“Don’t you know that there is no money?” “Things are really hard o” “This recession sef, everything is just expensive up and down”. These are the most common and recurring statements in Nigeria today and they have been so since the new government came in 2015. The truth is everything is hard and a lot of people once comfortable now live from hand-to-mouth. The prices of even the tiniest goods have shot up and even the small biscuits you would normally buy to appease a sibling have been reduced with their prices increased simultaneously. I can only imagine what the situation must be like for those who have always been paid below minimum wage; it must be a struggle to live on money that can only go so far. Amidst all this, we have all heard countless stories of how the recession has affected ordinary people and families. Some of the stories I have heard have been hilarious, some have been downright unbelievable and others simply heartbreaking.
In 2016, it reached a point where hearing of people’s food being stolen, was not uncommon. I have heard of how children who had been sent to grind grains or beans and the likes had their buckets snatched by people on motorcycles and I have heard of how daring people would go to shops and make a purchase and tell the shopkeeper they had no money to pay; sometimes, the shopkeeper would let them keep whatever it was they had come to ‘buy’. However, there is one story that made me laugh, wonder and eventually pulled on my heartstrings. I have probably told a million people this story, and I shall tell it again.
In a neighborhood in the Southern part of Kaduna, a woman was preparing the afternoon meal. In neighborhoods like this, it is not uncommon to find people cook outside the house since firewood is the most common way to cook. She went inside briefly to get something from the house and when she came back outside the fire was still there but the pot of food had disappeared. She had been making tuwo, a meal made from corn or other grains and served with soup ranging from the Northern miyan taushe to the Southern oha. She decided to go round the neighborhood to see if any of her neighbors was responsible for the disappearance; I have no idea where she got this idea from but I can imagine that she walked on those streets with anger radiating from her body. At some point in this search, she came upon the culprit’s house and saw that it was a mother who had taken the food. The family was eating the tuwo with palm oil and salt; not soup. The anger washed from her body as she took in the sight. This neighbor was not a thief; she was just a woman who was trying to get by. She went back to her house and returned after some minutes with the soup she had prepared for the tuwo and gave it to the neighbor. I do not know what happened after this but I can imagine numerous continuations. That day, in the midst of a recession and hunger and possibly the joy-sucking heat, kindness put a meal on someone’s table.
There is something so beautiful about the African spirit that sees people as more than two legs, two arms and the clothes they wear. It is a way of life passed down from generation to generation. It is a spirit that seeks to help and uplift and be there for others. It is the understanding that no person should be an island and we need each other to grow and become the people we aspire to be. It is a recognition of our interconnectedness; an appreciation of the ties that bind us together. We can all think of an example of a time when someone we barely knew or someone who had no obligation
to us offered a hand when we needed it most. The world is changing today; borders are ceasing to exist and new cultures are replacing old ones. As things change from what we are familiar with to what we will learn to accept, it is imperative that the African holds on to the values which are most important. Africa continues to suffer because amidst religion, ethnicity and politics we have lost a sense of brotherhood. The African spirit is most embodied in the Ubuntu philosophy and it is summarized in the saying “I am because we are”. The Zulu maxim goes “Ubuntum Ngubuntu Ngamantu” and it is translated “A person is a person through other persons”.