The last time I bought it

Dr. Promise Adiele

By Promise Adiele

A new clause has gradually crept into Nigeria’s conversational discourse. That clause is “the last time I bought it.” Nigerians mandatorily add this clause any time they are discussing the market prices of various commodities.  There are no words to properly explain the galloping, undulating prices of different items in the market. The price of a commodity today inexplicably changes in a few days. Food items and other essential commodities are the worst hit. No doubt, the devil and all his cohorts must be wondering how Nigerians survive. It confounds the sensibilities of a man of good intentions how Nigerians keep alive amid skyrocketing market prices, collapsed government presence except for invidious reasons, and consistent hounding inflation in the country. Yet, Nigerians push on, move on, and smile on as if nothing is wrong, as if everything is fine. But we know all is not well, the signs are ominous.

At no time in the history of Nigeria does Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s song Suffering and Smiling find a better definition and relevance. Of course, Ras Kimono will be asking from his grave What’s Gwan? And Bob Marley responds – it is a Rat Race in Nigeria bro. Ask Nigerians how much they bought a commodity, they will state the price, but the latter part of the response must necessarily include “the last time I bought it”. Failure to do this would be tantamount to misleading the questioner who must know that prices are no longer stable. Hardly is there any commodity in the Nigerian market now that maintains the same price for one week. Housewives are groaning. Husbands can’t help the situation because their income level is overwhelmed. It is this kind of situation that Irish poet W. B Yeats describes in his poem ‘The Second Coming” – The falcon cannot hear the falconer, things fall apart, the centre cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world (Nigeria).

The word “last” can easily stake a claim in defining past experiences and exhuming their lurid or exciting memories. So you hear people talk about such things as “The last time I ate that food”. “The last time I travelled to the place”. “The last time there was a coup in Nigeria”. “The last time Nigerians protested against the government”. “The last time Nigeria won the Nations Cup”. “The last time President Buhari addressed Nigerians”. “The last time Arsenal FC won the English Premier League”. The last time something happened…last, last, the last everything. Playing with the word “last”, the muse inevitably reminds me of Isidore Okpewho’s novel The Last Duty. The novel chronicles the raging conflict between Biafra and Nigeria thinly veiled with two fictitious names Simba and Zonda. As the war is raging, a hardworking military officer Major Ali is sent to maintain peace in Zonda which precariously bordered Simba a town mostly occupied by the rebellious, seceding part of the country. However, Major Ali fails in his duty to protect the lives of people and maintain peace too. Under his watch, two men Toje and Odibo slaughter each other over Aku, the wife of another man, Oshevire who was arrested on the grounds of sabotage and conspiracy. Following the death of the two men, Ali is relieved of his duty and that became his last duty as a military officer.

The above literary exegesis somehow suggests that Nigerians are delicately intertwined with “last” both as a word and as an indicative psycho-social experience. All positive experiences, especially those that signpost a revival of the dwindling hopes of survival seem to be receding into distant memory. The truth is, life in Nigeria has become mere existence without any definite direction. In this case, the government and all structures of governance are inconsequential. Let Nigerians for once, introspect responsibly and ask collectively, what is the purpose of government in this country? Of what use is the government in Nigeria seeing that all the indices of development by which governments in other climes are adjudged have become comatose here. I ask, of what use has the government of Nigeria been to the people in the last few years? I would like to be spared the illogical explanations of insignificant, isolated fractions of government intervention here and there. In this case, I refer to the impactful, all-inclusive effects of governance on the people. Successive Nigerian governments have been missing in action and it has become worse in the present era.  How do people survive? Those who are lucky to still earn salaries are faced with stagnated wages with remote possibilities of improvement. Yet, the market forces render these salaries irredeemably useless. Those in businesses are stymied by harsh economic conditions. School owners increase school fees with reckless abandon. There is hardly electricity anywhere in the country and when it is available, the government surreptitiously increase electricity tariffs without due recourse to the people. University education has completely collapsed. Insecurity is everybody’s nightmare, and the almighty inflation is graduating to new heights daily. Yet, I ask, how do Nigerians survive??? How are Nigerians surviving???

There seems to be a premeditated conspiracy by those who wield power in Nigeria to wilfully impoverish the people through irresponsible policies and indifferent disposition to the sufferings of the masses. Government has no value in Nigeria, think what you want. How can one explain the excruciating effect of fuel scarcity all over the country for the past three weeks? Those who move around by public transport now pay twice the regular transport fare. Those who are fortunate to drive cars can’t get the Holy liquid to buy. Therefore many people buy in the popular, exploitative black market. Two days ago, I bought thirty litres for 7,500 naira. While Nigerians wallow in these unpropitious conditions, engaged in a macabre dance of death, no word of comfort or empathy has come from Aso Rock, Nigeria’s seat of power. The president is away to God-knows-where, his wife too is away. Our ceremonial Vice-President has not thought it wise to address Nigerians on the fuel crisis. I will deliberately ignore the insult from Mr Femi Adesina who, in what can be described as diarrhoea of the mouth, gushed out colossal insolence against Nigerians.  How on earth did Mr Femi Adesina utter those words? In his words “there were cases of bad fuel before in this country. We slept for days, weeks on end at petrol stations, queuing for fuel. We survived. We will survive again. Las las”. Adesina’s incongruous outburst in his bid to retain his job and defend an obvious economic onslaught against his fellow citizens truly deserves an immediate propitiation for forgiveness. It is this kind of indifference, apathy, wickedness, and disconnection that have defined the Buhari administration in the last tortuous seven years. Everyone is caught in this economic whirlwind. Everybody is affected except perhaps those who are benefitting from the decay one way or another.

“The last time I bought it” summarizes Nigeria’s final descent to dystopic realities. Unfortunately, we are all preparing for election next year, to extend the frontiers of the prevailing socio-economic jackboot which of course will be our collective swansong as conquered people. What was the thing you bought and the price increased after one week? What will the price of these commodities be in the next month? Are the sources of income that fund these purchases increasing? Recently, former President Olusegun Obasanjo declared that we may soon say goodbye to Nigeria. That says a lot. Something must give. We certainly can’t continue in these shell-shocked conditions.

President Buhari has treated Nigerians with disdain and contempt. Posterity will never forget this. He jetted out to a foreign land for reasons that border on the mysterious. No problem, but why couldn’t he, for the love of Nigerians that voted him to power transmit governance to the Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo? If that power was duly transferred, are Nigerians aware of it? Where is the published letter transferring power officially to Osinbajo to act as the Commander-in-Chief in the absence of the president?  This kind of primitive, retrogressive power psychology has a way of transferring negative attitude to the citizens who, assured that the government does not care, will do everything in their power to survive. Most times, these activities submerge the ailing national image. The last time I checked, President Buhari was out of the country, his wife was also out of the country. The last time I bought fuel, it was 250 naira per litre. The last time I slept in my house, I used a generating set for electricity although the Estate insists all generating sets must be put off by midnight. The last time I checked, my salary was still the same. The last time I checked, Nigeria was still together. Check again and see what has remained the same. Check again and see what will remain the same. I come in peace!

Promise Adiele PhD

Mountain Top University