Diary of a Nigerian Teacher, Page 1020: On Mental Poverty by Itodo Samuel Anthony


A year ago when I was setting up the e-library in our school I got quite some donations from Facebook friends. There were donations towards getting computers, buying desks and seats and fixing the room. I got a relative to go to the market with me to get some of the materials we needed to fix the room and when I remarked that I had gotten about 400,000 naira from friends to get this library project done he stopped me in my tracks and said… “Brother, this money big o, you sure say you no go use am do another thing?” The suggestion was confusing. “Another thing like what?” I asked. “Use am buy something for yourself na, this kind money go just come like that again?” Then it sank. Opportunism. Moral depravity. Overwhelming shortsightedness.
I masked my disgust for his suggestion with an ineffective smile and said, “The money was sent for the e-library. Besides this was my idea, if I didn’t want it to happen I wouldn’t ask people for help.” That man’s ideology is sadly one that is all too pervasive in Nigeria and Africa. It is our curse. Too many of us are unable to look beyond ourselves and our stomachs; unable to see a vision beyond the reach of our noses. Here I was thinking how I could get more computers for this project, and here was someone else thinking how I could buy a few clothes…perhaps a TV…perhaps add up and buy a car…and effectively eat a dream. Such poverty!
This poverty, so chronic it damages our thinking. It is this poverty that inspires those who have access to our commonwealth to keep pilfering at the expense of creating a better society. This poverty that steals our consciences and makes us monsters who are only capable of conceiving value in terms of fat bank accounts. It is why government officials almost involuntarily grab the resources meant for the education of their people and let kids learn under leaking roofs without a tinge of guilt. It is why our leaders withhold funding for health and fly out for medical attention while the helpless die needless deaths back home. It is why this contractor took several millions for a short stretch of road to our local government secretariat and ended up pouring red sand on the path, without a tinge of guilt. It is why those in authority keep grabbing and grabbing wealth for four generations yet born while millions die daily before their eyes. It is why someone steals electric cables meant for providing his street electricity to sell for a few bucks and live in darkness. Such poverty.
And too many of the African “Big Man” is so mentally poor. Nothing is a better indicator of this poverty than this almost ubiquitous willingness to consume the future (of millions) with the personal pleasures of today. Our mentally poor go abroad to readily enjoy the wealth of a great society created by those who thought beyond themselves, who decided to give their children a better deal than they got…and the paradox never registers with them. In fact to this poor man, this ability to enjoy the trappings of a better society…the type which his greed denies his own people…is the hallmark of wealth. No, he is unable to see the paradox.
Every now and then when I teach my students Chemistry and Physics, I pause to x-ray how our mental poverty has kept us stagnant. I want them to see these connections and establish for themselves the senselessness of condemning your own society to underdevelopment while attempting to live above this self-imposed state of backwardness. I think an education that produces skilled people with values capable of uplifting society in general is a defective one…if not outright dangerous. And it is comforting to see several of my students already looking beyond themselves and attempting to provide solutions to the problems around them…attempting to create a better community.
Our e-library has gone on to provide students exposure to the world beyond our immediate community. Many of them have been able to connect to opportunities found on the internet to develop themselves. And what is 400,000 naira compared to the fruits of this project? In the past one year I have gotten more staggering donations… yet money that never nearly felt like mine. Money that I couldn’t allocate to personal wants…because if I ever got to that point where I could do that without guilt, then I know I have lost that moral fibre that defines my outlook of life, and consequently lost myself. All the donations people send to me are escorted by the confidence that the funds will go to their intended purposes…they expect me to be accountable…and nothing for me would be worse than betraying this trust.
Let’s bring my relative back into the picture, one year on. When we started the Adopt a Kid programme he brought a child to be adopted…trusting that I’d use the funds gotten from sponsors of the project to in this case, help “his candidate”. He however might be slow to see the connection between how not diverting the 400,000 naira he found so tempting a year ago has led to this same project from which he now intends to benefit.
The mentally poor are unable to see beyond today. I am unable to muster any form of respect for those who are willing to live a life of personal pleasures today by using the tomorrow of our children as collateral. In fact what I typically feel is pity.

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