Why are we so blest?

The story of the Kaduna boys I shared days ago reminded me of one of the saddest stories I have ever heard/read. It also happened in the Kaduna state.

In 2017, operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission raided a house in the Sabon Tasha area of Chikun LGA in Kaduna state. In one of the rooms, with the artificial chill of the air conditioner swirling in the room, they discovered money in a fire-proof safe.

The money was in two lots: US$9,772,800 and £74,000 which is 2,999,760,960 and 27,538,800 using the Central Bank of Nigeria official conversion rates for 19/08/2019. No one would have believed that house in question could hold something of the value of 0.01% of the loot, this was in an area densely populated by low income earners. Ironically, the man himself had a huge house in a high-brow area only a few kilometres away from Sabon Tasha.

I would always remember sitting in shock in the parlour as we watched the news on Channels TV, that a man had that kind of money and left it lying fallow in a safe – actually, initial reports claimed it was buried in the ground. So my horror was intensified by the act of burying money in a land of extreme poverty.

I was thinking about how thirty million naira could have changed the face of that community, that establishing a cottage industry or small scale factory that would employ residents of the community as well as teach them skills that can be scaled to enable these people support themselves. Thirty million naira is less than one percent of this money.

The money belonged to a man called Andrew Yakubu, he was a former Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). According to him, this money was a gift from friends and not direct loot. I believe him. Public service is Nigeria is oiled with bribes and these usually have to be in cash to be untraceable.

Less than a year ago, many Nigerians watched the viral video showing a sitting governor stuff dollars into the folds of his babaringa – bribe dollars. He went on to win the reelection and the president’s only comment on the matter was that he didn’t understand the technology behind the video. Today the man is the two-term governor of the allegedly most populous state in Nigeria. A country of selective justice is what my parents bequeathed to me.

Anyway, in the same Kaduna where a man literally buried money, we find very talented youngsters for whom a minute fraction of that money might have made a huge difference in their lives. I’m still in awe by those boys and what they were able to do with the very little they had available to them.

Luckily, the boys have a very happy ending in sight. One of the most influential directors in the world wants to meet and groom them. Their lives are about to change forever and I hope they never come back to Nigeria except on holiday.

Yet, I’m sad because as little as these boys had to work with and anyone who knows just how intense the field of special effects is would appreciate what they have done so far. Still, access to such battered equipment would be a mirage to thousands, nay! Millions of talented young people in Nigeria. It’s strange how there is such a preponderance of talent in this country, even without infrastructure to support it. Yet people bury money here.

One of the reasons I’m so appalled by Andrew Yakubu is because he was willing to let the money sit there when he could have used a little of it to change lives and make crazy money. What if he had built a skills acquisition centre in the mould of Andela? Training young people in IT and exporting this talent abroad?

One of the major sources of foreign exchange in India is from IT, not from selling a product but from selling services. Many websites around the world were developed and maintained by Indians, other IT solutions are exported by Indians living in India to nearly every country in the world, daily. Who says we can’t take a huge bite from the pie?

It’s painful when you think of the immense potential Nigeria has to be great and for its citizens to live fulfilled lives, yet it appears we would never get there. In a country with the highest number of extreme poor people, it breaks the heart when you realise that we are blessed in every fucking way. From beautiful tropical weather, to good soil that gives plants great harvest, to its teeming mass of hardworking citizens.

I’m just tired, tired about thinking about Nigeria. Tired about writing about Nigeria. Like Ayi kwei Armah, I mutter, Why Are We So Blest? Perhaps if we weren’t so blessed, we wouldn’t be lying in deep shit.

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