The wretched of the earth
Her birth may not have been miraculous. At least not as miraculous as the birth of Jesus Christ, the story of which event is both elegantly and breathtakingly narrated in the Qur’an and the Bible.
Something, neither divine nor spectacularly prophetic, must have decided her parents to christen her Miracle, this Edo State current wonder. Miracle Johnson is currently in the news. But not for any divine reason or some earth shaking accomplishments.
On July 2, this year, God blessed her with a bouncing baby girl, which she appropriately named Greatness. On the authority of Punch Metro, the sizzling section of the Punch newspaper which is devoted to the stories of the bizarre bordering almost on the incredulity, this Miracle of a mother took her bouncing six-week old child to an orphanage in Anambra State where, according to the police, she sold her off for the not-so-princely sum of N200,000 ( two hundred thousand).
Apparently short of words to describe this oddity, Mr Johnson Kokumo, the police commissioner who confirmed the incident, simply said what Miracle did was a serious offence. But Miracle, the baby merchant, had her reasons. She was persuaded by the nobility of a caring wife who was determined to rescue her husband, once and for all, from the crippling pangs of poverty. She was convinced by one Mama Joy, a friend of hers, who seemed to be gifted in the wild and wily ways of crooked business, to set up her husband in a lucrative business. But not until she had bought for herself a brand new phone hand set.
Don’t be in a hurry to condemn Miracle yet. Or even the devil for that matter. Note that though she appears contrite, she has been decent enough not to accuse the devil of having a hand in what she had done. It may have nothing to do with the devil but everything to do with a debilitating poverty that is capable of making an otherwise rational human being to behave like the Franz Fanon’s wretched of the earth version of the homo sapiens.
It is the kind of poverty which John Johnson painted elegantly in his book Succeeding against the Odd. He says the poverty that is so pernicious is the one which is “not so much pain in the belly; it’s the pain in the soul. It’s the wanting and not having, the eyes that see and don’t see you , and, all the while, just out of reach, on the other side of the glass bars of your cell, the sweets, the lights, the goodies, and somebodyness.”
Miracle, the child of such pernicious and debilitating poverty, is in the good company of an Ondo woman, another virtuous and dutiful woman who, having tried, against all odds and in vain, to raise enough money give her late mama a decent burial, decided on what she fathomed to be the last available option. She decided to sell her child to some willing buyer to enable her to fulfil her obligation to her late mother.
Miracle, if I may plead, is only the latest evidence, if any is still needed, of the paralytic poverty that has gripped the land, a sorrowful confirmation of the current unenviable position of Nigeria on the world poverty index. As a nation, we have achieved the dubious distinction of being the world’s poverty capital beating India to a second position. According to Brookings Report, the number of our fellow citizens in extreme poverty increases by six persons every minute. At the end of May 2018, says the report, “ our trajectories suggest that Nigeria had about 87 million people in extreme poverty compared with India’s 73 million.” There is every likelihood that Miracle and others who are even more miraculous, are in this club of the wretched and the dejected, the veritable dregs of the society.
Even before Miracle, the nation had been treated to the story, the tabloid sensation kind, involving a Kano Muslim faithful who was at his wits end during the holy month of Ramadan. Pride did not allow him to beg for food to feed his family and do his duty to his creator as enjoined on Muslims. On this fateful day, he went to the market to try out his luck.
What did he do? He picked a full bag of rice and begged the seller to tarry a while. He needed to go back home to bring the money. But he was willing to leave his son behind. At the close of the market, and sensing that he was taking long to return, the rice dealer accompanied the boy to the house where he met the penitent father who confessed he had no money to pay for the rice. He had hoped to keep his son there as collateral pending when he could raise enough money to set him free.
He was driven to this, not by the devil, but by poverty and the infernal shame it brings. The story however ended on a happy note. The Samaritan, unlike the merchant of Venice in Shakespeare play of the same title, did not insist on exacting the maximum penalty. He did not keep the man’s son as the booty of this mercantile deal.
We have no way of knowing yet how the Edo story of Miracle, Greatness and Mr Johnson, the police commissioner, will end. But hopefully, it should end like the Kano story of the Samaritan. The buyer of the six week old Greatness should be persuaded to return the child to her mother and let this story of child trafficking, though a criminal offence, turn out to be another one with a happy ending, meaning all is well that ends well.
But the lesson does not fade away. The lesson from the story of Miracle and all the others who decided to sacrifice their begotten children on alters of the god of poverty and deprivation is an enduring lesson from an endless story of woe and shame. Those who are driven by poverty to do odd things to survive, for sure, will be most willing to traffic in votes during the election. Corrupt leaders who have failed to deliver services of good governance to their people can boast of returning to office because they are counting on the miserableness of those they have tortured through neglect. They are counting on vote buying, bullying and intimidation. By refusing to pay salaries as and when due, by subjecting workers and others to all manner of indignities, they have created, through bad governance and their plain maladministration, an atmosphere conducive to rigging and other electoral malpractices.
It is this kind of social malady and economic debilitation that President Muhammadu had vowed on coming to power to ameliorate, if not totally to vanquish. It is a story of poverty in a society that has lost its soul, where greed and avarice reign supreme with soulless corruption fuelled by unconscionable leadership. It is this narrative that must change.
To change it however requires that President Buhari would have no option but to change tactics. He will profit from the examples of many countries that found themselves in a situation similar to ours, even worse, but which successfully navigated their ways out of economic chaos, endemic corruption and poverty and became economic miracles.
For a start, he will need to take a hard look at the success story of some of hard-nosed, ruthless but visionary leaders like South Korea’s Park Chung Hee, Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew and Indonesia’s President Surhato as well as Thailand leader, Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, all of whom have had, at one time or the other, to rely mainly on the private sector, deferring to technocrats and other talented intellectuals to turn their economy around, especially in the new world where governance is knowledge driven.
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