Like many people, I drifted to the village with my family during the holidays. This was a risk for many reasons. We had to travel from the ‘city’ to the village. In these days of COVID-19, this type of movement is delicate. The ‘city’ is cosmopolitan and when you move from there to the village without a COVID test, you are not sure whether you have moved with the Coronavirus into the rural community. You cannot be sure unless you are back for another two or so weeks and there are no reports of unexplained deaths following your visit. There is also another risk. In the village, no one takes COVID-19 seriously. My ‘educated’ cousin calls COVID-19, a bourgeoisie ailment. The poor man according to them is not at risk. He wears no mask, he does not regularly wash his hands and does not observe social distance in anything he does. The rural markets as a result are still as full as they have always been, rural transportation has remained unaffected. A vehicle that is supposed to carry four passengers or less is carrying from six to eight passengers as before. The motorcycle that is constructed to carry one passenger carries up to three or four passengers depending on passenger size. The rider and the passengers do not wear masks. Thee is no need for this. Rural transportation is chaotic and as soon as you appear in the village with a mask, every one knows you are an ‘outsider’ and you can only wear it for a day or two before you also relax and see no need for it.
Going to the village is also a risk especially if you have children. They will not be in their best elements if there is no television and there is no electricity. They think (wrongly) that you are punishing them. They are not impressed with stories about ‘their’father’s village. They do not want to hear that you were actually born in the village and a traditional birth attendant attended your birth. They do not want to hear that you defecated and had your baths in the nearby stream.They are not excited about stories of defecation in the nearby bushes and the challenge of cleaning up using special leaves and corncobs.
The children do not want to hear that you trekked many kilometers to and from school and that you slept on mats and when you urinated on these mats and the rags you wore were ‘contaminated’, you had no way of cleaning up properly before going to school where you were the object of ridicule and songs by mischievous mates. When you take children to the village, you risk exposing them to a world view you have left behind, a confusing and deeply unsettling world view. In the village, no one dies unless he is killed. The one who is sick is a victim of a bad and wicked neighbour who may be a brother, cousin or relation. There is nothing like HIV/AIDS in the village. There is nothing like cancer, there is nothing like prostrate enlargement. All these and many other diseases we worry about in the township are as a result of ‘bad’ people wanting to get at us. In the village, you end up with many bad people. Some of them sneak into your farm and ‘spoil’ the soil. If they cannot do this, they ‘spoil’ your crops. They are capable of ambushing you on that bush path. The snake that bites you is the handwork of the bad neighbour. The lightening that stroke the village was actually an ‘artillery gunshot’ by the ‘bad neighbour.’ There is nothing the bad neighbour cannot do and the whole village is full of stories regarding his exploits. When they point him out to you, he is the poorest of the poor and you start wondering how such a poor person can be so powerful and yet be unable to make it in life.
All the above not withstanding, the village is still the place to be. It may have its own hustles but it’s a refreshing place to be. The ‘city’ is a concrete jungle with unhealthy noise while the village is a vegetable jungle with healthy noise and fresh air. The typical settlement marker in the village, the mango tree for many villages offers shade from the hot sun and is a place to relax any day. In the village, there is an opportunity to connect with the ancestral landscape. If your parents are dead, you can see their resting place and remember one or two things about them. You can also eat food coming directly from the ‘land of your birth’. Much of what we eat in the village is what we produce with our hands.
In the village, you will also have the opportunity to interrogate the unique challenges faced by your kith and kin as villagers. You will also have the opportunity to ask many questions and reflect on the nature of our backwardness. In the village where I spent my holidays, virtually every villager has an orchard of oranges. Some orchards have hundreds of orange stands. Few have thousands. Walking into Ushongo, parts of Vandeikya, Konshisha Gboko and Buruku you will think those with these orchards will never be poor. These orchard owners are not rich. Their orchards do not feed into any processing plants. There is no industry that can juice and package the oranges and fruits of the state. There is no industry that can turn the fruits into concentrates. There is no industry that can process the fruits into marmalade (call it jam).
