Danfo Driver and the Street Economist (PART 1) Road talk

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Geoffrey Harumi

Sometime in April the scorching sun was restless and attempted to kiss the earth
against the odds but was distracted by the commotion inside the bus I boarded to Lagos
Island.  I was seated shoulder to shoulder with a middle aged young man that looked
like a lawyer when a fat old lady entered the bus. As she walked towards us I wondered
where she is going to sit because there was obviously no space for a woman her size.
Without warning the fat lady forced her buttocks in-between I and the supposed lawyer
sandwiching the passengers against each other without mercy. As I was gasping for
breath the lawyer started shouting and accusing the woman for assault.

He shouted “How dare you sit on my legs! Do you think I will pay my transport fare and
still be forced to carry such a heavy load?” the woman looked at him critically and
hissed loudly.

The lawyer retorted by saying “Do you know I can sue your father, sue your mother, sue
your aunties and uncles-including all your relations for procreating such an irresponsible
fat liability like you who cannot contribute anything to national prosperity?”
The fat lady laughed sarcastically and gave the lawyer the gala snack she was eating
and loudly said (in pidgin that) “Hungry dey catch charge-and-bail lawyer and him no fit
tell me say make I give am my gala.”

“Can you solve my problems? Answer me, can you solve my problems?”

The lady’s funny statement ignited a thunderous laughter that offended the lawyer. In
his fury he pushed the fat lady off his legs and the lady got mad and seized the lawyer
by the throat warning him never to push a married woman like that again. In the midst of
the drama, a passenger screamed at the woman, asking what her problem was.
Immediately the woman turned and faced the concerned passenger with this interesting
question; “Can you solve my problems? Answer me, can you solve my problems?”

I looked at the faces of the passengers, I noticed their frowns, worries
and discontentment and suddenly I got a clue on why passengers are
always fighting each other at the slightest provocation.

As I sat down watching this unedited dramatic series- I looked at the faces of the
passengers, I noticed their frowns, worries and discontentment and suddenly I got a
clue on why passengers are always fighting each other at the slightest provocation.
As the bus galloped in and out of pompous pot holes, another episode of this drama
ensued. A lazy trailer loaded with bags of rice in front of us was cat walking at our
displeasure. In its attempt to dodge a pothole a bag of rice fell down and there was a
great rush; like a million vultures descending upon a little rat, people surrounded the
scattered rice. Some were packing the rice in their hand bags, some others were
packing it in their caps but the more desperate ones without any bag or cap were
putting the rice in their pockets.

As I watched them in awe I remembered Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection and the
survival of the fittest in Biology. In the fight for the rice the little children were booted out
while the stronger men and women had a better share. This rice bonanza caused
another great hold up. The partakers of the supposed bonanza ignored all the horns
screaming from the endless queue of motorists. These hungry citizens of the Federal
Republic of Nigeria risked their lives for a handful of rice. What a life!

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I was intimidated by an intolerable agitation of the soul by this horror movie that has no
director or producer, yet very intriguing.  This stupendous discomfiture changed my
mindset and gave me a reason to review our vision as a country. As I contemplated this
episode, a wild rhetoric gorged out of my spirit. Does Nigeria have a vision? Before I
could answer that question a ferocious argument was unleashed by the passengers of
the bus I boarded.

“Nigeria don spoil”

A man loudly exclaimed that “Nigeria don spoil”, another person said “Nigeria don rotten
finish”, and a third person shouted with a more frustrated turn-“who spoil Nigeria? No be
una?” At the mention of this challenging question all the other passengers turned
against him with unguided fury, saying “Na your papa spoil Nigeria no be us.”

A market woman said “Na me increase fuel prize? Na me bring unemployment, na me
bring poverty come our country? Oga you must answer me o.” As the argument
continued, I was busy taking notes even though the potholes were threatening the
eloquence of my pen. Before I could say John 3:1; a new economic theory was
procreated in the bus. It is called the economic theory of “kill and divide.” This theory
was propounded in the bus by an unknown man I chose to call the “street economist”.
The street economist said Nigeria’s oil exports rose 46 percent to 9.15 trillion naira ($59
billion) last year as prices increased and companies raised output on improved security
in the Niger Delta. He claimed he got this competent statistics from the National Bureau
of Statistics.

The street economist added that Nigeria, Africa’s top oil producer, earned $196 billion
from oil and gas exports in the four years through 2010.

“Where are all these monies going to?” The man retorted. By this time the bus was as
quiet as a graveyard probably because the street economist was getting too intellectual
and aggressive. The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2001 Nigeria's
gross domestic product (GDP) were estimated at $105.9 billion. The per capita GDP
was estimated at $840. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 3.5%. The
average inflation rate in 2001 was 14.9% respectfully.

