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Recession Blues…

By Reuben Abati

“My brother, how you dey?”

“What can we do?”

“E ku recession”

“Excuse me?”

“I said er ku recession…”

“Are you Yoruba people alright at all? You people always make a joke out of everything. Does recession look like a joke to you? Second recession in the last five years, the worst in Nigerian history in 33 years, and all you can think of is some meaningless local greeting. Someone at your level should be above such provincial fixation that instinctively compels a Yoruba man to create one form of greeting or another out of every situation.

That was how one of your brothers met me eating the other day, with his eyes rolling like rolling dollars, he told me: er ku jije mumu. Must you greet a person for performing a natural function? I am sure if a Yoruba man stumbles on you in the toilet, instead of leaving you alone, he will insist on greeting you for performing a biological function.”

“You don’t get it. Sunkunmus riranmus”

“And what gobbledygook is that?”

“It means when we are crying, we must also keep our eyes open. What has happened to Nigeria this year alone is an eye-opening experience. I am not trying to make light of the situation. I am just trying to find out how you are coping. By the first quarter of the year, COVID-19 had forced government to lock down the country resulting in the disruption of our lives.

With the rest of the world also shut down, everything went upside down. Businesses collapsed. The country could not even sell crude oil, because there was no demand for our crude anymore. Nigeria like most developing countries became insolvent. And now towards the end of the year, we have been told that the Q3 data about the economy shows that the country is in recession.”

“What we are facing is worse than recession. It is stagflation. Economic growth is terribly slow. Inflation is high at 14.23%. Unemployment is very high in absolute terms: basic unemployment plus under-employment has messed up the populace. The implications are frightening. Long before the National Bureau of Statistics announced its figures, the evidence was already before our very eyes. In Lagos, it is now very risky to go onto the streets at night. Hungry and angry boys are now attacking people to seize their valuables at a rate hitherto unseen. One of my friends was sitting in his car, the air-conditioning system of the car had gone bad, so the side window had to be wound down, and he was busy eating a pack of chicken wings that he had bought on his way home. One hand appeared from nowhere and snatched the pack from him. It is that bad. People are hungry. They are ready to kill to get food to eat.”

“But we saw that during the attack on COVID-19 palliatives warehouses in the month of October. That wasn’t just about politics. It was an expression of hunger and anger. Even when the people were told that a particular warehouse had a large storage of poison, didn’t Nigerians attack the same warehouse?”

“I remember that story, but the problem is that it could get worse. Christmas is around the corner. In January, school fees would have to be paid, now that schools have re-opened. Meanwhile government says there is no money. Many employers of labour also insist that they need help to be able to recover from the effect of the pandemic. People can’t spend. They can’t sell. Have you not in fact, seen that this year’s Black Friday is truly black? With all the discounts that the stores are offering, I haven’t seen long queues.”

“It is people who are relatively comfortable that do Thanksgiving with Turkeys and rush Black Friday sales. Ordinary Nigerians just want to eat. The price of every staple food is now so high, it is a miracle how some people are still surviving. Onions and tomatoes have become as expensive as gold. I like to eat snails as part of my regimen of eating healthy. The last time I asked for the price of a basket of snails, I lost my sense of taste immediately.”

“I don’t think that has anything to do with economic recession, my friend. That’s COVID. The first thing you lose, when you are COVID positive, is your sense of smell and your sense of taste. I advise you see a doctor immediately.”

“No, my brother, it is not COVID. I know my system. And I know that nothing makes you lose your senses faster than the pandemic of empty pocket. Can you smell or taste what you cannot afford? But how about you? How are you coping?’

“I thank God for my wife. You know she works in an oil company. They still pay them well, so no matter what, we still manage to keep the household going. She is filling the gap. Slight adjustments here and there, but we have not yet lost our ability to smell and taste.”

“What you are telling me is that COVID 19 and economic recession combined have now turned your wife into the breadwinner in your house.”

“What kind of talk is that? She is my wife. We are together for better for worse.”

“Hmm. I get it. The number of families that will break up before this COVID and recession are over, we should just start counting. Have you ever seen any household where a woman is the breadwinner and there is peace in that house?”

“Yes”

“Okay, I will tell you a story.”

“No. I don’t want to hear your offensive piece of misogyny.”

“Calm down, omo boy. Once they have given you people efo riro to eat, that is how you sound. Get it right. This is not a white man’s country. The moment your wife begins to feed you, in this our Africa, you are finished. One of my friends lost his job. The wife had a good job. Three months later, the wife started hosting some funny-looking men at home. Our friend became depressed. He was helpless. I am worried that there may be an escalation in cases of domestic violence.”

“You are talking trash. My wife is a Psalm 31 woman. Recession cannot divide us. No weapon fashioned against us shall prosper in Jesus name. Our matrimony is holy and divine, and so shall it be.”

“Psalm 31 woman. I don’t understand.”

“Go and read your Bible.”

“In this Nigeria or inside the Bible?”

“In this Nigeria, and I have one at home!”

