By Akin Olukiran
Poverty, it has been said, is a state of the mind. If you think you are poor, you are poor. If you think you are rich, you are rich. As a country boy who grew up in a small village community of proud, hardworking and confident people who had communal love and self-dignity, I felt rich, very rich indeed. For me, poverty is not the lack of money, it is first and foremost a depravity of the mind, manifested in penurious living conditions. No one has the magic wand to come along and cure your poverty, the solution lies with the individual.
The world over, the main yardstick for measuring the most acute state of poverty, is, begging. Nigeria’s fortune is changing. The middle class is growing. Yet, this national scourge of begging seems to be attaining more notoriety and dimension. Passing through the Murtala Mohammed International Airport last Saturday just brought home to me, the seriousness and pandemic nature of this disease, called begging. As a seasoned and frequent flyer, I have never experienced this level of shameless and blatant begging. The degeneracy I witnessed went beyond the pale. It was a line up of beggars, right from the entrance to the airport, through to the last man/woman before I boarded the plane. The gentleman who sat next to me on the full flight to London couldn’t hide his irritation and disdain at the corruptness of all the officials with whom he also came into contact.
What is interesting about this worsening begging situation is that most of these officials are not materially poor. Many of them are actually much richer (income-wise) than the people they are begging from, but they lack self-pride and dignity. Their greed and the all-pervading culture of shameless and reckless acquisition of material wealth have deluded them to the immorality of their actions. In their minds, you the passenger are richer than them. In their minds, they are poor. Their depraved minds have found expression in a society where libertinism reigns supreme.
One other national practice which the senior management of organisations should all work together to stamp out is the “Happy Day” phenomenon. Again, it is only in Nigeria that you are greeted “Happy Friday sir”, “Happy Monday”, “Happy Tuesday” etc. – with the expectant look of a professional mendicant in their eyes. Everyday is a happy day but the significance of the first day of every year makes it universally acceptable a cultural norm to say Happy New Year. Indeed, I get confused and I am un-amused when I get the monthly Happy New month texts from only my Nigerian friends. It was never this bad and it shouldn’t be.
Anything for the boys? Anything for your brother/sister? Anything for the weekend? These are some of the annoying questions that are employed when the Happy Friday greeting produces a courtesy nod, smile or thank you from the customer. I am intolerant of this disgraceful act that is doing more damage to our already battered national pride and reputation which we are all collectively striving to rebuild. It is such an act of gross misconduct in my office that if you are found guilty that it is instant summary dismissal.
We should have zero tolerance of this practice of begging in order to stamp it out of our culture. The act of giving should be voluntary. You give voluntarily in appreciation of a good service. It should not be solicited or expected. This is even more annoying when the beggar has not added any value to your life. The same group of people understands the power of the mind. They are the same people that will tell you “it is well” when the outside reality tells you otherwise. Let them begin to apply the same principle to their everyday life and action and cure themselves of poverty of the mind by stop begging. Nigeria and Nigerians deserve a better image and label.
Akin Olukiran via [email protected]