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Paralysed by verbal incontinence


Mama put (Food Canteen)

Mama put (Food Canteen)

I was indoors throughout today rehearsing lines for my next television show. At dusk I took a walk, to beat the body back into shape. I walked through a popular food-vendor stand, one of those we call ‘Mama put’. It was reminiscent of the type we went to at night behind Trenchard Hall and in front of Mellanby Hall at the University of Ibadan before the area was carved into a park. At the time, we called it “Ghost Town” because the only lighting there was from candles. Today’s students would have no awareness of the park’s one-time history.

There doesn’t appear to be a state consumer protection agency to help checkmate fraudsters bent on jeopardising our health and safety. A local agency should be in place around-the-clock, making sure that dangerous products aren’t in the market place. We don’t need any more verbal diarrhea from the executives in Abuja. Some months ago I needed to move house. Everywhere I went, I was asked to pay two years rent in advance. Do workers in Nigeria get paid two years salary in advance? Why do landlords here feel entitled to cause more hardship, asking tenants to pay two years rent? Why is there no rent-control board in Nigeria? What’s going on?

This happens because home ownership is not a national priority for the government. If it were, government would be in the forefront of building massive public housing (same as council flats) to bring landlords to their senses. Mortgages can also be guaranteed by government to enable people to buy their own homes.

Try to eat in a restaurant here and all you are served is a child’s portion. We are tired of complaining. Why is Port Harcourt so different? It isn’t so in Aba and Owerri. Could it because there isn’t a Cooperative Extension Service in Nigeria like there is in the U.S.? Where farmers get up-to-date information and research on agriculture? No wonder American farmers are the most productive in the world, and Americans spend a little percentage of their income on food, while we spend almost all our income on food here with no help in sight. No wonder Americans can afford to have school lunches and breakfast programmes for children who might otherwise not have proper nutrition as well as Meals-On-Wheels for elderly citizens who can’t leave their homes.

Having walked for a while, I made a detour home, but first I was thirsty and stopped to get a cold bottle of Adam’s Ale. Then came Bruno, my lost-now-found acquaintance who was on his way to a night vigil but came to the store to buy something. We exchanged pleasantries. He knew I am a Catholic, and loves to remind me to look for a living church. He did likewise today. Why people get so intemperate beats me. Which church is a living church? Aren’t our religions all imported? What’s the culture of the Nigerian and, by the way, who is the Nigerian? Despite Colonial rule, Indians never discarded their informal education to settle for the formal. They practise Hinduism. The same goes for the Japanese, Shintoism; the Chinese, Budhism; the Arabs, Islamism. The challenge in this country is our love for moral pharisaism in the absence of humanity. While I do not lay claim to being a religious expert, it appears to me that the Nigerian suffers from cultural cringe.

We go to learn Mandarin, French and most school curricula here are British. It is advertised with pride. One wonders if a school in Britain would be accredited were it to run a Nigerian curriculum. The reason we haven’t been able to solve local problems is due to the absorption of all things foreign to the detriment of our own norms and practices. We have also refused to set high standards for anything and pursue them. My daughter had to learn bale dance. I asked her not to break her leg and make me incur hospital bills. How that improves national life, I wouldn’t know.

There aren’t national job training programmes; NDE seems to have disappeared into nothingness. And so, for jobs that Nigerians could have, we do not have the skill-set. This lack of training programmes hit home when I watched a teenage tiler, working on an estate with his boss. Guess where the teenager is from: the Benin Republic. We can’t blame his employer; there is a dearth of skilled Nigerian men able to do the job. We all want to sit in an air-conditioned office, wearing a suit and tie, shuffling papers and drinking tea. Who is a Nigerian? What happens around me leaves me paralysed by verbal incontinence.

• Abah, a teacher, speaker, writer, campaigner, consultant, TV talk show Host, wrote from Port Harcourt

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