In February this year, I was in Bauchi on a project inspection visit to some sites. Bauchi is an area I am not very familiar with, so I was very careful about moving around, especially at night. However, during my stay, I had cause to visit a friend and colleague in another hotel some distance from mine. I picked a motorcycle to drop me, and since I didn’t plan on spending more than 5 minutes there, I asked the motorcyclist to wait for me and take me back to my own hotel. In order to reassure him that I wasn’t about to disappear into the hotel without paying him, I gave him a N1,000 note, asking him to hold the change until I came back, so that we could balance accounts (he had billed me N400 to take me there). By the time I emerged, about 7 minutes after, he had disappeared with my money. During the same trip. I pciked another motorcycle to take me to one of the sites I was supposed to visit. The cyclist had earlier told me he was going to charge N500 for the journey, but when I spoke the little bit of Hausa I understood to him, he reduced his charges to N300. So, you see, in the same town, two people in the same profession displayed two different dispositions to me, implying that the true character has nothing to do with where they come from, or what they do.
In Yoruba, they say: “Gbenagbena kan o le gbe enia, nitori inu ni enia wa”. No ornamental carver can carve a human being because the real person is inside. I don’t know if you get the drift but consider this: Ornamental wood carvers can carve life-size images of people with such striking semblance that you would be tempted to believe it was a live image. However, this would not be the real human being, because it is the character that defines the human being.
In 1997, during the dark days of the Abacha regime, I had to prosecute a fieldwork in the Niger Delta. At the time, there was nothing like electronic banking or ATMs (except maybe ValueCard, which had limited availability and functionality in Lagos and Port Harcourt, at the time). If you had a check that was drawn on another bank, you had to wait a minimum of 7 days for it to clear, so the norm was to go around with large volumes of cash. On that particular trip, I had some N1m in cash stacked in a Ghana-Must-Go bag in the boot of our field vehicle, a Peugeot 504 Station Wagon. We were driving from Sapele to Warri, very early in the morning (around 5.30am) when we wre stopped at a police checkpoint, which occurred at every 2km along that road at that time. The policeman checking our vehicle searched everything, until he found the cash. He glanced a surreptitious look at his colleagues who were busy with other vehicles, and whispered to me: return that bag into the boot. He kept searching until he found the fuel we were carrying and declared his intention to confiscate it, unless we were able to “bail” the fuel. The bail was N5,000, which I gladly paid. I returned to Sapele, rather than continue the trip. Now, the question is this: Why didn’t he shoot us, and claim we were armed robbers? Isn’t that what policemen generally did in those days, whenever they saw large volume of cash? But, he didn’t do so, because inside him, he is human, regardless of being a policeman.
The admonition stemming from this is that we must learn to relate with people on an individual basis, rather than based on where they come from, or what they do, or in fact, what we hear about them. It is generally believed, for instance, that the Igbos have great love for money and would do anything to get money. But, I have interacted with several Igbos who don’t care about money, really. You would never believe they are Igbos. On the other hand, we have heard stories of Yorubas claiming to be Prophets and using church members for rituals to make money. Yet, they are not supposed to be so materialistic. Or, are they? The bottom line, like I said earlier, is that the people are what they are, defined by their inherent characteristics, rather than where they come from, what they do, or their family backgrounds. Ultimately, No ornamental carver can carve a human being. Gbenagbena kan o le gbe enia.
Peace and love!
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