HOW POOR ARE YOU?

That you can read this means you have access to telecommunication, internet and electricity. None of these is subsistent; in fact, in Nigeria, these, in no little way, translate to luxury. To survive, man needs food, shelter and clothing. Period.That you have access to the web and power is tantamount to saying that things to eat, what to wear and where to lay your head are not a problem. You are obviously not poor. You are obviously reading the wrong article.Don’t go away yet, wait, boss, calm down.

Look up at the title; now, replace the word ‘poor’ with ‘rich’. How Rich Are You? Good! But don’t write ‘rich’ with an indelible marker. Use a pencil because as we go, you may want to bring back ‘poor’ into the equation—or very poor (in fact {it depends!}The damn thing fluctuates!)

I think it was Walter Rodney who says that development is comparative. You are not rich until you compare your net worth with that of others and rank high among them, etc. No, I am not here to compare you with Dangote or TY Danjuma. To determine how rich (and poor) you are I will give you some strong ropes in form of questions with which you can either turn to a necktie (if you are affluent) or hang yourself in its noose of destitution. You can’t lie to yourself, so let’s go. Remember, you may phone a friend, or ask the audience or simply walk away.

1. Where Do You Live? Christina H of Cracked.com says that poor people have everything rich people have, just smaller. So that you don’t sleep under the bridge doesn’t necessarily make you rich. If your home is tinier, dirtier, smell worse, less ventilated, more exposed to pollution, shakier, then check yourself again, you probably ain’t swimming in naira. And who owes the house? Inherited, rented or your patch-patch handiwork? You can be rich and still live in rented apartment, now how many rooms have you? Self-contained? Face me-I face you? Is there a grinding machine nearby? Can you have siesta in your house? Do you have a toilet, are you proud of your toilet? Can you confidently invite friends home? Can your apartment host a family of four without you sleeping on the stool and your brother in-law on the couch?

We aren’t done yet. Do you watch champions league at home? DSTV subscription has sky-rocketed, are you still in business? Do you enjoy your round leather games at the whims of Nepa? Do you go outside for fresh air or you do switch on the AC? What do you sleep on—those kind of beds that inspire hunch-back? Does your pillow give you nightmares? Do you do exercise every day, chasing rats?

What about division of labour in your abode? Let’s see. Does your siting room double (or quarter) as your bedroom and office and library and alter? Wait, where do you even cook—in a public kitchen or in the centre of the yard or beside your door or inside your room? Stove or gas or electric cooker or firewood? Stove? Inherited, borrowed or stolen? Have you ever skipped a meal because you didn’t have kerosene, or settled for garri? And where do you place what you eat, on a dining table or on the carpet between your bow-legs, on your bony lap or on a broken chair? How about decorations? You still have Manchester United wall papers on your walls? You don’t have an aquarium? What about flower vases? (Odiegwu). Do you have paintings, art-works, sculpture, busts? (Stories!)

So far, so good?I can raise a million question about your shelter, but these will do, for now. Check your answers, how poor are you?

2. What Do You Eat? This question is important, and we must count in it, its branches. Everybody who is alive today eats something or the other. Some eat from hand to mouth, some eat from a calabash, some feed on mangoes (trees) like monkeys. Some eat in their dreams. Now, over to you: Do you eat what you want to eat or what you have to eat? Do you measure your food in tin cups and count the number of spoons to dish per meal? Does your heart miss a beat when a neighbour knocks at mealtime? In your food budget list, do you do computer-take-away-two-incorrect food stuffs? Scale of preference things? How rich is your food? Balanced diet? Do you cook cut-and-join what Hausa people call ‘gorogoro’? Does your food contain dead living things, always? Are you proud of your food?

If you don’t cook, where do you eat? Mama-Put canteen on top of the gutter? A make-belief restaurant? At Sheraton?

What the hell do you drink? Bore-hole, well water, ‘pure’ water, bottled water or stream water? What about juice and beverages? You drink malt once in a while, only when you return from carrying blocks up the fourth floor? What do you serve your visitors, Italian wines or proverbs?

Is alright.

