Years ago, I was at an uncommonly empty Kenyatta market in Enugu. I had accompanied my mother to get the stuff I needed for my return to boarding school. I can’t remember what exactly it was we had gone to pick up but almost every other store we stopped at was closed and so my mother asked one of the traders what was up. The man said the father of one of their big traders had died and everyone had gone for his funeral. And then he added with a laugh that more people turn up for the funeral of a wealthy/influential person’s parents than for the wealthy/influential person’s because they want the person to see that they came and to remember them in their time of need. “Once the person is dead, there’s no need to impress them!”
Last week, there was a carnival in Oba in Anambra State at the funeral of the mother of an entrepreneur, Mr. Obi Iyiegbu aka Obi Cubana, a man estimated to be worth $96 million (according to sources ooo). With that kind of wealth, he has many friends and associates, all of whom turned up in glitz and glamour to send off his mother. I- like many Nigerians- have been inundated with videos of everything from the gold casket (said to be worth N30 million and a present from one of Obi Cubana’s friends) to videos of guests spraying each other and the chief mourner bundles of cash. There were also videos of Obi Cubana (or was that someone else?) spraying money into a crowd and people’s feet raising brown dust into the air to get some of the flying notes while some innovative folks tried to trap theirs into fishing nets. Their money, their choice, right? They can even eat freshly minted notes and wash it down with champagne-like someone did in a video that went viral a few years ago to show he was literally a “chopper” of money. If anyone wants Trumpian scale ostentatiousness at the funeral of their loved ones, it’s their choice okwa ya? If anyone wants to throw money into a crowd of poor people and have them scramble for it to make whatever point they want to make it, it’s none of our concern, shebi? You can buy bottles of Crystal for N500,000 and pour it on your watch to show how that money is nothing, ba? And anyone who is pointing out the level of poverty surrounding this bubble of wealth, anyone who points out the obscenity of so much lavishness is just a bitter hater and should wait until they make their money and do whatever they wish to do with it, abi?
While I am ‘hating,’ I might as well bring up the issue of how ironic it is that a society as religious as ours is strangely obsessed with wealth. All our prayers are for prosperity. The only blessings we seem to treasure are the ones that manifest as material wealth. Our musicians sing of millions in accounts and of the super-wealthy. My fifteen-year-old who’s my resident DJ because of the preponderance of Naija musicians on his Spotify playlist asked me who Dangote and Otedola were. I said they were wealthy businessmen. He said, “So these songs would be the equivalent of singing about Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos? Strange.” Put like that, it seemed strange , but I told him that in many of our cultures, praise-singing is endemic.
However, even making allowances for a culture in which a praise song is a poetic form, the relatively new indiscriminate fascination with making and spending wealth, and with those who have made it and spend it excessively – from Hushpuppi to Invictus Obi- is alarming. I was discussing with a friend and he admitted that he could not remember such obvious worship of wealth when he was growing up. You can be involved in drugs, you can be an email scammer, you can defraud investors, as long as you’re wealthy, you have the respect and the ear of your pastors and elders. The danger in venerating wealth and privileging wealth over say, integrity is that it begins to matter less how the money is made than that it is made at all. That is why a man can disappear to South Africa for a few years and return with a nickname and incredible wealth and no one questions the source. That is why a father can tell his son to go and do whatever others like him do to make money. It is why we have some of our people dabbling into all kinds of crime and illegal activities to make money and why the perennial question of a majority of our youth when these videos of lavish displays of wealth surface is “God, when?” These are their new role models. The young(er) ones want all the trappings of wealth these men so often display: beautiful women, flashy cars, designer clothes, bundles of notes.
I am sure that there is a correlation between bad governance and this worship of money. When your government doesn’t work for you, doesn’t provide you with the basic necessities, then whatever gives you hope of accessing these basic necessities becomes what you worship. What do I know? Wasn’t there a recent video where a man was spraying money in the church at a very pleased pastor and later knelt on the money to be blessed? How does anyone not think it obscene?
Far be it from me to tell anyone how to spend their money. However, the wasteful consumerism exhibited by these mostly nouveau riche Nigerians, the sheer vulgarity of it, is nothing anyone should brag about.