Face of want, face of greed, trouble!
Looking through the bus windows at the faces offering themselves for pity, for fear, it was the fear lingers. Like the painting “SCREAM!!!” there was a wish for a graphic artist like Moyo Ogundipe or Moyo Okediji to fix forever the face of WANT! In Nigeria. Fear lingers rather than want because Trouble is inside looking out, not outside looking in. Fear lingers because, as the saying goes, when the hungry run out of food they will eat the rich!
Is there want in Nigeria? Is there fear in Nigeria? Looking at our land west to east, south to north with abundant land available for fruitful cultivation, there should be no want in Nigeria. Many foreigners marvel at our land and they speak freely that there should not be, there is no want in Nigeria. Never mind what the detractors of those of us who make the Tropics our home, our land is fecund and provides harvest with minimum sowing. And even when not sowing, walk through the forest as witness the plantain plants and the banana plants bearing fruit for plucking. See the undergrowth of the forest as it supports cocoyam claimed to be far more nutritious than all mighty yam! Can there be want in Nigeria?
Is there fear in Nigeria? Not in the way that another human different in colour portends fear to others of other colours in some conflicted communities such as the United States of America and South Africa and in some European countries. There is not that kind of fear. But there is the fear of being a victim of crime, of highjacking, of kidnapping, of being raped, of being viciously murdered for being in the wrong place in the wrong time. There is that fear. But it is not a fear that translates immediately into the reality of victimhood. So, there is fear but there is not that type of fear of being vulnerable to every person one encounters on the street. May we never suffer such a fear.
But if there is no fear there cannot be want. If there is want then there is fear, no matter however it is described. Fear is the presence of a danger, the want of safety, even the presence of hunger. The presence of hunger is the absence of food. And parties across the country proclaim the presence of food, and the presence of drinks and the presence of worshipful opulence, which draws worshippers. Marriages, burials, naming ceremonies, chieftaincy title takings and even celebrations without designations, impromptu singing and dancing in the presence of foods and drinks calls all and sundry. Music comes even when not specifically invited. Talking drums, matching bands complete with horns and trumpets. Bath and dundun drums voice their desire to be acknowledged. Agogo with sekere report their presence and seek out customers. Ganga talks loud and clear declaring and well- costumed presences as all celebrants with mint clean naira notes to spray and display. Have you seen the man carrying loads of this mint ready naira notes as he tears off the paper bands that restrain the numbers he can dispense. How the faces of want follow him, beseech him, demand of him something from his abundance!
They arrive promptly at the three quarters way of the party. They could be well dressed to blend with the crowd from whom they intend to bed. They could be in rags declaring their status ab initio. They are beggars and they wish to be so recognised and compensated by the already sated celebrants. They could be crippled, on crushes or on wheeled boards, rarely on wheel chairs.
But there is a particular group, old women, care won with stories of children who have left home never to come back, abandoning their aged parents now reduced to begging. They knee down, they hit the ground with their foreheads, they give the ranka dede greeting, regale you with Kabiyesi, any worshipness you want sir or madam. The plentiness of the number of beggars reflects the plenitude of our land. There should be no want. And yet, there is want as these crowd of beggars take over the venue being left behind by the celebrants.
Did you notice the woman and her son diligently collecting plastic bottles, plastic containers, plastic pure water containers, filling cement bag after cement bag and carrying them to her house. There she will pick and choose, arrange them in similar shapes and textures for sale.
There is a young man and his seven-year-old son doing somersaults, seeking attention. Not that anybody notices. A group of ladies on variegated dresses and blood red beads won outside of their dress shake their bums for those who care to watch. But after that they turn their faces to seek and to ask and to knock at the door of the heart of those who have to give them.
And the face of greed, what is the face of greed like? Can the face of greed be in the same place as the face of want and fear? There is a leer in the face of greed. There is a small nod to a previous possession well-guarded somewhere safe as the greedy eyes the possibilities of having more. No, there no room in this crowd for the face of greed to appear. These have nothing and come with nothing today. If the greedy are here they are where the food and meat and drinks are being had to get their own and even more. They collapse leftovers into paper bags pounded yam and Joliot rice with amala and fried plantain with beans and corn. At home they will be separated and served anew to the hungry and famished.
What about those who got nothing? What about those who came with nothing and went away with nothing? Is that the face that haunts with the threat of eating the rich sometime in the near future? Is that the face of “WANT!”? Will that face turn up again machete in hand asking for his pound of flesh? The bus pulls away. Those seeking are too weak to run after. They will let it go today. Tomorrow is another day of celebration and of abundance wrapped in high walls and barbed wire fences. Trouble.