Story Five: Chideraa in Economic Recession
It was now 1981, two years since Shehu Shagari came into power, and every hope of a new beginning had died already. Chideraa was now in Primary six and was itching to get into Secondary School with the prestigious King’s College on his mind. Only the wealthy thought about schooling there, the less privileged just admired the idea. More and more people trooped from the rural parts of Nigeria to occupy the urban parts in search of better opportunities, thereby abandoning the farming occupation more radically. Farming was a poor man’s job. Chideraa’s father had now received two Chieftaincy titles in Umuagwo, the first one was Ochudo 1 of Umuagwo and the second, Onwa 1 of Umuagwo. He received these titles for he was wealthy, one of the wealthiest men in Umuagwo and he also spent huge amount of money to claim them. His job in National Electric Power Authority, NEPA, was his only source of income, but because he had risen high in the ranks, they also had access to loot the country in their own little way by syphoning funds meant for getting new transformers to ensure people had stable power or buying very low quality and cheap equipment which often developed faults within short periods of time, so electric power was highly unstable.
Chideraa excelled in his academics. He led his class and school severally to quiz and debate competitions and his team always won. His knowledge of Nigeria’s history and current affairs made him excel in quiz competitions and Social Studies and every teacher loved him. He was developing a growing hatred for corruption so much that he never cheated during examination, tests and even class works. He allowed his parents and brothers teach him his assignments when he didn’t understand them very well, but they never wrote if for him. At his age, his father was already scared to ever let him know of the corrupt practices he did at the place of work. He feared Chideraa could leave his house if he discovered. Well, who would know the history of the country as well as Chideraa did and would not hate corruption except he was a partaker of it like his father was?
“Daddy, when I grow up, I would become a Police, so that I can arrest all those corrupt people in the country.” He fondly told his father. His father had tried to convince him into going for one of the laudable professions like Accounting, Engineering and even Medicine. But h had refused. He would first study History or Law in the University and then enrol into the Police Force. His choice made his father sick. But he could change as he grew older and wiser his father consoled himself.
On the radio one evening, some economic experts were clamouring for the resuscitation of the dying agricultural sector which was Nigeria’s major source of revenue before crude oil was discovered. Chideraa had listened quite attentively, but gave way when his elder brother came in and tuned the radio station to a music program. It was one of Fela Kuti’s songs playing on the radio “Shuffering and shmiling.” The Afro-Beat musician had gained popularity for the constant verbal criticism of the military government in his lyrics and had suffered some attacks too for it. He had become one of Chideraa’s role models. Though as a Christian Chideraa detested his lifestyle, but he loved his courage and boldness. At least he mostly said things that appeared to be true. He reclined on their sofa and enjoyed the beat.
Obierika had not looked so disappointed in a long time. He came back home with slumped shoulders. Urenma, his wife, came to meet him, “My husband welcome.” He responded mechanically and sat in the living room. Normally he would go to the room and pull off his work clothe. She already knew what the problem was. It was the end of the month, the usual time workers received their salary and he had come back looking disappointed for the third consecutive month. Chideraa was now a student in King’s College struggling to pay his school fees. His father hadn’t made hays while the sun shined. In 1982 there was a great fall in the global price of crude oil and Nigeria, not having any other viable source of revenue, entered into great debts and economic recession was knocking at the door.
Chideraa had heard the whole story of the global drop in the price crude oil on the radio over and over again, but did not understand how it affected his father’s salary or his school fees.
Obierika’s friends had invested in landed properties and big businesses, but he had invested in Chieftaincy titles. Although they were worth huge amount of money, now that he needed money, he couldn’t sell them. If he could he would have done so without thinking. Things became tough for Chideraa’s family. His father’s salary was not constant anymore. He had to withdraw from King’s College and now attended less expensive schools. When Chideraa asked his father why things had become tough for them, his father simply told him the country was had become hard. He had heard that over and over, but he needed to know why the country became hard.
One day he approached the principal of his new school and asked him why the country suddenly became hard. The principal, Mr Babatunde, picked interest in the young boy and explained in detail “Chideraa, crude oil is ninety per cent of Nigeria’s revenue and since the price of crude oil collapsed. Nigeria could not generate enough money to take care of her responsibilities like paying their workers, supplying water and so many other things. Back then when we didn’t have crude oil and did farming life was much better. The crude oil had fuelled of civil war and now has ruined our economy. I still wonder if it is a gift or a curse to our people.” He spoke with pain in his heart and numerous sighs accompanied his speech. Chideraa could understand better now what had happened, and that day he made up his mind to become a farmer and no longer a Police man. Even if he caught all the corrupt people he thought, it would not increase Nigeria’s revenue, moreover, his father didn’t need anyone to pay him salary when he worked on his farm. He went on to own a large farm in the East where he applied mechanized farming and produced a wide range of farm produce.
The highly anticipated Second Republic eventually crashed when the military forces carried out another coup on the New Year’s Eve of 1983, bringing the Shehu Shagari’s government to an end in another bloodless coup. Chideraa wept bitterly, not because he liked Shehu Shagari’s government, but at least there was peace and nonviolence for the period of time he stayed in power. The only time there was something close to violence was when he asked the Ghanaians and other unskilled expatriates to leave the country in 1983 and they had to carry big bags that were later called Ghana-must-go bags. The coup was led by Gen. Muhammadu Buhari and he went on to become the military Head of State of the country.
Picture credit: businessnigeria.com