Truckloads of soldiers were speeding down the street in their huge vehicles. I felt I was dreaming but it was true:
As usual, I sat in front of my mother’s textiles shop, feeding my eyes with the typically boring activities on the narrow street.
Nothing really ever happened.
But that day, as I gazed down the road, I could not believe my eyes.
It was 1975. I was an undergraduate at the University of Ife, and visited my mother’s shop in Ile Ife regularly to catch up on the latest stories and grab some food from my mother.
My small sister sat next to me that day and said, “Oh, broda mi, that happened yesterday too, and a couple of other evenings last week. The soldiers drove down the road, throwing out money at pedestrians. People were rushing out to pick the currency notes flying around in the wind. A small girl got hit by a motorcycle as she ran out to pick some money. Mama mi would not allow me to go and pick some.”
I turned to my mother in disbelief.
“It’s true, Akanbi,” my mother said in her usual unfazed attitude.
She was never ruffled enough to raise her voice about ANYTHING all the years I knew her.
“The soldiers were spraying money on the streets?” I asked mama mi, my jaw dropping in disbelief.
“Exactly,” my mother confirmed. “It’s Udoji money. Since they paid the soldiers the arrears of their Udoji award, they have been partying like no tomorrow and throwing money around like toilet paper.”
My jaw was still hanging in disbelief.
Mama was meticulously plucking the leaves from her pile of Efo vegetable stalks as she prepared to cook for me.
She smiled and continued, softly speaking, “Better close your mouth, Akanbi. Strange things are happening. This is nothing. Last weekend, there was a party in Aderemi Road–near the community center. People said it was lavish. The guests wined and dined all night long, and the celebrants tied a live goat to each table as a parting gift to their visitors.”
“That’s impossible,” I responded.
“You can sit down there with your jaw dropped all the way to the floor,” my mother said, “but it is true. I wished they would come and buy some textiles from my shop and spread the largess my way a little.”
She got up and left for the kitchen at the back of her shop.
Something broke inside me, and I wanted to throw up in disgust.
I asked myself: do I really belong here? Am I part of this community? Why do I feel that this development is very wrong, when people seem to embrace it readily?
It was General Yakubu Gowon, our young and handsome military dictator, who woke up one day to announce to the nation that “Money is not Nigeria’s problem but how to spend it.”
Nigeria had too much money, he told us.
So the government printed a lot of currency notes and started giving them out to the people.
As Fela sang, “Na since then trouble start o.”
Picture: Another African child born in this US exile. One day we will return home, lágbára Olódùmarè.
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