A GRAIN OF RICE
By Tunde Olusunle
If you were a student of English in my generation, there were authors and titles, African and foreign, you just had to encounter. Nigerian writers like Daniel Fagunwa, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Christopher Okigbo, John Pepper Bekederemo-Clark, Timothy Aluko, Gabriel Okara, Elechi Amadi, Ola Rotimi, Zulu Sofola, Buchi Emecheta, Flora Nwapa, all members of the “first generation” of Nigerian writers, were irrevocable constants. On the African scene, Nadine Gordimer, Dennis Brutus, Peter Abrahams, Lenrie Peters, Alan Paton, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Meja Mwangi, Simon Gikandi, Camara Laye, Kofi Awoonor, Kofi Anyidoho, Ayi Kwei Armah, Sembene Ousmane, Frantz Fanon, Sonne Mbella Dipoko, Naguib Mahfouz and so on were featured variously on our reading lists. Indeed in several instances, we had prior exposure to the works of some of these icons in the syllabuses of our ordinary school leaving and higher school certificate examinations respectively. In our multigeneric poetry, prose, drama, oral literature and stylistics classes in the university, these legends were further encountered in various ways.
Ngugi wa Thiong’o generally and deservedly adulated as East Africa’s leading novelist wrote the novel titled *A Grain of Wheat* which was first published in 1967. It was his third outing as a novelist after its successful forerunners *Weep Not, Child* and *The River Between* published in 1964 and 1965 respectively. *A Grain of Wheat* blends together several encounters during Kenya’s hard-fought pre-independence “state of emergency” especially between 1952 and 1959. Ngugi by the way was known and referred to as “James Ngugi” in his earlier career. His repudiation of the vestiges of colonialism which compelled Africans to bear foreign honorifics among other Western impositions, necessitated his recourse to his traditional *Kikuyu* (Kenyan) name, Ngugi wa Thiong’o.
He loaned the title of his third book from the book of *St. John,* chapter 12, verse 24, of the Holy Bible. That portion of the Bible reads thus: “Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” I am adapting the title of Ngugi’s third work of prose in interrogating a very recent development in the continuing condescension, disregard, disrespect and sarcastic triumphalism of the state against the people. In other climes, at other times, this manner of official sniggering, scoffing and sneering constitute the combustibles for mammoth scale conflagrations capable of unimaginable denouement.
Confronted with the reality of an angry, hungry, edgy and impatient populace fed up with official promises and platitudes, President Bola Tinubu last week announced palliatives to the generality of Nigerians. Mass anguish over the deregulation of fuel prices by over 200 per cent; inflationary trends soaring above 24 per cent; shrinking pockets, were collectively instigating popular anger. After the ill-thought proposal to pay N8000 each to 12 million Nigerians as cushioning for the removal of fuel subsidy, Tinubu has reversed himself with a new arrangement. His government now intends to reach the people through their various state governments. Five billion naira each will be made available to state governments to enable them procure rice, maize and fertilisers for their people.
Fifty-two percent of the funds according to the federal government are grants to the state governments, while 48 per cent are loans. Let’s hope our predator-governors fully understand what this infusion is meant for at this time. Let’s hope that the very poor and impoverished benefit from this gesture albeit its tokenism. It sounds grand in figures but is actually minuscule relative to national thirst and hunger. Let’s hope some governors do not true-to-type, invite bureau de change operators to their palatial abodes in Abuja to help convert the funds into foreign exchange for storage in their personal strong rooms. Let’s hope this infusion will not be committed to electioneering especially by states which have off-season polls in the last quarter of this year.
A video clip which has been trending on the social media for a few days now was recorded in Kwara State and details the manner of the appropriation of the grains delivered to the state in one of the council wards. The medium of communication is Yoruba. Residents of a particular neighbourhood in Ilorin the Kwara State capital can be seen in a semi-circle listening to a speaker who reports the sharing formula of the recently allocated grains from federal government silos. According to him, the state government received a total of 1200 bags of rice from the federal government. This was shared between the 16 local government areas, (LGAs) in the state and further apportioned to all the council wards in the various LGAs. According to the narrator, “Ilorin West” local government area has 12 council wards and “Adewole” ward, a section of which he was briefing, received eight bags of rice.” Adewole ward according to him encompasses several contiguous communities and so the grains were further shared to cover the various neighbourhoods.
