Answer The Why

Chibueze’s post about Okada men reminded me of an incident that occurred while I was in school.

 

I can’t remember why I was heading to Main Gate that morning, whether I was going to the First Bank on campus or rushing out for Clinical Rotation at a hospital in town. At this time, bus fare from one point to another on campus was ten naira and from main gate to anywhere on campus was twenty naira. I must have been in 500 or 600 level.

 

Anyway the bus left Faculty bus stop and when we got to Faculty of Engineering, a young man got down, went to the driver and offered him a one thousand naira note. The driver laughed and collected the money.

Look at me very well, you know me well. Copy my car number sef, when you are ready come to Main Gate or Faculty and collect your change.”

 

He zoomed off even as passengers were shouting they would pay for the guy, I looked back at the guy, his mouth was open.

“No mind the yeye boy.” The driver said.

“Na so he dey do, every morning he go carry one thousand naira note and when you complain small, other passengers go pay for am and he go just bounce commot. Make he come find me, I go give am 990 change.”

 

Speaking of First Bank on campus, I just remembered something that happened a few months before they opened their branch in Uniben.

 

While I was in school, I got money from my parents on weekly basis and that involved going to First Bank at Uwagboe to use the ATM or withdraw across the counter, depending on which was faster.  The money usually came on Tuesday and after lectures, I would walk through UBTH, cross the road and board a bus heading to Uwagboe.

 

I loved those walks through UBTH, especially through a certain corridor while sterilisation of items was in progress, walking through the steam filled corridor was almost rejuvenating and when they painted the corridors with oil paint, I lingered even more. I like the smell of paint.

 

On one of those afternoons, I ran into Colin who had been one of the first people I met in pharmacy school and he was very patient with me when I asked him questions, and my questions were numerous. At the time he had graduated and was an intern pharmacist at UBTH, he had just closed from work or something. He asked where I was going and I told him I was on my way to the bank.

“Why are you going all the way to First Bank while there are ATMs in school?”

I explained that I did not want to pay the hundred-naira service charge on using another bank’s ATM.

“So because of hundred naira, you’re going through all these wahala and even paying for transport too.” He said and shook his head.

 

I was angry at him and barely managed to wave goodbye. Was it because he was currently an intern pharmacist and collecting armed robber’s salary? Was it enough reason to have lost touch with how important a hundred naira could be, especially for an undergraduate?

 

Until around 2011, the stipend paid to intern pharmacists while not being fantastic, it was something to look forward to after the grueling years of pharmacy school. However, things changed and it has gone downhill since then, what they get now is barely enough money to survive on.

 

I remember a certain woman who came to our class while we were in 500 level and she complained about Central Hospital Benin not having enough interns because they were offering very little pay and it wasn’t even regular. She said young pharmacists of ‘these days’ were only after money and if she could, she would ensure that institutions stopped paying interns so we could truly focus on the learning opportunity that internship provided rather than the money.

 

Many of us chuckled as she spoke. A few years before, a certain pharmacist had told us not to take our classmates for granted as we could end up getting married from within our class and faculty. He told us how he got married to a lovely lady pharmacist after he had graduated, and how it was the savings from internship that funded the wedding and early married life, even though things were so tight that they couldn’t afford to buy pillows to put on their mattress.

 

That man is her husband.

 

I wonder sometimes if this evil thing is only found in Africans, this thing that makes people kick down ladders after they have finished climbing. This thing that makes them throw away the very same benefits that shaped their own lives. It’s what has ruined us as a people, why education and healthcare continue to worsen and why we will not progress as a people.

 

It is the reason a woman who knows how valuable the internship stipend was in her own life could without a trace of irony, clamour for young people to work without pay in an even worse economic climate than in the Petro-dollar years while she graduated. Like many of our elders who enjoyed Nigeria’s benefits, she wants us to suffer what she couldn’t even have endured.

 

It is truly sad.

 

Back to Colin and me and First Bank. Because I knew Colin was an ok guy, I told myself he wasn’t being callous but was probably genuinely perplexed at why I was going through such stress and using up my valuable reading time because I was preserving a hundred naira. Colin is also the reason I stopped wearing very long, ground-sweeping jeans skirts, but that is another story.

 

It occurred to me that I could simply tell my parents to include a hundred or two hundred naira extra while sending money, so I wouldn’t have to go all the way to Uwagboe to withdraw money. I wondered why it had to take a conversation with Colin for me to realise something that simple.

 

It was a big lesson for me in the importance of an external review of internal processes or in simple English, the importance of having fresh eyes in your matter. I also learned about not taking the question “Why” for granted no matter how silly we think the question is.

 

Most of all, I learned to take a third look at people’s opinions no matter how annoying that opinion is. You’ll never know what you might find when you look the third time.

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