3. How Do You Move Around? Do you struggle to get into the molue bus every morning where you stand with two toes and hold on with three fingers, your face inside an oozing armpit? Okada things (oga wey your helmet!)? Or do you flex with your anakilija bicycle, eating the hills like yam? Or do you use leg-al means of transportation? Oh, you have a car? You see, Nigerians consider car owners rich. Let’s interrogate that.

What do you drive, car or motor? What is the made of your car/motor? Is it joy and sorrow, the type that gulps one gallon of water after surviving a pot hole… the type that sees you say to your wife, ‘Honey, could you please push a little?’ Is your car mostly in the mechanic’s garage or in your parking lot? Can your car travel from Sagamu to Abeokuta? Do you hate VIOs and Road Safety officers? If they ask car-owners to come out and form a queue will you come out, with your head high on your shoulders?In short, are you driving your car or it’s driving you, or is it a drive-me I-drive-you joint-business?

4. Who Do You Know? Very important. No matter how opulent thy are, if you know no one, men, have no connection, you are of all rich people the miserablest. Police will do yeye with you. Civil defence will do yeye with you. Road Safety will do yeye with you. Man O’ War…

You can’t really call yourself rich in feudal Nigeria if your phonebook is not lined up with Who is who’s numbers. Woe unto you if you go bumper to bumper in the heavy traffic and you don’t have AIG Mbu’s number.

5. How Much Do You Earn/Have in Your Account? In a country where the minimum wage is less than a hundred dollars per month, even people who earn 5 times this amount should struggle to pay their bills. So how much should one earn before one calls oneself non-poor? I can’t answer the question without expecting you to scroll up and see what your earnings does to where you live, what you eat, what you drive and who you know.

But we can raise a few questions that could help.

A) Does your salary last you throughout the month, or do you have to borrow or overdraw by the middle of the calendar?

B) Can you afford to save? I think it was Brian Tracy who says that to be rich, you must save more than you spend. At the least, this is circumstantial, because a lady who earns 25,000 and save 20,000 each month because she relies on her fiancée for expenses is in no way richer than that chap who earns 450,000 and spends 400,000 before the 30th. I believe this save-more-than-you-earn is a matter of security, more crucial in a society like ours with no government safety net, and is criminally under-insured. All the same answer the question, can you afford to save?

C) Can your salary cater for any type of emergency without you calling on your family, your church to help, or going on radio to say, ‘Nedu needs urgent surgery in India, please donate generously’?

D) Can you survive on your savings without being paid your salary for two months, or like Edo and Osun workers, for five months?

E) Do you purchase whatever your need requires when it is required or to you make a budget and saving plans for them?

NOW,

There is no end to the questions that your poverty level can bring. Questions like what do you wear? How often (if you ever) do you go on vacation? Where? How often do you make your hair? Where do you have your haircut? What school do you kids attend? How much do you put in the offering box?… are revelatory. But we can’t ask all these if we are to have time to pursue naira. And your answers are no fool proof. I have seen millionaires who live in room and parlour, whose children’s fees are never paid, who only eat fish on Sunday. I have also seen broke asses riding SUVs. Packaging, Nigerians will say.

Money is a symptom of wealth, but money alone is not wealth. Didn’t Philip Meagher say that ‘some people are so poor all they have is money’? In the same breath, not having money isn’t an indication of poverty; it definitely isn’t the worse kind of penury.Abject lack of hope, of contentment, of purpose, all rank far higher. The more you try to analyse wealth the more psychological than financial it seems. You are as rich as your satisfaction.A billionaire who is constantly been flown from one specialist hospital to another is in no lucid way richer than that youth on faded jeans who shuttles on okada Monday to Monday.

How poor have you decided you are?No sane Nigerian (every Nigerian is insanely optimistic) will ever accept that he is poor in the first place (‘I reject it in Jesus name!’). So why did you read all this nonsense? Because you are not sure. No, you are sure; you don’t just want to believe that your village witches have been having emergency meetings on top of your matter. Whether you wish to believe it or not counts little. But there is a limit to how much you keep eating your sister in-law’s food, and shifting the table to spread your mat at night and dialling *606#.

If this doesn’t make you laugh, or cry, or think… you are six feet below poverty!

Tweets to @Oke4chukwu