WEEKEND ARENA

How Nigerians became ‘Onyirionwu’

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Resilience has become a crucial part of life in Nigeria; so much that adaptability here practically reminds one of the Igbo term, ‘Onyirionwu’, comically employed by hawkers to get attention for their wares in long buses and trains. The hawkers would tell the story of Onyirionwu, who is an ‘old baby’ full of mischief; he has refused to grow, refused to talk or walk, refused to do anything meaningful, apart from eating and inflicting pains on other children in the neighbourhood. His demeanours are so frustrating for his parents that they sometimes would wish he was dead to save them the frustrations, but Baby Onyirionwu ‘would refuse’ to die. His ‘chi’ is always awake.

This analogy has become pertinent in the face of the unfolding frustrating scenarios in Nigeria, because the political leaders seem to have clearly marked the citizens as Onyirionwu , those who have refused to capitulate in the face of threatening hardship. They have continued to brandish toothy smiles on empty stomachs. The citizens are willingly presenting their backs to be pushed against the wall with the firm belief that it would not kill them.

 It is worrisome that in the face of the harsh economy, the leaders have remained undaunted about inflicting further hardship on the citizens. From north to south to east, it is the same story of policies that are making the average Nigerian poorer. While aiming to bring about the kind of development that built western economies, the leaders must be mindful of the fact that most of the amenities available to ‘oyibos’ are non-existent here. If the ‘kepu-kepu’ in the rumour mills are anything to go by, the price of petrol may hit N400 per litre very soon and those who met to take this decision have been arguing that New Yorkers pay twice as high, that people in Togo pay much more. But they have forgotten that New Yorkers can afford not to buy petrol and still live very comfortable lives unlike the average Nigerians, who do not have trains to commute between points nor electricity to power their homes.   While the FG claims the money being expended on petrol subsidy is unsustainable, it is appalling that the government has not done much to reduce Nigerians’ dependence on petrol, which will drastically reduce consumption and drive down the subsidy figures. One does not need to be a Harvard-trained economist to know that our petrol consumption would come to half if Nigerians are sure of 12 hours of power supply strategically made available at productive hours daily. But the Discos are more interested in getting money for what was not supplied while the FG seems unconcerned about the trend. Perhaps, they feel the people will always adapt.

And they are right because the average Nigerian is so much consumed with the battle to survive than with what is responsible for his struggles. Tell them  bus fares have gone up by 300%, they would struggle to get the money and struggle to pay the difference without sparing a reasoning about what is responsible. I heard this kind of tolerance is lacking in most African countries, where riots could break out over slight increases in the price of ordinary bread. But Nigerians will swallow the pill (or is it pride?) to present a façade of wellbeing.

The ban of okada operators in Lagos is another of such bitter pill. Over the years, Nigerians have grown to embrace okada as a means of transportation. Yes, it is absurd…very so, but that is the reality here.  Some people are quick to compare Lagos to New York, but they are not the same. Abuja, Port Harcourt Kano and Onitsha are anything but not New York or Brussels, so let us not go there to force people to comply with New York standards with Onitsha realities. The ban will ultimately end hundreds of thousands of jobs that are connected to the okada business which has been providing the livelihoods of people like motorcycle spare parts dealers (this will gladden Malami’s heart indeed), mechanics, food vendors who sell to okada riders and possibly, touts who collect their daily levies.  All of these people would soon be thrown into the labour market with no option of survival in the face of rising insecurity in the country. A humane approach would have been to restrict them to certain routes, where they can at least eke a living while the government continues to pursue the dream of being like Shanghai and Toronto.

But Nigerians are a resistant species. They will survive whatever comes their way. They have developed thick skin to economic strangulation. Every Nigerian deserves a certificate, Certificate of Survival.