This week, amidst all the speculation about the vice-presidential candidates of both the APC and PDP, the good news of the release of a few of the kidnapped victims of the AK-9 train attack and the rising death toll of the heart breaking Owo attack, I received an education from an unlikely source.
I have observed a gradual dis-enchantment among Nigerians these past few months, myself included. Despite the political season, a lot of us have embraced the ‘siddon look’ approach. We look at our political aspirants, the global inflation and the ever-declining power supply and we realise that being optimistic in Nigeria’s reform is akin to believing in flying horses and magic carpets.
It is with this depressed mood that I met a middle-aged man who came to the clinic with a strange request. Alhaji Sani* wanted to be admitted into one of our private wards. He was a known hypertensive patient whose blood pressure was controlled on medication. He had no other complaints and therefore, there was no reason for admission. He however insisted that he was willing to pay any amount just to be admitted. I was in no mood for frivolities and so I told him off, emphasizing that bed space is a scarce commodity in government hospitals and not a private retreat for wealthy individuals.
At this point, the man broke down crying.
I was intrigued. My heart softened by his tears, I asked for a more concrete reason.
Apparently Oga had come into some money six months ago. His very wealthy brother had passed away years back and he inherited a huge expanse of his estate and farm land. He did not consider himself wealthy until a few months ago when the farm which he had put up for sale was sold at almost a billion naira. And just like that, he, who was previously a mid-level career civil servant became a millionaire overnight. Typical of new found wealth, he immediately bought a new mansion and acquired a new wife. He moved his children to a more bourgeois school where the teachers spoke through their nose (his words, not mine) with a forced American accent. Life became a cocktail of Italian shoes, expensive fabrics, luxury cars and vacations to Dubai, Saudi and UK. For a while, he admitted, life was good.
That is, until the new found wealth started generating problems.
The arrival of ‘long lost relatives’ was the first thorn in his flesh. His phone was constantly ringing with requests from people he did not even know. The usual complains of: ‘I do not have a single grain of rice in my house’, ‘My wife just delivered a baby and I need money for the naming ceremony’, ‘my rent has expired’, ‘my daughter is getting married’ ‘the rains have destroyed my house’, ‘my children cannot afford WAEC fees’ etc etc. Alhaji Sani swore that he used to oblige the requests at first until he became overwhelmed. He showed me his three phones: a Samsung Z-flip, the latest iPhone and a beautiful Huawei. The phones which were a source of joy to him before, now gave him palpitations whenever they rung.
Then came the bills. Who knew the rich had so much bills to pay? He complained to me about the various taxes he had to pay for all his properties and businesses: Local government, state government, ground rent, AMCON, licence etc. He showed me his emails and text messages which consisted of mainly debits and reminders of bills. The bills were a growing concern to him and were giving him panic attacks. His insomnia had gotten worse and his wives complained that he was not giving them the required attention.
As if that was not enough, he was now the target of many fraudulent scams. Everybody he met wanted to sell a business idea to him. These scammers came with mouth-watering realistic opportunities that he had fallen for a few times. He confessed to me that he had become paranoid after losing some money and now trusted no one, not even his wives and children. His eldest son had scammed him a month ago of thousands of dollars and he suspected that his young wife only married him for his money.
At this point, I had to laugh.
‘Before nko?’ I asked. ‘When you were poor, did you marry her? Is it not because you are rich that you gathered enough confidence to marry a young, beautiful girl? Is it not trade by barter- you give money in exchange for her youth and beauty?’
Anyway, I digress.
Alhaji Sani complained of palpitations, poor sleep and a feeling of impending doom.
The final nail on the coffin, however, was the kidnap of his mother a month ago. Ten days of negotiations, threats and sleepless nights later, she was released after a handsome ransom was paid. His blood pressure sky-rocketed and his medication was changed. He lived in constant fear and paranoia which was only made worse when a different set of kidnappers sent him a text message a week ago threatening to kidnap him if he did not pay them five million naira.
I have never seen a man so despondent in my life. He looked so forlorn, so sad and so defeated.
He desperately wanted a break in life and reasoned that being admitted in a hospital would ensure security as well as constant care. He was tired of constantly looking over his shoulder. His plan was to switch off his phones and be given anxiety medication that would make him sleep for days. Alhaji Sani desperately needed rest.
The lyrics to BIG’s song crept into my head as he narrated his predicament:
‘I don’t know what they want from me, it’s like the more money we come across, the more problems we see’.
And for the first time in my life, I realised the mess that the extremely rich had to contend with in Nigeria. The way I reasoned; it was like God gave you riches in exchange for peace of mind. You either got one or the other. You are not allowed the luxury of having both.
I solved Alhaji’s problems by referring him to a private facility where he was being admitted for ‘Acute Stress Disorder’ and Hypertension. Oga has just been sleeping and eating ever since!
His ordeal cured me of my sombre mood. Alhamdulillah, we have a lot to be grateful for. And peace of mind is one of them.