially with their careless demolition exercises in a leap of misplaced priority, because they fail to notice that our middle-class is a joke. On this, Richard wrote, “So, #Nairobi is a human city. People move around in free spaces, meeting & loving & partying–so the people live. None of the guardedness, empty ostentation or walls.” Go round Nigeria, and you will understand the survivalists who parade themselves as middle-class; what we have around are glorified poor men who wear the class labels just to have a chip on their shoulders. Our poor middle-class must heed in seeking Richard’s Nairobi: “I will miss #Nairobi, because it is a city with a soul. It is one where #middleclass means something–exciting, vibrant, African.” Or else we may have to ask for proper lexicons to qualify our people.

Richard’s tweets are reminders of Abuja’s, and to a large extent Nigeria’s, flawed social strata. And they urged me to ponder the financial status of these few of the city’s Big Boys; a friend seated next to me carried out a transaction online worth thousands of dollars. The goods ordered are basketball kits and gadgets and whatnots. A few weeks earlier, another friend gave his credit card to his colleague who had an urgent need to pay a bill online. USD7000 was debited. I thought he’d bat lids, and query him for such vicious spending. But he only returned the card to a leather pouch. Unperturbed. And these boys parade themselves as middle-class elements. I’m confused because of their refusal to see themselves as anything more than the middle-class even though their net-worth is a factor for the Nigerian public and media to worshipfully dub them ‘millionaires’. And the same middle-class is supposed to comprise the many disgruntled citizens who evade taxes and utility bills. The same middle-class in the same Nigeria has members who cannot conveniently afford domestic air travels. I think our sociologists need to intervene and highlight our social strata, even if this means having separate groups for those with favourable social welfare, and those whose membership is simply justified by their level of education. Perhaps the flawed statistics of our middle-class citizens may be the reason President Goodluck Jonathan removed, even if partial, the fuel subsidy last year. May God save us from us!

By Gimba Kakanda
Blueprint Newspapers (28/06/2013)
@gimbakakanda (On Twitter).

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