By Biodun Awolaja
Folks, have you seen videos of the huge sums being taken to the CBN? Some customers took N150m to the bank; a guy came with N50m! I laugh in Fulfude. Could this be part of the money made from kidnapping? Does kidnapping partly fund our politics?
There have been massive protests across mostly southern states as Nigerians rendered impotent by their own government battled the pangs of nairalessness this week. Valentine vanished like a vapour; the real Val, said the budding writer Bunmi Isola, was survival. Apprised of a cash stash in luciferic proportions by Establishment politicians, an alarmed President Muhammadu Buhari had moved in quickly and reenacted 1984. But instead of the “mere 12 days” that the Fuji General Kollington Ayinla lamented, there was a three-month timeline, and then further extension to tie up loose ends. But Hope(less) 93 was always going to be reinvented and here we are today cashless and hopeless. Hunger is harassing homes and the streets are running mad with mobs.
With N40,000 in an ATM card I trekked a criminally long distance—an editor actually had only N100 in his pocket on Wednesday—but I still must count myself privileged: people nursing numerous diseases cried their eyes out in utter dejection and staged tragedies in banking halls; pregnant women died with their babies for want of cash in uncaring clinics. Did you see how lawless lawyers mumbling legal lyrics ‘cursed out’ court officials who rejected old notes? Did you see the senseless street boys threatening to burn down filling stations rejecting nullified notes? In 1993 the problem was nullified votes; in 2023 it is nullified notes. Both acts were carried out by joyless Generals. Because of this unholy relationship between votes and notes, anger threatens to reach fever pitch on February 25.
The ATMs, when money still flowed, were weary with wondrous crowds: politicians caught in the throes of a cashless policy had devised a method to actualize post-paid vote buying. They transferred money to people’s accounts and made ATM points war zones. The agents withdrew money, delivered it to their principals after taking their cut, then joined the queues once again, deviously murdering the masses while raising raucous voices of lamentation. When you see anyone withdrawing money for three days in a row, that is not your ordinary Nigerian; you are looking at an agent of vote buyers. Even if every last ATM in the country worked, the ordinary Nigerians would not be regularly there: on most occasions, they withdraw less than N10,000.
Up North, like it is always the case, the town was tame: there had been cash swap points and the ATMs had consistently spoken better language. Not in the saucy South. People buy money before they buy food; the naira now has a parallel market in POS shacks and filling stations. Those who at the slightest provocation habitually shouted “Do you know me?” have now become eerily quiet, ‘hiding their heads’ because of widespread insecurity—a judge was killed right in court the other day, and must now face the Supreme Justice that many a judge forgets they must face—and “I have no cash” has become a tidy refrain, hiding the speaker’s poverty. A senator with N7 billion and the carpenter boasting only N2,700 use the same line: I have no cash.
Thirty years ago, Nigerians had a Kashimawo moment; today the reality is Cashimawo: keep your eyes on( and hunt down) cash anywhere you find it. In 1993 it was the name Kashimawo that was on every lip; at this moment, cash (or the lack thereof) is the focus of discourse. Following the annulment of the June 12 elections by an ethnically unbalanced, mendacious military and the enthronement of an Interim Government of saboteurs, the refrain in town was “Kashimawo (literally, “let’s keep looking at it” but meaning “let’s keep our fingers crossed”), like Abiola’s name,” but today cash is the current on every lip (devious company naturally excepted). At this moment, cash is king and electronic transfer, at which Nigerians used to cavort in sheer ecstasy, is useless: people look at cash on their phones with disgust. Transfer does buy pomade, but not ponmo, which is infinitely more central to existence, so these are not the days of the dainty.
In 1993 the nation was in the throes of betrayal by a military cabal unwilling to be ruled by a lifelong friend of the Establishment; 2023 presents a different picture. There is Atiku, an establishment politician making a last attempt at the coveted prize; Bola Tinubu, lord of Lagos and Establishment politician angling to fulfill a lifelong dream; and Peter Obi, outlier and energizer of a weary populace. But life is hard and cash is king. Kashimawo ran for and won the coveted prize but did not rule, and now in his place we talk of cash that is intent on staying out of people’s pockets. What will this season birth? Kashimawo!
Now, let’s quit the poetic pretence and address the troublers of the land. You judicial jagudas (bandits) storing huge bribes in your dirty vestries refused to take your loot to the bank, thinking that the apex court would play another Imo record. Now Buhari has overruled your loot. And you dollar and naira-guzzling governors stole the land blind in order to buy and impoverish people for another eight years, stoutly refusing to take your loot to the bank, confident of a Damman Miracle. Now the masses whose names you mouth in pretence have been given access to the real notes by which the run their affairs, so which “lamba” will you spin now?
And you the so-called masses: are you ready to be bought again, going into fresh slavery, or will you vote for credible candidates with a compelling developmental vision? Will it be Kashimawo or Cashimawo? What are you looking at? As you collect the bribe, remember that you will soon cook egusi with lemon grass, pontificating on its potency.