A weekend of misery, display of affluence in Nigeria
Nigeria is by no means a poor country. The country is endowed with abundant human and material resources. But the major problem is the inequality in wealth distribution.
It is said in some quarters that greater part of Nigeria’s wealth is in the hands of a few individuals.
Poor governance in the country has created a wrong impression that wealth is something to be ashamed of, whereas, it should be created in abundance for every citizen to enjoy.
Confucius, a Chinese philosopher (551-479BC), said: “In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.”
Oftentimes, things happen in Nigeria that shift attention from the shenanigans that define governance in the country, creating a hallucination and numbing feeling that send the imagination on a temporary holiday.
One of such happenings, which juts out frequently and stubbornly these days, is the interplay of extreme misery and excessive display of crass affluence and materialism.
Last week, the world witnessed an interplay of extreme misery and excessive exhibition of affluence in a country noted as the world’s headquarters of poverty. That happened in a country where it is said that the poorest of the poor resides.
It was a weekend when the who-is-who in the country gathered somewhere in part of Lagos for the burial of the mother of Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, a former managing director of Access Bank Limited, and in another part of the country for the burial of yet another mother of another man.
Except the newspaper headlines, no noise was made about the burial of the Imoukhuedes Matriach. But the question is, did the Imoukhuedes spend money in millions for the burial? There’s no argument about that; did they receive gifts towards that? Definitely, yes. But there was no mention of it in the social media.
But that same weekend, Friday precisely, there was another burial ceremony, also of a mother. This time, it was in the Eastern part of Nigeria. Obinna Iyiegbu, popularly called Obi Cubana laid his mother, who died in November 2020, to rest.
The Igbo of South-East Nigeria believe in burying the dead in a special way. It becomes all the more special if the dead-father or mother has attained what is called ripe old age of say 75 and above. In this case, the burial becomes ‘befitting’ or a ‘celebration of life’.
Mrs Ezinne Iyiegbu’s burial would have been a celebration of life, but it went beyond that. For want of a better description, the funeral was a carnival. It was a burial many say was in its own class.
Obi Cubana, according to social media gossip, has raised the bar too high for anyone aspiring to beat his unprecedented record in the country. From the over 400 cows donated to the host, the $100,000 diamond pendant, his mother’s N40 million casket, specially imported, 67 private jets that landed in Oba, to the fleet of over 500 luxury cars, the Oba burial was as loud as any loud ceremony could be.
Beyond the glitz and glamour of Ezinne Iyiegbu’s burial, Cubana’s home town was elevated to a point where it could now easily be traced on the world map. Certainly, Oba has never witnessed anything like that. Not even the entire Anambra State has anyone organised anything so loud and extravagant where money, rather than life, was celebrated.
Ordinarily, Oba is just a quiet town of nine villages, located between the commercial town of Onitsha and the industrial town of Nnewi. The closest the sleepy town had come to the limelight was when the Rogenny Resort provided the venue for local football tournaments.
Now, the money display was taken to a dizzying height. It was amazing the role social media played in amplifying all that happened in Oba, especially the Naira rain side of it. Social media did not stop at just telling, they also showed pictures of the Oba money festival.
Before they came into Oba, many of Cubana’s friends and guests posted on Instagram the stacks of money they were going to spend and these consisted cartons of naira notes. Contrary to the norm, money was not sprayed in single notes, but rather thrown out in bundles and the poor, the have-nots, the less-privileged in Oba and environs made mincemeat of the entire spectacle.
That was a tip of the money festival that passed as Madam Ezinne Iyiegbu’s burial in Oba, Anambra State, South-East Nigeria.
The next day in Lagos, South-West Nigeria, there was another event where, Vanguard Media Limited, publishers of Vanguard Newspapers, also pulled together an array of creme de la creme of society from various sectors of the economy for an award ceremony where money also rained.
The same Friday the Cubanas were gyrating in Oba, Lagos was a no-go-area. To complete the circle of the good, the bad, the ugly and even the absurd, in Lagos and some other places across the country, there was a heavy downpour that showed Nature in its fury, pouring out the content of its bowel on man and the vanity of his being.