In the words of the narrator: “Our neighbourhood received six out of the 36 cups obtainable in the 50 kilogramme bag of rice shared by constituents of Adewole ward.” An instinctual assistant to the narrator spontaneously hoisted the eight kilogramme shrunken bag containing the share of that clan for the audience to behold. Spontaneous murmurs of disappointment and disenchantment expectedly gave way to hisses and grunts. People could be heard proposing uncanny sharing formulas to ensure everyone in that unit of the council ward got a share of the “palliative.” A nursing mother with a baby strapped to her back cynically proffered that the food item be shared to the supposed beneficiaries in single grains since that was how lowly the federal government regarded Nigerians.
In a country where the National Assembly just last month proposed to spend a whooping N40 Billion on Sports Utility Vehicles, (SUVs) for 469 parliamentarians the quantum disrespect for the masses is unthinkable. Aside this sum, additional funds will be appropriated for the procurement of bullet proof automobiles for the presiding officers of the bicameral parliament. An additional provision of N70 Billion has also been made for the legislators as their own “palliatives” to help them settle down properly to their official assignments. While the sum of N185 Billion has been set aside for 137 million very poor Nigerians therefore, less than 500 congressmen will have at least N110 Billion as booty!
Helpless Nigerians are eternally at the mercy of hoodlums in the guise of kidnappers, unknown gunmen and the like while Nigerians leaders are insulated from such deathly possibilities. Their leaders fly in state-owned aeroplanes or their personal jets. On land they are cocooned in bullet-proof vehicles sirens announcing their movements, clearing clogged routes for their passage. The same leaders have decimated the figures of security personnel who are supposed to protect the rest of us. They have engaged such arms-bearing professionals as bodyguards and escorts for themselves and their families. There is security cover for them in the capitol even as detachments of our inadequate security numbers equally oversee their country homes. Didn’t we recently see a short video of Seyi Tinubu, who prides himself as the “First Son of Nigeria” the other day moving around, heavily guarded by state security?
With decrepit fiscal capacity, a disenchanted citizenry, a demotivated military which recently lost about 40 officers and men in the course of internal security duties, what is the rationale for stoking external aggression against neighbouring Niger Republic? Being the chair of the Economic Community of West African States, (ECOWAS) at this point in time is not synonymous with misguided championing of military assault on a country which many Nigerians on the northern fringes of the country see as alternate home. Nigeria has paid its dues in subregional peacekeeping and peace enforcement. Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Gambia, among others are countries where Nigeria has impacted either as part of a subregional force or participants in United Nations operations, in West Africa.
Immediate past Chief of Defence Staff, (CDS), Lucky Irabor as recently as May this year noted that Nigeria has contributed to 41 peacekeeping operations worldwide which must be a global record. According to the retired army General, it cost Nigeria a staggering USD 8 Billion to restore peace in Liberia! N8 Billion honestly and conscientiously applied to the development of Nigeria at this time will be a socioeconomic game changer. Unanimously, Nigerians across the spectrum reject ill-conceived armed invasion of Niger Republic. They equally abhor the participation of the Nigerian military in any such project. Whatever supplementary appropriation Nigeria intends to conjure for its participation in a needless war should be channelled to making life better for Nigerians. There is genuine starvation in the land; there is palpable despondency; the economy is on the throes of possible recession; the hospitals are receiving many more patients than they did in the past. Roads remain in utter disrepair; crime is on the ascendancy; cannibalism in the name of ritual killings is on the rise. Let’s face our own internal challenges and guarantee our own people more than a preposterous grain of rice.
▪︎ Olusunle, PhD, poet, journalist, scholar and author is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE).