The other day I was listening to Olamide’s song “Poverty Die”. The chorus got me, it went into my veins, to my bone marrow, and I remembered how being poor here is a sin, how being poor here is a crime because you will be denied many things, many luxuries because you are a poor man. It is a crime to be poor here, a crime you never knew when you committed it, you are enslaved and imprisoned by whosoever has money. You sell your conscience because you are poor, your freedom is denied by those that have money. You don’t have a say and even if you have; it will be taken for granted. In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king. I remember the suffering of my people, how injustices reign among them. They are getting poorer yet; they smile always amidst their poor states. They still laugh, rejoice and dance amidst their suffering.
They still kill each other, they still betray each other, and they still slaughter dreams; their brothers and sisters’ dreams, to rise. They still use another poor man for rituals; they still canvass against their poor neighbours, they still hurl disgusting words against their poor neighbours, sell them to the greedy politicians who turn them to cans for the bin. Sometimes I wish I could help them think, sometimes I wish I could just help them overcome this ignorance, to overcome this poverty but I can’t; every man is in a race, a one man race, none knows the end of his own race.
During the recent election, it happened that I was in one of those party campaigns and rallies in the Ijesha area of Lagos. They were sharing sealed Garri and I stood afar and saw how the market women were struggling to collect one seal that wasn’t up to two Derica if measured, they were killing themselves while those sharing the Garri were laughing at them. Laughing their heads off, I think they realized that those women were extremely poor; that was why they were laughing their heads off.
Suddenly, some women who did not collect their own Garri started fighting those that collected. This is for you to understand how extreme the poverty here is in my home country. It was annoying to me watching those women fight over what they could buy with their money. I was imagining if that sealed Garri could last them another four years that said person contesting would stay. It was the only thing they thought they could use to attract those women to vote for them in the forthcoming election and after the election, they’ll never be seen in the street or near the market place until another election comes around. We’ve sold ourselves, our mentality and conscience because of the rate of poverty here and these politicians know all about it. These sets of people knew where to hold the masses without a second thought.
When I left Ijesha to my house, my sister told me how their ‘Babaloja’ (the person that owns their market or takes care of the market) had told them they must vote for a particular party in the forthcoming election and anyone who failed to do so will have his or her shop locked up till further notice. I was surprised but hid it from her. I asked her what she would do and she said she would go against her wishes, the reason being that this Babaloja made sure they all registered in the same polling center, both Igbo and Yoruba, so that he could monitor them. He played with the women’s intelligence to achieve his own greedy and selfish interest. They were given the same sealed Garri and nothing more. How could we be this heartless in a land flowing with milk and honey?
This same thing happened to me a day before the governorship election. On that Friday I was on my way to Lekki to deliver a music video I shot for one of my artistes since he could not come to the studio. When I got to Oshodi, everywhere was crowded; there was no bus and the ones that came were collecting seven hundred naira instead of the four hundred Naira it used to be. I had no option than to enter. What was the cause of the high in price of the fare? It was because one party was campaigning along the expressway. Their buses and cars were more than thirty on the major road. We spent nothing less than two hours from Oshodi to Third Mainland Bridge, a distance that shouldn’t be more than twenty minutes to cover if there was no traffic. Many people in our bus and the buses behind us still went down to collect some printed sack bags, designed t-shirts and spoon on the traffic. Seeing how overwhelmed they were and the rate at which they struggled to make sure they collected those items amazed me.
They have to use those things in the next four years until another man is presented to them by their godfather in politics. Poverty has taken our sense of reasoning, it has taken a vital part of us and only takes the eradication of this poverty mentality to solve these problems. And the abnormal thing here is that poor men are the people those politicians used to achieve their devilish goals. You can’t see their children in the polling units voting, you can’t see them fighting for their fathers to remain in seat, rather it is those poor people that fight for one man who doesn’t care about them to remain in seat. Take a look at what happened in Rivers state, Lagos and Kaduna; those that were killed because they were supporting this party or that party or were voting for one man who doesn’t know their names to remain in seat.
It is high time we learn from our mistakes. Don’t allow poverty to make you ignorant of your rights and personality. They sit inside and tell us they are the boss while we campaign for them day and night.
Poverty makes people treat you different, anyhow; it’ll make those who are not up to your level talk to you anyhow because they have the money and you don’t. Money is the only difference. No one is better than you, no one does it better than you; money is just the difference. These insults have led many people to join the league of yahoo boys and some other dirty betting games in this country. It has led many to do what they don’t want to do because they want to clean the tears of their parents and live above poverty.
You’ll see a man that is over thirty years still jobless at home. He still lives with his parents and his parents still feed him and give him pocket money whenever they are going to work. You’ll see someone who is better off poke his fingers into your eyes because he has the money and you don’t. You swallow hard when he or she insults you, you know in your mind that he or she wouldn’t try that outside but you have to swallow hard because of the money he/she pays you monthly. He/she shouts at you, sometimes, he/she knocks you on the head and you endure the pain because of the money. Only because of the money, if not because of the money; you know your worth and your kind of job but you just allow them to treat you just like they want because of the money; just because of the money.
This same person sends you to wash his car, babysits his child and you run errands for him at the end of the month; he will still not pay you the meagre money he is supposed to pay you. You tolerate many things just to make money to make those people who look up to you proud. Just to live fine, to put a smile on the face of your mother and that of your father who had laboured day and night to see you through school. But you still live with them after thirty years and they still feed you and give you pocket money and you work somewhere promising yourself a better life and a better future, keep the dream alive.
You’ve tried to get another job to no avail, whenever you go out to look for a job, you will experience and discover there is a shift in the economy. It is no longer the certificate, it is no longer the grade, it is no longer what you know; it is no longer who you know, it is now the rich against the poor. It is now the rich and the powerful men placing their children in places they did not and can never merit in reality. Dramatically, you obey every rule that comes to you. You sell your mind to do those things that favour them. Poverty is a bastard and that is why you have to eliminate it. Find every means to eliminate it from your root. Make legal money as long as you have something doing; pray, plan and produce. Don’t just sit and dream, dream and do legal work and wait for your sweat to produce. No shortcut to success.
On a lighter note, there is no justice anywhere for the poor. Once you are poor, you’re poor; you are like a rag that the rich trample on. You see, people will only listen to you once you have the money, once you have the name, once you have that car, they will only call you when you have the money to spend on them. Brother, in all that you are making, make the name and money. Name first because it is the name that brings the money; build a brand of name that they can’t easily pull down no matter what. Don’t allow the devil to take your memory away. You have to use your wisdom to create money to live above poverty. The fact that your parents are poor does not mean you too will be poor. Poverty does not run in the gene, it is not in the DNA. You can decide or choose to be poor if you like. You are to sail your own ship, be your own captain and never give up the quest and the hassle to be out there. Pilot your own airplane and when it crashes, you hold yourself responsible. Even as I type these words; my spirit still reminds me of my own state. The devil still mocks me because of my own condition but one thing I know is that I will scale through.
What happened to me this January changed my mentality. It made me realize there is nothing like justice here in Nigeria once you are poor. Only the poor fight for themselves, a rich man cannot fight a poor man’s battle rather he would extort from the little you have. When my phone was stolen on the 23rd of January and the same person that stole it used it to withdrew ninety something thousand naira I had in my account, I wanted to run mad but God was closer to me. The only person that understood me more that day was my publisher because I was in his office when I checked my account balance with a friend’s phone because I just retrieved my SIM. He was able to calm me down.
The next day I ran to my bank and explained everything. The only thing the customer care told me was that the bank has no business with me since the transaction has passed forty eight hours. He said the bank believed that it was me that made the transactions. He printed my account statement and gave it to me. I glanced through the four page booklet; I saw the name of the guy and the account number he transferred the money to. He transferred the money to a Zenith Bank and his name was boldly written on the statement of account. I ran to the police station first to make a report. The woman I met there said I had to pay after writing my statement. She wasn’t bothered about the money lost; she was bothered about her own money. After much argument, she said she was going to introduce me to the person that would handle my case. I waited for four hours before the messiah came. And she equally told me that the police can’t do anything without me paying. She said she would collect the statement I had written and I should go and look for money.
Angrily, I left the police statement and went home. The next day I went to Zenith Bank with the hope that I would get at least one piece of information about the person. When I got there, the woman I met at customer care told me to return to my bank as they were supposed to write to them. This was how I was going and coming from the police station to Guarantee Trust Bank to Zenith Bank and back to the police station for a whole two weeks; nothing happened. I lost a trip to Calabar for a job and missed the one in Port Harcourt just because of the contacts in the phone. One day I went to my bank and shouted at the top of my voice that I wanted to meet the manager but no hope came by but I met one SARS man who promised to help but after a day I paid him ten thousand from the money I borrowed from my younger brother, he disappeared and his two lines went dead. When my mother called, I explained everything to her, she said I should let go and that was how I left the money after three weeks of hoping, borrowing and tears and hunger. You see, there is no justice here except the one you created.
There is no security here except when a poor man is arrested. Rich men can beat all the securities here to go away with their crimes but poor men can’t because of these same securities. It’s a crime to be poor here and a poor man here is a dead man.
John Chizoba Vincent is a cinematographer, filmmaker, music video director, poet and a writer. A graduate of mass communication, he believes in life and the substances that life is made of. He has three books published to his credit which includes Hard Times, Good Mama, Letter from Home. For boys of tomorrow is his first offering to poetry. He lives in Lagos.