Last week, I was struck by nostalgia from some remote period when I basked in the euphoria of being Nigerian. My emotion was not random for it was conceived at noon in the market place and birthed in the soothing darkness of my bed chambers at midnight, bringing with it some cathartic release. Harrowingly, the succulence of the catharsis it radiated was inept in dousing the sweltering flames of inflation that nibbled on the edges of the naira notes in my wallet each time I visited the market place. Imagine my indignation when the current highest denomination of our currency couldn’t suffice as legal tender for one synthetic hair attachment!
That transaction marked the beginning of the exhumation of long buried memories of relatively saner economic times… It has been decades ago, but like the smell of fresh paint; I still smell the despair in Kofi’s breath as he travailed in futility to win our very heated verbal frays.
Kofi, our Ghanaian neighbour at the estate I grew up in, loved talking about his country but my brother and I, made it a point of duty to torment Kofi. We would tease him from dawn to dusk about how his countrymen were merely servants, tailors and cobblers in our country and scare him with tales of another imminent saga of ‘Ghana must go’. We were little, but we were also vast in history, thanks to our mother who sought to educate us but was oblivious to the vilification we achieved with our knowledge. We were brutal but the harder we struck, the more earnestly Kofi and Kojo, his elder brother, sought our approval and friendship, a right they later earned.
I remember one long holiday; Kofi and Kojo had visited Ghana and came back with stories from their adventure. Ecstatically, they had rushed to the estate’s playground where we often met, enthused by the arrival of my brother and I, they had begun to relish their tales. Kofi, who was more of a blabber, chatted away… he went on and on about the road trip from Lagos to Ghana, they had travelled by land, mostly at night as his parents, who were a simple couple of a clergyman and tailor, could not afford flight tickets. This was evident in the fact that they lived in the outhouse paid for by the church his father served.
Kofi, somehow in the middle of his prolix, managed to capture our curiosity. The look of amusement on my brother’s face when Kofi mentioned buying ice-cream on a wafer cone from a road side vendor for 1000 Cedis is forever burnt on the frontal lobe of my grey matter. I could not believe it. How can ordinary ice cream on cones be so expensive? To settle our differences, we decided to follow Kofi and Kojo to the outhouse. There we sought clarifications from their father, the clergy man. While it turned out to be true, it marked the beginning of a solid family friendship between us and the Ghanaians.
The Cedi was that worthless several years ago but our naira at that time was strong. Those were the days when children with coins could purchase all sorts of sweets, candies or chocolate bars. Ice cream on cones were purchased with coins, five naira could be a one-week allowance for a child’s sweet and biscuit supply. Why not? The highest denomination in circulation then was the N50 note introduced by military head of state, late General Sani Abacha. That invariably explained our amusement when we heard of a 1000 Cedi Ghanaian ice cream on cone. We thought that the Ghanaians were crazy and, for us, that was an explanation for their massive exodus into our country, taking on menial jobs like gardening, shoe cobbling among others. We felt like the privileged ones… our economy was working, our money had value- dollar exchange rate was a steady meager sum of N21.89 for about six years. Indeed, it was a time that one could boast about being Nigerian and treat Ghanaians like people who only did menial jobs.
Today, the fortunes have changed because purchasing the smallest ice cream on cone from a mostly unhygienic road side vendor that captivates children with unbearably loud music will cost at least N100. Don’t even think about its cost at the elevated modern day ice cream shops or eateries nationwide… Your N1,000 note may just be incapable of giving your tongue that creamy satisfaction. So, as I remembered Kofi’s Cedi, the reality of our very precarious economic condition hit me like a thunderbolt. Alas, we are all reeling in its turbulence, hoping that, someday, we will find a balance or maybe find a sturdy log to cling onto but while we wait, Kofi and Kojo have long relocated to Ghana. They both have corporate jobs and I hear they are making a lot of Cedi which is over 60 times the worth of a naira with an upward bound progression.