Abuja: Diary of a Social Theorist
It is Eid again, the festival we seem to dishonour what we set out to celebrate. I’m seated in a resort with friends enjoying the panoramas of Abuja. Prices of food items have risen, clothes are no longer cheap, and rams which are the symbolic acquisitions for this feast to commemorate the aborted sacrifice of Abraham, a remarkable test of faith, are going for more than the price of a motorcycle. All to emulate the faith and modesty of those fine people.
On the phone my friend is lecturing his family about the need to “manage” the little he has sent home. He gives them statistics of how a day in Abuja ends, and his survival tactics. Even though he exaggerates, I still feel for him. Abuja, to some non-residents, is an Arcadia where money grows on trees; a land of vast opportunities where the President of the Federation himself posts money to residents – or just a city where you earn the same thing as the politicians.
“I should learn to save my incomes?” My friend echoes, obviously the words of the tormentor on the phone. We burst into laughter. And for this realisation that we have been listening in, he ended the call. That is a typical phone call from certain mathematicians back home who seem to have idea of what you earn and how it is, or must be, used. Let’s stalk a lucky Ibrahim in Abuja: he works for N100,000 per month. His house rent is half a million naira, which means what he earns in five months belongs to the landlord. Ibrahim has to transport himself to and from wherever works in Central Area for not less than a thousand naira every day. At the office, Ibrahim has to eat. Mama-put joints are not close to everyone. If you include his regular utility bills and some emergency events, you don’t need my friend accountant Remi to officially declare him BROKE!
Landing a job as Ibrahim’s in Abuja is a miracle for which it’s okay to organise a Thanksgiving. A friend of ours, a graduate of Sciences, earns thirty-five thousand naira working in a private hospital. Another friend, a lawyer, is paid twenty thousand naira every month slaving in Chambers whose owner thinks he’s doing him a favour. He has been miming “I need the experience first!” as an excuse for the consensual slavery for the past four years. These cruelly underpaid friends are still being depended on by family, and by relatives obsessed with the delusions of an Arcadian Abuja.
The day you go broke in Abuja is the day you will testify to the absolute inhumanity of man. Like every other city, it’s soulless and unsympathetic to every failed survivalist. This wisdom is carried by a consellor who once said, “Abuja is one place on earth you don’t want to be broke… Strive to attain certain level of financial freedom even if it means starving your grandmother at the village!” Elsewhere you may be broke and still have your parents or relatives to save you, but here everybody, even your closest friends, wears the Don’t-Go-Broke philosophy around like they would a bullet-proof vest in a war zone. Of course Abuja is a war zone of political and financial crises. Wallahi if you go broke in Abuja even your girlfriend or wife, who had previously called you the names of strange-sounding fruits, will no longer be available or friendly. She’ll either be too “busy” or “sick” to see or tolerate you.
My friends refused to go to their hometowns for Eid for fear of the “leeches” awaiting their returns with all they had plucked from the money tree of the federal capital. Their confessions resemble mine in a sense that some of these people desperate to have their shares of sallah palliatives are actually in self-inflicted palavers. An uncle of mine who is in his late thirties has four wives, his own irrational way of contributing to a religion he does not understand – yes, polygamy is one of the most abused practices among our people. For my uncle is a mere fisherman, with no financial and mental ability to discharge his duty as a husband in accordance with Qur’anic stipulations, being that fishing is a seasonal occupation. Which means he relies on us to feed his wives and uncountable children when the going gets tough, which is almost always. Evidently no supports can have all of those children in school. This is how we ruin our society, by remaining insensitive to time, to an age that requires outright application of progressive ideas to better our lots. In festive periods, their demands become unbearable.
I also know of a man who is presently in Saudi Arabia for a self-sponsored Hajj while his two wives and children are left to depend on neighbours for their benefits of eid-el Kabir. You put in over half a million naira for your pilgrimage to Hajj, just to be seen as a respectable Muslim, an Alhaji, even though you’re not a responsible Muslim by expressed activities, but your family has not even a thirty thousand naira ram for an important season of their life. This is also where I fault even our governments’ sponsorships of pilgrims when the money invested in individual pilgrim could set him/her up in an SME where s/he can eventually afford to privately fund his/her Hajj exercise.
We leave the resort discussing our people’s and governments’ ways, to catch up with other friends at Silverbird Galleria, an entertainment hub in the heart of city. The place was beautifully crowded. Beautiful because it’s my own definition of an open society; I see groups of ladies dressed in hijabs and others in spaghetti tops and mini mingling without staring each other down. This scene is unusual, thanks to sallah fun-seekers. To me, the sight is symbolic, it colourfully expresses the tolerance of an average human being. Is this co-habitation difficult? Do the clothes of those ladies poison one another? Do turbans distort the views of suit-adorning persons? No! Then why and how is it hard to show some respect to our different Ways? You go, Nigerians. May God save us from us!
By Gimba Kakanda
Blueprint Newspapers (18/10/2013)
@gimbakakanda (On Twitter)