Poverty is a bastard! Believe me, that statement is as true as the fact that I am alive. If not for poverty, why would five able-bodied young men sit around today, contemplating and arguing on the cheapest thing to eat. Funny enough, today’s also Nigeria’s Independence Day.
As we dropped the idea of taking custard with bread (because that was what we took last night), Andy suggested we pooled our resources together and cooked soup. I was about to throw in my support for his idea, when Obinna, another friend of ours who lived upstairs came in.
“Happy Independence Day!” Udoka, who had been quiet throughout our deliberations (mostly because of the biting hunger; he was most affected by it because he didn’t eat with us yesterday night), suddenly spoke up.
“Guy, mind yourself oo. Pesin dey talk say im never chop, you dey open mouth dey tell me ‘Happy Independence Day’,” Obinna let out with an unusual venom.
“Ah, ah! Guy wetin nah? Why you dey vex like this?” That was me, and we all looked at him, surprise evident in our expressions. Obinna rarely got angry.
“Why I no go vex, eh? Na my two years of graduation be dis, I never get job. I dey beg to dey chop. But my friend who I better pass for secondary school don buy Benz. Oya tell me, why I no go vex?”
There was silence for the next five seconds after he finished his vituperation. Then as if perfectly choreographed, we all let out a cacophony of laughter. As we laughed, his face darkened with more anger and he was about to leave us when I called him back.
“Guy… guy, wait nah. Why you dey comot nah?” I said, while trying to stifle the giggles that consumed me when I saw his angry face.
“Abeg, wetin dey funny for wetin I say?” Obinna asked.
I was about to reply when Emma, the perpetual pessimist interjected, “You see Obinna, I do not blame you. Nigeria, this hell hole of a country, can never be better.”
That earned him a cold stare from Nonso, our upcoming political activist and a die-hard patriot. “What do you mean by that, Emma?” he asked, staring daggers at Emma. Uh-oh. A fight is about to start.
Don’t worry, it’s not that kind of fight. It would have been better though. Instead, I knew that should Emma reply him with a snide remark, we would have a long argument, which would do nothing to alleviate our hunger.
And trust Emma to never disappoint. “You heard me. Nigeria is doomed! Check it out, nothing—absolutely nothing—is working in this country. Or will ever work for that matter.”
As if on cue, the light was taken. Emma looked at us as if to say ‘I told you so.’
“C’mon guys, it’s not true! We are not doomed. We are growing—at a slow pace, yes—but we are growing nonetheless,” Nonso cried.
“I kind of support Emma,” Uche, the last person in our group added.
“Thank you my brother!” Emma said, taking Uche’s right hand and pumping it up and down. He then turned to Nonso, “Nonso, okay, you know what you’ll do? I dare you to name one thing, one sector we can confidently say that we have perfected.”
Nonso paused. He creased his forehead as he tried to find one good point to buttress his argument. “Well… I… We—”
“You see? You have nothing! Nada. Zilch. That’s because we have failed, not just ourselves, but the brave forefathers of this nation who fought for our freedom. Freedom, which has been snatched from us with great dexterity and trickery.”
I was about to say something to Emma, but I decided to keep quiet. There was no need adding more fuel to the smoldering fire. I decided to contemplate it within me. When he said that we have failed, did he include himself? If he did, doesn’t that make him a failure too?
Nonso’s eyes brightened. Maybe he had gotten a good point. “Emma, do you know that Nigeria has the best economy in Africa?”
“So? Why is the Ghanaian cedi more valuable than the naira? Come to think of it, the South African rand is also higher than the naira. No wonder they kill you guys off like chicken,” Emma said derisively.
“Wait, do you mean that South African currency is better than naira?” Obinna asked with incredulity written all over his face.
“Yes nah. That’s why our people are trooping into South Africa, only to be butchered like the cows our government value so much,” Emma said with a snicker.
Nonso’s face was bloated with barely restrained fury. He looked ready to box Emma in his ears. I sat up, ready to prevent any fight. Instead, Nonso fumed for some seconds before heaving a huge sigh. I glanced at Emma and noticed that he was enjoying his taunts, only that I know these were not mere taunts. Emma hated Nigeria for reasons we’ve not been privy to.
“So we all should give up hope? We all should commit suicide or leave the country?” Nonso said, his voice reducing a bit.
“Do anyone you can. Either way you’d leave this country,” Emma answered, his lips curving in a mischievous smirk. “As for me, I’m leaving for Canada come January. No be me and una go die for this bullshit country.”
That made me wince. And I reacted. “No you don’t commit suicide! And if you don’t have any valid reason for leaving the country other than leaving this ‘bullshit country’, then stay. Stay and let’s join hands to move Nigeria out of the gutter. This is our country whether you like it or not. No one else can build it for us, except us,” I said, my voice rising several decibels.
Uche snorted at what I said. “How do you want us to change this country, eh?” he asked, “how do think we can rescue a sinking ship whose captains are hell bent on dropping to the bottom of the ocean because they have lifeboats they can escape with?”
“It’s not going to be easy. But then again, nothing good is ever easy. First of all, we have to stand up for what we want. Just look at the charade we had and called elections, it was obvious that there were massive rigging and corruption of the system. But what did we do? We were all with our phones and condemning the people who will still rule us for another four years or more.”
Nonso looked at me like he wanted to hug me; Emma scoffed, Uche was about to say something else when Udoka interrupted him. “Guys, make we go buy wetin we go chop nah. Whether we dey leave for yankee or saying back, we gats be alive to do am.”
At that, we all laughed, and we all got up to look for what to eat. I went to my wallet, collected N200 and went to buy bread, groundnut and half bag of sachet water.
As I stepped out of my lodge, I inhaled the Independence Day air, and with a confidence I never knew I had, said, more to myself than to the unknown Nigerian citizens, “Las las na we go change Naija.”