3 PM, Christmas Eve, 2011. Mpape, Abuja.
I sat cross-legged on the ground pondering whether to pick the call or not. There was no doubting who it was. I’d lost count of the number of calls from her yet its intensity had only grown with every passing day. Its effect on my psyche in light of my present mental preoccupation was enough reason not to entertain them. Yet, as if braced for the contest, the phone’s screen lit up over and over as her calls persisted. It was good old mom. Eventually, I gave in and muttered into the phone, “Hello mom”. Without bothering to ask why I’d been ignoring her calls, asked the same haunting question; “When are you coming home for Christmas”? The excuse of a heavy workload didn’t hold steam anymore. Tired of my struggling facade of faith where nothing was, I buckled in humility opening up about my financial lack. To that, mom simply responded, “I’ll transfer twenty thousand naira to your account. Journey mercies”.
An hour later, I stood in front of the GTB ATM in Area 11, slotted in my ATM card, withdrew the money paid in by mom and proceeded to the bus park in Utako. It was to be a “good night Abuja, good morning Lagos” approach.
Like the Biblical prodigal son, I was returning home without fulfilling the promises I’d made to myself and family 2 years after departing Lagos for the FCT where I’d been posted for the NYSC. In a nutshell, I’d begun my business from the comfort of my aunt’s home in Garki with whom I stayed during my service year and continued from the one room apartment I secured in Mpape afterwards.
Two years on, I’d seen it all: broken promises, unredeemed pledges, unfulfilled contracts and corruption. Entrepreneurship surely goes beyond theories. Much like a practical game of chance where every venture is a risk with results best described as Boolean: win or lose. From experience, it’d now dawned on me that not even the bestsellers in business can perfectly prepare one for what lies out here; an obvious truth in a society as peculiar as ours. How could one quantify the sordid effects of dearth in values, infrastructural decay amongst other societal challenges except when you come face to face with them? A society where directives from one man distinguished only by a privileged position is all it takes to make or mar a start-up. A society where hard work like so many virtues is hardly rewarded? Yet, what can a man do but stand up with conviction to the challenges? After the bitter pills that left me broke and shamed, I didn’t want to return home. I couldn’t stand the thought of having to resort to lifelines from pensioner parents who’d done their part in getting me this far.
Yet, things didn’t get off on this note.
2 years ago.
My last days in UNILAG, Akoka were ones of joy. 5 years plus the extra length brought about by incessant strikes was finally culminating in a first degree honors in Civil Engineering; no mean feat in a public institution where the hallmarks of a derelict education system played out. Yet, the irony was that it wasn’t the reason I was basking in joy. Rather, my euphoria lay in the fact that I was finally breaking free to do what my heart most desired. Yes, no more compelling reasons to study dy/dx! I was finally free to venture into the world of entrepreneurship given my interest in computer animation. Thus, as I tossed my graduating cap into the air, it marked my freedom. With my NYSC posting came the opportunity to venture out to the nation’s capital, far from the lot of most of my peers who’d been posted to less developed states that make up the bulk of our Nation Nigeria.
7 AM, Christmas Day, 2011; Lagos Island, Lagos.
As I walked into my family’s compound, the aroma of mom’s cooking laced with seasoning filled the air. It was past 8am. Mom wasted no time in throwing her hands around me. Aunts, uncles, siblings joined in. Even dad’s excitement was hardly concealable in the manly attitude with which he welcomed me. I was deeply touched. I’d really missed seeing my family. She hurried me into the bathroom for a shower in time to join the family for church service. A newly sewn guinea brocade had been ironed and laid waiting on the bed for me. I felt so special.
Virtues of the Christmas season and need for Christians to imbibe them formed the theme of the sermon. Afterwards, the thanksgiving went into full swing with a mix of local praise songs and dance steps. At a point, the guy next to me grabbed a piece of plastic chair and up; into the air he lifted it, dancing and sweating away what seemed like the stress and worries of life. Everywhere I looked, it was the same scene. There was so much joy and happiness. For the moment, all that pointed to sorrow drowned in joy; joy to be alive, hale and hearty. Where were the sad memories? Disappointments: its sting lost, shamed and trampled upon by an electrified congregation. Everyone seemed ecstatic. It didn’t matter that the economic situation of the country was having a tight grip on the masses. The immediate future was pretty obvious with government’s adamant position to hands-off fuel subsidy even at the expense of the masses and popular opinion. Self-centered politicians whose ignorance translates to mass sufferings: shamed. We didn’t care! Surely, they’d all been shamed.
I was not left out. All those greedy businessmen who in their acts of illegality had taken from me what was due me after I’d expended my sweats and resources: shamed.
Christmas was here in our hearts and with it hopes of a better tomorrow.