In Nigeria, in particular, I do not think I have ever come across a subject as vulgar as money. When I say that Nigeria is poor, I do not mean that there aren’t billionaires sprinkled about the land, or millionaires in every major city, in all the 36 states, 37 when you add the Federal Capital Territory. Nigeria is poverty stricken because if you took everything from anyone who had anything, and shared it with everyone in the country, we would all have nothing. There just isn’t enough to go around, and this is why, there is nothing more powerful, vital, and vulgar than money. It isn’t merely the means to an end, or a good life, it is a stick you use to beat anyone who has less of it than you. Money is currency. Money is power. Money is everything. Makes life a little sour.
I’ve always been wary of vast displays of cash, of endless rivers of champagne, of sports cars, of shiny things. Nigeria is as poor as it is corrupt. The legitimately wealthy and the illegitimately rich are such good bed fellows that once joined it is impossible to say where one starts and the other begins. This is how I think of it. As my mother says, “you can’t shine shit.” The fruit of a poisonous tree can’t be anything but poisonous.
If you are wealthy in Nigeria, you must admit, if not to the EFCC or the FIRS, then at least to yourself, that some of your money, no matter how legitimately you earned it, is suspect. And we all know it - Me, my gateman, the mallam down the street. We all know that the only reason why you have so much is that some of us have tolerated having so little for so long. The only reason why you have been able to gorge yourself, is that your brother has found starvation and suffering tolerable. I suppose this is why I think spending money without fear is vulgar. The Nigerian people are docile, they’ve been accepting of too much, and I’d really hate for your ferrari to be the straw that breaks the donkey’s back.
“Are you very rich?” The ant asked the lizard.
“Yes. I’ve got bones, and flesh, and limbs. That’s quite wealthy, I think.” The Lizard replied.
The ant smiled. The next day, he returned with all his brothers and sisters and they took everything the lizard said he had. I suppose if the lizard had been discerning enough he’d still be alive, but what does that matter to me? I’m a man. I’m not a lizard.
Earlier this week, the Otedola girls, the billionaire’s daughters, announced to their social media followers, that their daddy, Femi Otedola, had bought for them 3 brand new Ferrari Portofinos. “How extraordinary!” I thought. “What a good daddy.” My thoughts moved quickly. “How much did that cost?” The answer was at my fingertips. $300,000. Give or take a few thousand. “Must be nice!” I thought. “Very nice indeed.”
The day after the debut of the Ferrari trio, the Ikorodu boys, our favourite creative boys and girls from the village, produced their version. Of course, nothing remotely negative can be said about the enterprising young, however, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling a little sour. Our Ikorodu boys, budget re-makers of Hollywood trailers, got three Wheelbarrows and painted them, Cuppy captivating pink, Temi tasteful brown and Tolani brilliant blue, with wigs to match. How quick! How creative! But also how terrible! Of what use is a wheelbarrow in 2020 if you’re not a groundsman, a farmer, or a gardener? And there’s no greater metaphor for the glaring income inequality that exists in Nigeria than a dutiful comparison of both pictures. If not for their reproduction of the moment, I wouldn’t have had cause to come up with the following sentence, which I think has a metaphor. In Nigeria, you’re either one of the very few driving a Ferrari, or you’re one of the many, pushing a wheelbarrow.
Some people have turned the incident, Ferrari “Meta” – that’s Yoruba for 3, into a barb for their parents, their father’s more specifically. “Does Mr. Otedola have 2 heads?” We all know he doesn’t, but it’s a nice question to ask when you want to infect someone with an inferiority complex. Payback for our collective childhoods, when we were compared to the naturally clever, or diligent. “What of Onyeka, or John, or Faridah or Maryann or Ibironke, do they have 2 heads?” As quippy as the line is, it’s far more effective on children. They haven’t the sense of self to defend their infantile psyches from the barbs of their parents. Their parents on the other hand are as thick-skinned as elephants.
Three brand new Ferraris… how lovely. How very kind of that man, Mr. Otedola. He performs a level of parental support, affection and duty, that is simply unheard of in these parts. I cannot know if this is who he truly is, or if it’s just a façade, but still, I appreciate him for his daughters. It is good to have such a father, but in the same breath, I worry for myself. Has the announcement of his generosity stoked the fires of revolt against the shackles of class in Nigeria? And if it has what does that mean for me?
In December 2006 a man in a Land Rover Discovery drove past a busy street in Victoria Island. He was hailed by the men of the road we call touts, but he did not stop even though they screamed, “Something for the boys! Please sir!” At the top of their lungs. With as much strength as their vocal cords could muster. The man didn’t stop. They yelled again, this time, slapping the car in anger. “Who the fuck do you think you are? Is it because your car is 25 million naira?” You have to remember that this was 2006. In 2006 N 25 million was £100,000. Now in 2020, N 25 million is £42,000. The car drove off without paying the men any mind. But the men, already incensed at their powerlessness, didn’t go away. They stayed on that street and did their best to rob everyone that went through there. The man in the Land Rover unscathed, the fighting middle class, robbed past the point of comfort.
Three Ferraris, $900,000, roughly half a billion naira; how grand, brilliant, marvelous? Their wealth is without great scandal. They’re successful in their own right. Each of them, in their particular God-ordained lane, doing what they do with good cheer. How could your heart not be glad? It is possible, I think, to be happy for another’s fortune, without calling your own into question. But at the same time, you cannot look at events like this in isolation.
Third Mainland bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down.
The Nigerian economy sat on some oil, the Nigerian economy had a great fall.
And all of Otedola’s children, and all their Ferraris couldn’t put it back together again.
Ferrari x 3, I pray the same prayer for you that was prayed for me when I got my first car.
“May it take you out safely, and bring you home safely. May it always be a source of joy and not of pain.”
And then the Church, online on zoom, said, “Amen.”