In Lagos, in line with what has become an annual ritual, communities were submerged, and countless vehicles were trapped in flood; homes were sacked and families dislocated. Losses were incurred and many Nigerians may not recover from those losses in the foreseeable future.
Yet, some kilometres away from them, money was raining. And that clearly demonstrates the unevenness and, sometimes, the incomprehensibility of the role fate plays in human existence.
But, are there lessons to learn or implications of naira rain in Nigeria in the midst of abject poverty? Yes, there are implications that range from misplaced priorities, feeling of deprivation to disillusionment.
Former presidential aide, Reuben Abati, perhaps, captured it appropriately when he said, “They (Oba people) struggled to grab the Naira notes that were thrown into the air. They stared at the money-miss-road invaders from a distance. When it was all over and the waka-come-Cubana crowd left, they struggled over the left-over crumbs of cow-meat barbecue. They were effectively reminded of their poverty.”
This sad reminder has far-reaching and negative implications, especially for the youth in that community who would, henceforth, feel discomfited with everything and everybody and that has the capacity to push them into what the society would frown at.
The wanton display of wealth in a society where hunger is a native in many homes, poverty is an unyielding monster and youth unemployment is legendary, can only fuel negative feelings that can lead to negative actions.
Such actions only speak to the faulty distribution of wealth that deepens social and economic inequality. The actions also speak to the eroded value system that has made the worship of money a norm in some societies. They discourage industry and hard work, and in most cases kill public spirit.
In the case of Obi Cubana and his mother’s burial, Abati interrogated and rightly too, why the “wasted” money was not put into immortalising the dead and at the same time benefiting the community in a very more permanent way.
“Obi Cubana would probably not visit that community again until he needs to organise another show-off. Would it not have been better if he built a hospital in his mother’s memory? Or a school? Or a church? And then the people will remember her, and not how her son and his friends put money to shame at her funeral,” he posited.
Sometimes, however, it is not easy to see much wrong in what some wealthy Nigerians do. In the case of Obi Cubana, it is difficult, perhaps, to take him to the cleaners when one hears him out on how he made his money and what led to the money festival at his mother’s burial.
Cubana is just one individual and not a state or federal government. But he has done what governments have not done in recent memory.
“In 2013, I pushed 53 uneducated Oba boys into the market to learn trading. In 2017, I withdrew all of them from their Ogas and settled all of them with N3million each and paid for their shops,” Cubana disclosed.
Continuing, he said, “I linked 40 of them into importation and made them use my name and platform to import goods into the country. After two years, I checked on them to know how they were doing and found out that some had issues and I supported them again to stand. I am happy today that out of the 53 men, 38 are billionaires while the rest are in the level of millionaire.”
He added that, in 2018, he took 100 educated men out of the streets and introduced them to white men for business and today they are billionaires in dollars. “They also help me in their capacity when I require their help. All their friends in Nigeria and outside patronise me,” he enthused.
That is empowerment speaking and it should come more from the government than from an individual. It follows, therefore, that if the government wants to truly end poverty and narrow the yawning gap between the rich and the poor, it should empower people, not through conditional borrowing, or trader-moni or any of its lackluster social safety nets, but through the Cubana model.
To discourage or stop altogether the display of affluence through the Cubana mother’s burial style, the government should invoke the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Act – Sections 5, 21 (4-5) which prescribes penalties for the abuse of the country’s national currency.
That law forbids the sale, purchase, and the plunking of the Naira, and prescribes penalties of six months imprisonment or a fine of N50, 000 or both. But the penalties are so light that they don’t mean anything to Cubana and his friends or their likes. It has to be reviewed upwards.
The church can also help through moral re-orientation and preachments on a good value system, hard work and dignity in labour. Some church leaders mislead the youth with too much emphasis on the glorious Christ, not the suffering Christ. Miracles should be a spontaneous outpouring of the spirit and not otherwise.
Rumour mills had it that the government threatened to prosecute Obi Cubana, but fingers are at the same time pointing to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami whose son’s recent wedding ceremony also witnessed the shaming of Nigeria. If this is the case, can FG cast the first stone?