“Psalm 31 woman. But I think it serves all of you well. We would not be having this kind of conversation, if you had listened to me. I told you not to vote for General Muhammadu Buhari, and the APC. I told you APC is the name of an expired and banned drug that cannot cure anything. You said you wanted change. You see yourself now? You used to be an alpha male, but they have reduced you to the husband of a Psalm 31 woman who is now your master.”

“Watch your mouth.”

“Wetin concern me? I jus dey talk my own.”

“Yes, you mind your business. And for your information, the recession has nothing to do with the Buhari administration. The current economic recession is global. Even developed countries are in bad shape in Europe, Asia and elsewhere. The problem with people like you is that you always try to play politics with everything. What we should be talking about at this moment is how to support government with ideas because we are all involved one way or the other. How do we restructure the weak fundamentals of our economy and our politics?

“Well done. So is it global recession and COVID-19 that are responsible for the inflation?”

“Yes”

“The closure of land borders”

“In a sense, yes.”

“The sudden breakdown of a passenger train between Abuja and Kaduna in the middle of nowhere and the abduction of innocent persons and the death of one person.”

“I will say yes”

“Even if that makes complete nonsense of the railway project and all the promises the government has made?

“These are difficult times. We can’t blame government for everything”

“Yes, we can. ASUU strike. Nine months now, public universities have been shut down.”

“ASUU should learn to be reasonable. It is not fair to continue to punish parents and innocent students”

“I see that even with all the hardship you have suffered, you are still stubbornly pro-government. I am sure if you were American, you would be a far-right supporter of President Trump despite the messy character of his politics.”

“One of these days, your mouth will put you in trouble, and I won’t be available to help you.”

“But what do you think of the various things we are now beginning to hear about the #EndSARS protests, and how the military and the police have been lying persistently, covering up one lie with another, adding to our misery, and making government look very bad? There say there are no corpses from the toll gate. A massacre without bodies they say. But the Chief Coroner of Lagos State is asking people to come forward to claim corpses. I don’t get it.”

“I believe some day, the truth will be unveiled. It is only a matter of time. As you can see, police men and security agencies are the same everywhere. What makes the difference is leadership and the political will to listen to the people. We have seen police brutality in the United States. We have heard stories of misconduct by the police in other countries.”

“Yes. Yes. I can think of one topical example.”

“From where?”

“Mozambique. I don’t know whether you saw the story. Two police trainers in Mozambique have been suspended for impregnating more than 15 female police trainees who were placed under their care. They were found guilty of sexual harassment.”

“From harassment to pregnancy. Wonderful. Were the female recruits raped?”

“No. What I hear is that they were hit by blanket bullets and accidental discharge, the male trainers shot blank bullets in the air, which landed on 15 female police trainees in the Mozambican police system, and the women immediately became pregnant. I think the matter should be carefully investigated.”

“Blank bullets. 15 women. Pregnancy. Are you okay?”

“I am. Nobody can ever understand these uniformed men, whether they are soldiers or policemen. I am in fact shocked that police men in Mozambique have turned pregnancy into a COVID-19 pandemic. The infection rate, 15 women in one swoop, is quite alarming. In Mozambique, they have their own notorious SARS. But rather than kill, those ones, fire and inflate the stomachs of women. Here, nobody would have raised any eyebrows if that was our problem. The women would have been congratulated for receiving divine favour in form of a gift of the womb. Du-du-ke… Du-du-ke.”

“I see you don’t quite respect women. How does your wife cope with you?”

“I am the man in my house. My wife calls me “okunrin meta” – one man like three! A man for all seasons. Ever-ready battery, ekun, in times of surplus, and a fighter of Buhari’s recession.”

“Stop blaming President Buhari. Use your head. What I think we need is a general rethink. What you don’t know is that the Nigerian economy is in fact doing better than many economies in Europe and Asia.”

“I don’t get it. Nigeria has had eight recessions since 1960. Three out of the eight under Buhari. That is a hat-trick. A legacy. You claim to know the Bible. Have you not heard of the king that said he will make the people’s yoke heavier and chastise them with scorpions?”

“1 Kings 12: 4-19. But you are a Devil misquoting the Bible. It is people like you that spread fake news about the leaders of our country. The same Bible that you are quoting also tells the people: “Obey people who have authority over you” (1 Peter 2).

“Go and say that to ASUU and NLC. Go and say that to the angry Nigerian youths who organized the #EndSARS protests and who have now taken Nigerian leaders to the UK parliament, the UN, and the International Criminal Court. I hope you listened to the debate on the Nigerian crisis at the UK Parliament, yesterday.”

“It is the job of parliamentarians anywhere in the world to talk. Let them talk. Let them say…”

“I see you are just a government apologist. I hope you know that Twitter has suspended the account of Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC). I hope you also know that even APC Governors are now visiting former President Goodluck Jonathan. Na so the thing dey begin…”

“Good for you. But just watch out for accidents because the road lies in wait…”

“Is that a threat? We can’t talk again in this country?”

“You can talk. Who is holding your mouth? It is the consequences of talking recklessly that you have to worry about.”

“The last time I checked, the Nigerian Constitution recognizes my right to talk, to freely associate and to protest.”

“When a blank bullet lands on your head, you are on your own. It is your wife and children that I pity.”

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