Tales from the 'broke' country
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Tales from the ‘broke’ country

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Lessons from the Rivers State Rerun Election

By Abdul Mahmud . . .

For many, poverty is not only a way of life- forced not only by vicissitudes but by the way the resources of the state are harnessed and wealth distributed in an unequal way between classes-it is also the chain measure used for measuring the hard times they fall on. For those who dream the greener life on the other side of the fence while they lie on their famished stomachs and face the bitter and unkind earth, they can only stare at the shoots of anxiety poked under the fence, stabbing the air they breathe, and worry about the common foe, hunger.

When the poor are trapped by hunger and privations, stuck in the widening cycle of poverty, they produce and reproduce those attitudes- of dependency, helplessness, ambivalence and “the other”-that not only perpetuate the very condition of entrapment but also kill off the ability to act in any meaningful way to get out of the poverty trap. The poor are not always helpless. There are those who awaken the genius within with that overpowering desire to survive the bitter earth to make progress in life. These are the ones I described in my piece, Hunger and the Worship of Moloch, of Friday 18 August, 2015, as “the clever ones, who turn begging into the high art of an elaborate confidence trick, who weasel out of God-knows-where with made up tales to gain your sympathy. These are the one-day-one-lie-beggars you run into in your everyday life”. Yet, they make progress.

Talking about tales, and the very condition that creates helplessness and dependency, there are those too frightened to confront the demons of poverty, too weak to fight back and too feeble to say to hunger, “get thee behind me, satan. You are a stumbling block to me”. They depend on others for survival. Of the underfed seven years old school child who slumped in Lagos recently, here is what the national newspapers reported: “Doctors at a private hospital at Ire-Akari in Isolo area of Lagos state battled to save the life of a malnourished seven years old primary school pupil, Ifechukwu Jubilee, who slumped and lost consciousness in school. She was reportedly sent to school last Friday by her guardian, identified as Ngozi, on an empty stomach. One of the teachers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said:”she looked very pale and weak when she came to school, with her hands swollen and injuries in some parts of her body…it was when she fainted we knew something was wrong. When she came out of coma, her first words were that she was hungry and narrated how her aunt beats her with hard objects. We thank God she did not die in the school”. Hunger isn’t the only devil in the detail, here. In fact, violence is the shorthand for naming the other devil and for providing clarity to the many untold tales of the Ifechukwu Jubilees of our nation.

Read also: So Nigeria is broke eh

The impact of poverty is most profound in the violence it unleashes on children and in the area of child rights- how these rights are abused and how they become unenforceable in many places where filial relationships and culture allow children to be disciplined in sadistic and corporal ways. This complex but easy to understand relationships demand specific intervention, either by way of learning to understand the negative impacts on our future or taking account of their pathologies in order not to consign those children who have been left behind to brood at the margins of the underclass. Failure to take account or even learn to understand these relationships- blood and culture, poverty and violence-is to further compound the negative outcomes of high child-crime rate, substance abuse, poor academic achievement, school drop rate, homelessness, prostitution and poor child development that our nation is currently experiencing. Of course, it is for good reason (to eliminate some of the negative outcomes) that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,1999 ( as amended) provides “that suitable and adequate shelter and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens”. Unfortunately, the kind of democracy we practice hollows out the foundation of progressive citizenship and makes our constitutional vision baseless, meaningless and empty, to the extent that governance loses the character of representation.

There is a sordid tale I would like to render here in bringing this essay to a close. This tale is about women and teenagers who are hooked to illicit, prescription and across-the-counter drugs. As the Daily Trust of September 19, 2015 reported in its “Codeine abuse spikes in women and teens across North” news features, the menace of substance abuse has assumed dangerous proportion that it demands concrete address before it destroys families and communities struggling to cope with the destructive effects of Boko Haram and to adapt to the changing times. This is what the newspaper reported: “once the preserve of hardened criminals, abuse of drugs like codeine and others is on the rise, especially among married women in the north, as well as teenagers. Fadeela, 18, is helpless. She is addicted to Tutolin, a codeine-containing cough syrup she consumes at least once a day. Two bottles per day is what her system demands or it may shut down. This has done great damage to her life already. She has since dropped out of school and now spends time at Mami Market in the city of Sokoto”. If such abuse goes on in the conservative north, what goes on in the liberal south is best left to the imagination. God help us!

To avoid any confusion, I must stress that while the literature on poverty highlights substance abuse and school drop out ( as we have seen with Fadeela) as negative outcomes, substance abuse by married women and teenagers of the north is perhaps the negative outcome of a yet-to-be-understood malaise. Our country is broke, perhaps, this new trend of substance abuse is either an escape from the harsh economic realities or it is an embrace of the reality that is the ‘broke’ country.

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