Why not share this money with Nigerians and have them live a good life…”

For those of you who don’t know what I am talking about, a GDP is the value of all final
goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis
of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the
rate of exchange. Let me not bore you with my analysis but go straight to the point. If
Nigeria makes $59 billion from oil export alone last year and had a budget of N4.6
trillion, I assure you that a whopping 60% of that outrageous budget will be stolen by
relevant stakeholders and cunning contractors.

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This amazing trend will continue unless something different is done. “Instead of wasting
all our resources on projects that will not work, why not share this money with Nigerians
and have them live a good life while they are still alive and strong?” The unknown street
economist eloquently articulated. He said the Presidential Projects Assessment
Committee (PPAC) disclosed that there are about 11,886 on-going and abandoned
projects that would cost at least N7.78trillion to finance. All across the various sectors of
the economy, what stares one in the face is poor budget implementation. From the road
sector to aviation, energy and housing delivery, the situation is the same.
I think the government should divide the N4.6 trillion budget into two
parts. One part should be used for development projects and the
other half should be shared to the 150 million Nigerians.

In my humble opinion, I think the government should divide the N4.6 trillion budget into
two parts. One part should be used for development projects and the other half should

be shared to the 150 million Nigerians.  If I am the president’s economic adviser, I will
tell Mr. President that every year every Nigerian should be given a tangible amount, not
exactly in cash but in the form of capital, stocks, shares and properties to enable them
rise faster than necessary in the competitive global economy.

The passenger and the biker

This economist was generous with his analysis, statistics and figures. Even though the
passengers were more confused by his grammar and oratory, he continued anyhow but
was interrupted by a biker (Okada rider) who drove his well-dressed passenger into a
ditch filled with dirty water by the road side. This incident or accident changed the topic
of discussion in the bus; but alas a new episode had only just begun.

Some of the passengers said the biker was impatient and stupid, others said it was the
fault of the Chinese construction company. Before I could make my introverted opinion,
the charge against the Chinese company was immediately seconded. The passengers
accused the Nigerian government and certain businessmen for conniving with the
Chinese government to defraud Nigeria and turn our beloved country to a Chinese
refuse dump. A passenger claimed the government would have used the famous Julius
Berger instead of the Chinese construction company. He continued saying the Chinese
could use only two bags of cement to build a bridge in Nigeria but another passenger
who has researched and carefully studied the works of Julius Berger insisted that they
are all the same.

He argued that the so called mighty “Julius Berger” works are largely criticized
nowadays. He said they used to do quality roads and bridges for Nigerians until they
were infected by the corruption virus. He however used their works at Calabar and
Anambra as a case study. He gently talked about how their roads are being flooded and
broken. For the second time the street economist spoke again, but this time with a brief
intensity; he said if you want to see how terrible the Chinese people are, read the book
“La Chinafrique”. The economist said the book is a must read for every African leader
as well as all those intending to do business with China today or even tomorrow
(although written in French). Before he disembarked at his bus-stop he told the
passengers something that sounded like a warning-“Beware of China”.

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A man I suspected to be a trader said all the gutters the Chinese companies are
constructing are not good because in a short time after its construction it will be blocked
and stopped working. This statement infuriated another passenger who said Nigerians
are too dependent on the government and expect the government to do everything for

Do you expect the Chinese government to build gutters for you and still clean the
gutters for you? This angry young man said if he where the Governor of Lagos state, he
will suspend all constructions in Lagos and will spend time initiating maintenance
mechanisms for the standing structures in the state.

After the Chinese…

He said all the gutters are not functioning because Lagosians will not stop pouring their
waste in it even though the Lagos State Waste Management (LAWMA) has created

waste dumping stations on our roads for refuse dumping. Before he finished making his
point, we saw a waste dumping station. The amazing characteristic of the station is that
bags of refuse were scattered everywhere even though the refuse bank was not even
half full.

The young man concluded by saying without law enforcement agencies to monitor
arrest and prosecute offenders, the people will continue to block the waterways with
their refuse. For the first time the fat woman that earlier had a fight with the lawyer
spoke and everybody turned to hear the supposed “trouble maker’s” opinion. Did she
make a wise contribution? Judge it yourself. Just like we all expected, the woman her
size and temper will drop nothing less than a sledge hammer into the matter.

The woman bluntly said “Na only soldier fit hold Nigeria well-well”. Once again
everybody laughed it out and once again she was angry again but was determined to
make her point. She said when mad men are fighting the sight of a soldier bring back
their senses. She added that Nigerians are naturally stubborn and will not obey standing
orders until they are forced to do so.

She recalled that on a particular day there was a terrible “hold up” at Oshodi-Apapa
express way for hours and the situation seemed hopeless until a military convoy
announced its presence with a siren. She said in one minute the road was miraculously
cleared and accessible like the streets of heaven. Everybody gave way for the military
convoy; after the convoy was gone the road was immediately blocked again. You see!
Nigeria can only work in the hands of the military. What do you think?

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