THE RICE BAZAAR AND THE TALE OF TWO WIDOWS
Recently, I was invited to a Widows Project in Bwari, Abuja. Bwari is a rural community with its own local government and plays host to the Nigeria Law School and I think, National Universities Commission. Poverty is rife within the community and unemployment and other social ills prevalent in the town. Originally inhabited by the Gbagis, it now has a huge Ibo, Yoruba and Hausa population. It is a town that is notorious for having a horde of very ruthless "hire for trouble young men". I was told that with less than =N=1,000 per a head, politicians rent as many of these urchins as they want, fuel them with cigarettes, drugs, ogogoro, arm them with daggers and other dangerous weapons before deploying them to ruthless effectiveness against their opponents. Ironically, the vast majority of these troublesome urchins are not Nigerians. They are said to be illegal immigrants from Chad, Niger and other northern African countries.
The project I was invited to visit was established by a local female politician. No doubt that her reasons for setting up this project appeared initially selfless. She exuded a strong passion for the care of the needy in the society. But as discussions progressed, she unconsciously let her guard down and was soon boasting how she uses the strength of her organisation to blackmail politicians so as to obtain government patronage and appointments. Poor widows I thought!
My visit occurred two days after the ill fated rice bazaar at the International Conference Centre, Abuja where the wife of the President Goodluck Jonathan had transported trailer loads of rice to share to the needy as part of the activities marking Nigeria at 50 celebrations. Of course, it was confirmed that not less than three persons lost their lives in the melee under the watchful eye of security personnel who understandably abandoned their duty to become scramblers of the commodity. They like millions of Nigerians live in excruciating poverty and had a brilliant opportunity to practice the grab grab behaviour they had seen from Nigeria’s inept leaders.
I had barely settled down to serious discussions with my host when Elizabeth and Edith (not real names) walked in. They were introduced by my host as two of the widows the project supports .Elizabeth had a huge plaster across face. Evidently, she was not a happy woman. From what was being said, I quickly gathered that Elizabeth who appeared to me to be between the age of 55 and 60 years lost her husband about ten years ago. She had six children from this marriage and continuously struggled with providing for her family. The toil of bringing up these children had made her emaciated and scrappy. Given the right treatment, Elizabeth is a beautiful woman.
Edith was much younger also of Ibo extraction like Elizabeth. Not older than 33 years old. She was strong and pretty. She has a male child for her husband who died of HIV two years ago. She receives support from the project. She met Elizabeth at the project. Experience of widowhood brought the two women close. They became friends and live just two compounds away from each other.
The following discussion took place after exchange of pleasantries:
My host: What happen to your face Elizabeth?
Elizabeth: Na wao, no be you say make we go International Conference Centre make we go get rice wey them wan share for widows?
My host: Ok, so wetin happen?
Elizabeth: When we reach there, na war we come see. The trailers many and ebi like say rice full all of them. If to say people agree queue the rice go reach everybody.
My host: So how you come get the wound for face?
Elizabeth: When we reach there and dem begin share the rice, naim i come go join the line where dem say let widows queue. As e don reach me, naim I carry one bag, the next thing I see be say, one man come carry one bag of rice knack me for back, naim I fall for ground. As I fall, people including police and all dis ogogoro boys begin to march me for ground. I nearly die. My eyes come see stars. When i get up, i no see the bag of rice again, I no see my slippers. I no see my handbag. Ah, naim I say, i no go die here because of rice. Na ordinary leg I use enter bus from Abuja reach here. I come go meet one chemist man wey treat me. I never even pay am. Nigeria dey wicked. Which kind good people. Great nation!. The one wey vex me pass be say when I come outside the International conference centre, naim I see all dis igbo smokers and police with many bags of this rice, selling them for =N=3000. Which kind of country be this!. Nigeria dey evil well well and them go take God cover am. Rice, I no get. My bag. Money, handset and slippers I lose them and come carry ordinary leg and wound for face return. Na God save me say dem no march me to death. My childrens go say na rice wahala kill their mama". Ellizabeth became inconsolable as she continued in her pain, unprompted, Edith commenced her story of her experience of the same event
Edith: "When I reach there, I come see many people. Naim I tell myself say if na only one person go get rice here, na me. I no carry handbag come as I just feel say struggle go dey. Naim I put my handset in my trouser pocket and come tanda. As they begin share and e come be like say the rice no go reach us wey dey for back. Naim we rush to the front. Aah! even the police tear gas, I no feel am because na that rice my eye dey. When we push reach front, naim we begin to push and people wey dey for front begin fall down If you see how dem they march people for ground!. Aah! wetin concern us, naim we just they march people and I dey hear some women dey cry and shout. If you see how i grab the bag of rice come waka come out. Ah, me I return with one full bag oh. God don do well for me."
When Elizabeth calmed down, I invited my host to request Edith to at least share some her rice with Elizabeth and this was the conversation that took place:.
My host: "Edith, make you share some of this rice with Elizabeth now, after all two of una commot for house together that day
Edith: Madam, why you dey talk this kind thing. Na Nigeria we dey. Na the one wey person struggle take reach house be him own.
My host: But Elizabeth is your friend and she has more mouth to feed
Edith: "How that one come concern me. If to say dem march me die there, she go take my child add to her six children? Madam, i beg leave this kind of talk. At least, me and my family don get rice wey we go use celebrate Christmas....."
For me, this script was not shocking. It reinforces some of the views I have had about our dearly beloved country called Nigeria, the leadership and followership. It urges that the "work is plenty but the labourers are few". Nigeria needs help.
Barrister H. Egbune writes from Abuja.