A land flooded with milk and money - Trouble!

Kole Omotoso

Prof. Kole Omotoso

Prof. Kole Omotoso
Prof. Kole Omotoso
Kole Omotoso

Everything in Nigeria is a miracle. So, when people go for months and even years without salary and they are surviving, they are managing, we thank God, it is a miracle. But as Mr Trouble, even miracles have to be explained. Like David conquers Goliath be a miracle but when a big man arms himself clumsily against a mobile lightly armed youngster it ought to be obvious that Goliath had no chance. So how do we explain the miracle of Nigerian survival?

First of all it must be accepted that the percentage of the government salariat in Nigeria, that civil servants, teachers not forgetting ghost workers, is not particularly high. Their profile is high though because they are the ones who create news, distribute news and consume news. And it is usually news about themselves. All the same they are Nigeria. They are the ones who sing and dance:

“We dream of that blessed land,

That land of milk and money.

Always we moan and wonder:

How sweet it’ll be

To reach NAIJA!!!”

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In the first place, Nigerians live on trading favours. This is a village community mentality. It is a pre-industrial behaviour that would undermine developmental theories all over the place. Because when you look at it closely, with Trouble in mind, development and industrialisation create individual uniqueness and independence. I do my thing and you do your thing. That way, our traditional values of the right hand washes the left hand and the left hand washes the right hand and all the water is shared. The child is fed by the parents and when the parents are fed in turn in the future. The big man in the segmented quarters of our cities gives big while the small person contributes his widow’s mite. That way the one who has palm oil exchanges with the owner of corn and both can eat variations corn meals.

Living in foreign lands, especially in developed and industrialised societies, many Nigerians have remarked how house helps and the lower ranks of the work force expect that senior service earners must keep giving and giving. They would proudly assert that in Nigeria even your house help or driver would from time to time bring oranges or bananas or pineapple to master or madam or to the children.

In the second place, Nigeria is a land of embarrassing fertility and productivity, land that rewards even the careless and the unwilling with abundance of rewards beyond the dreams. A land of plenty milk, plenty money. Throw corn at chicken and discover, in five days’ time that the corn that was nor eaten by the chicken is growing. In ninety days time there will be another harvest of corn. Such a land cries for appreciation! So, when a state governor decries that the salariat come to work three days a week to push their pens in government offices and spend the remaining two days of the week tilling the land, he was simply concretising what has existed for years. After all, it is not the last so many months that Nigerians have been going without their salaries. And they have survived. As Corruption has eaten into infrastructure and the price of oil has dipped lower and lower, Nigerians have depended on subsistence farming, subsistence teaching, subsistence journalism and, dare say it, subsistence governing.

The challenge of subsistence existence is that it is a case of sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. There is no saving for the future because it is the mouth today. Behold the lilies of the field and so on and so forth. But this is not the only challenge of living on the exchange of favours instead of buying favours. After all, money is not everything! Or so Nigerians want to believe.

Subsistence existence as well as trading favours depends on networks, who you know and who knows you. This means that there are bonds formed, bonds watered and fertilised, bonds that would be called upon in challenging times, like when salaries are not paid. These bonds exist in families, in clubs and street gangs, in cults, in churches and other places of worship. The primary reason of getting together becomes the trading of favours. This form of existence depends on remembering, on memory. As if to oppose our traditional values industrial developed societies have no social memory. We do not therefore wish to industrialise and developed, thank you. We need our social memories because, as our people say, he who does not remember the favour of yesterday will not receive another tomorrow.

Perhaps the greatest challenge of subsistence existence is its ability to become the cosy enabling environment for what has become known as corruption in government. Within this ambiance, people of the village and of the quarter have wondered how an exchange of favours could tagged as corruption for which people can be sent to prison or for which the death sentence could be demanded! Clever studies attempting to clarify the issues involved in corruption and in trading favours have been produced and circulated. Human Rights have been invoked to protect those accused of corruption. Yet the discussion will not go away. If nothing viable replaces the trading of favours as a way of life, how will subsistence existence perish?

For radical thinkers and activists, the challenge posed by subsistence existence is the impossibility of revolution. Revolution is impossible in Nigeria. Recently a columnist bemoaned the low level of anger and objection to adverse situations of lack of delivery of goods and services to Nigerians by Nigerian governments at every level. How do people go on for 12 months without salary and they continue to go to work? Why do people put up with such idiotic performances from politicians and public servants and do not hit the roof? Don’t we know places where the people would not tolerate two weeks without the payment of salaries? And don’t we hear of places where trains come in late and their coaches are set on fire? As Fela says: I wan’ build house, I no get house, and we endure, suffering and smiling because we live on trading favours.

Kole Omotoso.