It is not enough to work hard and do right these days; at least not in Nigeria, at least not for a poor Nigerian. Tunde knows this, It was one of the first lessons he had to learn as a poor Nigerian.
Imagine a young man who had just around the noblest dream of them all; not a dream of maybe conquering the world, not a dream of perhaps making a ripple in the waters of time,or of at least amounting to something worthy of some note. There was no ambition for gold, gloss or glamour; Tunde’s dream was modest, a little cliche, but one would forgive it’s lack of aesthetics for its innocence. He’s was a dream of figuring out a way to make a little money and ultimately helping his mother see through her suffering.
Imagine a fatherless first son of a struggling mother of 5, the only hope of a widowed trader. That shouldn’t be too hard to manage; such an imagery is one all to common in the Nigerian narrative. Even the fact that he had such aspirations towards a better future comes right from the pages of the book. In all, there was nothing spectacular about Tunde or his dreams, maybe except for the fact that he eventually lost it in that refreshingly dramatic manner, coming slammed face-first by the Nigerian reality that never spares the ready victim. Wait, even that is cliche.
How he lost it? He wakes up one morning to realise he had been living a lie he created, that the only thing realistic about dreaming in Nigeria is waking up from the foolishness. This is Tunde, or was Tunde……and he woke up. He has been woke for a while now, heavy eyed, weak from stress, jarred to the bones but very much still awake.
You may have heard that hackneyed Nigerian narrative about how a very intelligent but wealthless kid goes through school, makes great grades and comes around to face the Nigerian reality eventually, hoping to make some money and probably change his station but ends up unable to get as little as a job to make ends meet because in Nigeria, everything comes at a price that the poor can ill afford to pay. Well, that’s not Tunde’s story. His story is slightly different; he was young, poor, but he was not so intelligent at school; certainly not book smart. So, he didn’t make the best grades – he somehow graduated with a 2:2 in Banking and Finance, UI – but that’s as far as he differs from the usual script. He was unable to get as little as a job after the Golgotha that is tetiary education in Nigeria. So while he came very close to being a manifestation of the tasteless Nigerian rhetoric, by whatever bad luck he missed out on even that.
Four years after graduation, and he couldn’t get a job. By job I mean, like we always do, a source of livelihood that actually complemented the ‘quantity’ of education he had to endure to gain the qualifications he has. He had some measly stints here and there, nothing worth the dream. By January last year, the fifth year since he’s been out of school, he began to flirt with a depression that could only described as fatal. His mom has been sick, his siblings were struggling, to put it euphemistically, with school fees and feeding – basic things. He was on his part struggling with managing his meagre finances across his responsibilities – and eventually with mental health. By the end of the year, he could barely see through those bleak mornings that left him feeling wretched, hollow, hopeless. And there – that was where Tunde lost even his modest dream.
That was until his story changed a little early this year. He finally got a Job working at Access Bank in Berger. The pay wasn’t excellent, but he was determined to make something of it – at least now he has some steady source of income. The first months were tasteless, a bit incoherent, but as the days went, he slowly regained his being.
His new job came with new realisations; he realised foremost that whatever he was taught in school had remarkably little to do with the realities of his field. With whatever enthusiasm he had left, he opted to remedy his lacks and he started by revamping his knowledge and qualifications. He registered for free millenia courses on platforms like Coursera and Udemy. The more he learnt, the more he could make of the various inconsistent and largely outdated things they were forced to ingest in school. It wasn’t easy, between working all day and reading in preparation for certificate exams afterwards,he was mostly spent. But what he was pursuing was precise, so he took it. Next, he boosted his LinkedIn profile with every little detail he could muster. If he was going to be relevant in today’s world, maybe he needed to employ today’s tactics- maybe it takes more than just a degree to cut across into the greener half of the divide. Afterwards, he started applying for Jobs in Private Equity Firms and Investment Corporations. Most did not give him the time of day, but he kept on either ways neither compelled by faith nor hope – He just did.
Imagine a young man who had just around the noblest dream of them all; certainly not a dream of maybe conquering the world. Tunde’s dream was modest, a little cliche, but one would forgive it’s lack of aesthetics for its innocence. He’s was a dream of figuring out a way to make a little money and ultimately helping his mother see through her suffering. Now Imagine how he comes slammed face first by the Nigerian reality that never spares the ready victim. He wakes up one morning to realise he had been living a lie he created, that the only thing realistic about dreaming in Nigeria is waking up from the foolishness. This was Tunde. But today, his story could be a bit different. You know how they always say to think outside the box? That’s what he did, Nigeria was his box. About two weeks ago, he received an email that he had been selected to be one of the trainees in the summer programme at the New York office of the Bank of America. If it sounds too good to be true, remember this is a Nigerian story and deux ex machina is such a thoroughly ‘Nigerian’ device.
Today, for the first time since he got that email, he finally allowed himself to admit the reality of his own good fortune. Maybe there is a silver lining to every cloud. He was on his way back home from UI, where he attended a programme organised by his Bank and between the tattered traffic and his banging headache, he wondered that maybe life wasn’t so bad afterall. He was on the verge of regaining the audacity to dream. Now that things were looking up, he thought, he could finally aspire and if he failed, well, he was used to the lows anyway.
In Ten years, Tunde would have been Senior Analyst at KPMG or he could have co-created a millenia Finance Consultancy Outfit. He could have seen to his meagre dreams at least.
It wouldn’t be though, because on his was back from Ibadan today, he caught fire on Otedola Road. Nigeria has a way of burning our dreams afterall. If that comes off cliche, it’s because it is.
May God rest the souls of those dead of the Otedola Road fire incident.