I have no fond memory of being poor. I remembered the embarrassment of collecting food on “credit” before the end of the month. My mom was a primary school teacher. So, she wasn’t earning much. She passed on long before the beginning of the Fourth Republic when Obasanjo’s government reviewed workers’ minimum wage. I remembered going to sleep hungry sometimes. I remembered working for some of my friends’ parents, who are food sellers. Chores range from fetching water, doing dishes, helping to hawk food wrapped in leaves. I owe some of my friends and their parents a debt of gratitude. They helped me from always starving. My mom put up with a lot of insults and disappointments. She did her best to make me happy, but lack was a constant companion. There is nothing romantic about being poor. I wore a lot of hand-me-downs, oversized shoes, and pants that I would hold with ropes or belts. I was an adopted child of many where I grew up. Of course, I had fun playing with other kids and all, but there was nothing beautiful about growing up in poverty.
When people say things like “back in the day, we were poor and happy,” I always wondered if they experienced the same kind of poverty like me. I have no fond memories of drinking Bongo tea without bread and sugar. I can’t imagine how eating bread flour sourced from discarded bags at the bakery with “pàdé mi ní gun pá” (meet me at the elbow) watery water leaf soup is indicative of happiness.
As I speak, I am still warring with that scourge called poverty. My hatred for penury prevents me from equating it with happiness. How can you be poor and be happy? Is it the depressing situation that poverty brings, the shame, the pain, the dream-deferred, the economy of death, and suffering that one should be happy about? Is it the degradation that it produces in fueling corruption and fraudulent intent? Is it the agony of 10,000 naira being the difference between living and dying at the hospital? What exactly equates poverty with happiness? All that trails being poor can and should only motivate us to fight the system, seek better opportunities, and work harder so we can say, “never again.”
Don’t let anybody deceive you with “the rich also cry” mantra. The rich may cry for other things, but not where the three square meals would come from. I am always angry at the Nigerian government when I see potentials wasted and lives destroyed. Poverty is the motivation for voting against our interests. In a place where being modest is not a virtue when you’re rich, poverty cannot possibly make one happy. The rapacious intensity with which the politicians steal stems from the fear of lack and life after leaving the government. Wretchedness is not a virtue. It is not a prescription for happiness. Poverty is a scourge. We must collectively fight to end or reduce it in our society. When you see me, I’d like to hear how you survived and escaped poverty and not how you’re happy being miserable. If you romanticize poverty around me, a ma ní problem.