• Monday, May 20, 2024
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Knowing price of everything & value of nothing


Last Wednesday Taiwo, Ogbuagu and I—the Three Happy Cheers!—we were at our customary mid-week lunch at our favorite restaurant by the lagoon.

“I ran into a fellow who recently returned from the UK . . . ,” began Ogbuagu.

“Ha!” I jumped in. “A tokumbo man, eh? You know, I’ve grown to like those crisp British accents . . . so refreshing!”

“So tiresome,” said Taiwo.

“Which do you find more tiresome,” I asked, “tokumbo anglicana or tokumbo americana?”

“They are equally tiresome,” said Taiwo, “the one with his ‘Hell-e-e-uw! Didn’t I see you in Lun-dun?’ and the other with his everlasting T-shirt and dirty-blue cut-off jean-shorts and ‘I wanna-gorro-wazup,man?’ No class whatsoever!”

“That’s deep,” I said.

“I tell you what,” said Ogbuagu, “you know who’s got no class? I’ll tell you who’s got no class. It’s the man who permitted Ikoyi Park to be sold and built over by thieves and money-miss-road when he was in a position to prevent it.”

“Now, that’s very, very deep!” I heard myself saying.

“What of the thieves and money-miss-road themselves?” asked Taiwo.

“Them too, obviously,” said Ogbuagu. “They belong in the same gang. The same gang that messed up Festac . . .”

“Oh yes, I remember Festac in the 1970s and 80s,” I jumped in again, filled with nostalgia. “Festival Town was its felicitous formal name. Well planned and decently built, although the streets were named and numbered ignorantly like something in medieval Europe. Nigeria can be so surprising.”

“That’s right,” said Taiwo. “Festac was an elegant middle class housing estate, with numerous little parks and children’s playgrounds, open spaces at every major street corner and every few blocks.”

“Yes indeed,” said Ogbuagu. “Festac was a beauty in its first ten years. Then the hyenas moved in. They sold off the open spaces, crowded them with buildings, and turned the place into a slum.”

“Festac residents didn’t help matters, though,” said Taiwo. “They left the parks and playgrounds overgrown with tall grasses and snakes, providing the rogues an alibi.”

“Even so, only fools would do something like that. A good government would compel the residents to look after their property, penalizing them for failing, or taxing them to pay hired gardeners. A good government doesn’t sell off parks and playgrounds because citizens don’t look after them.”

“But that’s what you get when political power—the power of decision—falls into the hands of charlatans and crooks. The community gets sold down the river. The further you travel in the wrong direction, the harder it is to reverse and return to commonsense.”

This sobering conversation really got me down. I lost appetite and stared vacantly at the waters until Taiwo nudged me.

“You know,” I said, “this reminds me of the saying that some people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”

“Exactly,” said Taiwo. “I was saddened beyond words when I learned recently that a city of my fond memories of happy school days has suffered a similar fate. Its prime open space, a magnificent park in which British colonials of the old days recreated themselves with football, golf and polo, has been sold off and built over with a shopping mall.”

“By the way,” said Ogbuagu, “isn’t it surprising that those crooks who sold and bought Ikoyi Park didn’t do the same to Ikoyi Club?”

“Ah, but Ikoyi Club was their rag of snob value, the only thing beyond cash that conferred respectability on them. It would have been like selling their grandmothers—something they weren’t quite desperate enough to do yet.”

“Low-bred, soul-less bastards, without class, without culture . . . .”

“They are only good at admiring other peoples and telling boastful stories of the places they have been to.”

“Their inferiority complex is deep beyond salvage.”

“Oh yes, the Nigerian elite, these wielders of power in government and civil service, are among the world’s most traveled people. But beyond such knowledge as tourist guide-books may provide, little of the culture, the enduring values of the peoples and places they have been to ever seems to rub off on Nigerians.”

“London, their most favored playground, features a large park and playground every half-kilometer or so. There you see young mothers pushing prams, their toddlers prancing around merrily; older children running freely at various games; and elderly citizens sitting or leisurely strolling.”

“Yes, the scene repeats itself in all the world’s great cities—Tokyo, Beijing, Mumbai, Paris, Berlin, New York, even Cotonou and Nairobi. But what do we have in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Ibadan, Kaduna, Abuja or Aba? No space to walk, not to talk of play.”

“Look, man, you’re talking about knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. A world-famous Nigerian writer and professor who is read by almost every schoolboy, when he retired he was forced out of his two-story campus residence, which they said was reserved for serving professors, into a bungalow befitting the lower status of his wife, a lecturer. After a few years of this humiliation the man took his family and migrated abroad where famous universities take turns hosting him at salaries and emoluments usually reserved for CEOs of major corporations, and undergraduates, post-graduates and scholars of note feel privileged to sit and learn at the feet of this Nigerian sage. . . .”

Onwuchekwa Jemie