Many of the orchards were also poorly conceived. In one orchard may be several varieties of oranges (Washington, Ibadan Sweet, Grapes, Tangerine and Valencia). Such orchards cannot feed well into any processing industry. The one who gains from these orchards is the middleman and the big fruit merchant in Kano, Jos, Maiduguri, Kaduna and Lagos. They determine the price they will pay for a bag of orange and even when the orchard farmer who can afford to take his oranges to the market in Kano takes them there, he cannot sell directly in the market. He has to give it to the middleman who sells for him. The orchard farmer is not organized. He has no association and is not in a cooperative. He cannot decide the price of his oranges and is always at the mercy of the middleman who connives with the fruit merchant in Kano and Lagos to rip him off. Some of the merchants even buy for pittance to export to Cameroon and Niger. The orchard farmer has another challenge. When he has urgent need of money, the ‘money lender’ in Ihugh, Kornya, Vandeikya or Gboko will give him seventy thousand naira on the condition that he does not step into his orchard for four or five years. Meaning he does not farm in the orchard and does not sell the oranges in the orchard for the agreed time. The ‘money lender’ has absolute control of the orchard and there are many such orchards in their hands.
In the village, I also had an encounter with another disturbing phenomenon. There are many out of school children in the village. Some dropped out in the primary school (but I thought primary school is compulsory), some dropped out from the college. Both are dangerous for the village. They cannot help their parents on the farm but want the good that comes with hard work. In the village, they have options. One is to migrate to the urban areas where they scavenge for menial jobs. Others go as farm hands on plantations in Cross River or States of the South West. There are agents in places like Ihugh (Vandeikya Local Government) who lure and recruit these drop outs for the plantation owners. A first timer is recruited for –N-120,000.00 (One hundred and twenty thousand naira) for a year. They work as ‘slaves’ on these plantations and once signed up can only get their money at the end of the year after deductions. These deductions are many and at the end of the year no child gets anything near the one hundred and twenty thousand. Those who made this reckless journeyfrom my village came back with stories of woe. None came back with up to sixty thousand naira, they are poorly fed and worked for every day of the week without rest. What we saw them with was a signature hair cut, rugged jeans, MP3s and big ‘China phones’. One in the village was accused by the agent who took him to Ekiti State of impregnating another slave girl on the plantation they were working on. The agent (a Pastor’s wife- yes you read me right. A pastor’s wife) came to the village with relations of the slave girl. Their mission was, to get my cousin who purportedly put her in the family way to marry her. I became the Solomon of the village. I suggested that I will pay for a DNA test to ascertain the paternity of the child after birth. Those pushing for marriage did not want to hear any of this. They opted for a divine alternative. If my cousin was responsible for the pregnancy of the slave girl, God will punish him. If he was not, the all knowing God will vindicate him. This was their prayer. We chorused Amen and this ended the misunderstanding.
The village is a place of reflection. The villagers try to save money through the year. They have ‘local banks’. Call them thrift societies where people pool money at regular intervals. Those in need borrow and pay back with some interest. At the end of the year, these monies are returned to members. Instead of sharing the interest, they pool the interest and buy Fulani cows to feast on during the Christmas and New Year. The cow meat is divided according to how much one contributed during the year. If you tell the villagers this is high nonsense, they will resort that the ‘local bank’ is about the cow at the end of the year.In places like Gboko and Makurdi, these ‘banks’ can kill several cows. No one is concerned that these cows are eaten within a few days and defecated in the nearby bush. No one is worried that savings that could have been used for more important projects in the village are given literally to the Fulani herdsman, empowering him to continue his murderous exploits against the crop farmer. No one wants to appreciate the fact that 40 chickens can give one more meat that a cow, the size the ‘local bank’ buys from the Fulani.
The village lacks water. This is a particular challenge to women and even the husbands. The women have to trek several kilometers to get water for domestic use. Some husbands are anxious about this. Too many bad things can happen between the village and the distant source of water. The most anxious husband sometimes ‘follow’ the woman to see whether she has diverted into some bush or a neighbour’s compound. It’s that bad though some husbands appreciate the philosophical words of AgboKpile that ‘the woman is a foot path, no one passes on it alone”. The village has not changed for several years. Its challenges and problems remain. The villagers hear of Government but NO, Government is still far from them. Very far.