Opinion (14/09/20): When Half Bread Is Better Than None (2) – By Tony Okoroji

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It was April 2020. Life as we knew it had suddenly changed remarkably. The streets were completely empty. Lagos was on lockdown.

I could not sleep the night before. I rolled over and over thinking of what had happened to me in the last two days of the Coronavirus lock down in Lagos. In the middle of the night, I asked myself: what use really is my life and the position that I occupy if I cannot do anything to change the situation positively for anyone?

Stuck at home the day before, I had received a phone call from a well-known musician and member of COSON, the organization whose Board I chair. His wife joined him on the phone. They told me that they had been drinking garri for days and managing that way. The big problem was that they had run out of garri. There was none to drink anymore! They begged me to send them three thousand naira to buy some more garri.

As highly technology driven as I am, I have refused to have Internet banking facilities on my phone. The reason is simple: too many people have my number and I get too many requests for money every other hour. I am not a Dangote, an Otedola or an Elumelu. I am not a Larry Izamoje who has a printing press. I run a small business which manages to put food on the table for me and my family. I however have another job that gives me no salary, no housing allowance, no medical allowance, no leave allowance, one official car that was breaking down everywhere and many-many court cases, bad press and countless hours of work.

The incredibly surprising thing is that many people scheme and plot to take over my job as the leader of an organization that gets zero funding from any government whether federal, state or local. I very well know that their belief is that something must be happening under the table. In Nigeria, you are supposed to be an imbecile for having a job and not cooking something under the table. I am a good cook but I will rather be an imbecile than be a thief. I do not have the talent to take that which does not belong to me and I have begged the Almighty not to bestow on me such a tatlent. As my brother and friend, Ugo Stevenson otherwise known as “Ndaa Chineke” would say, “there is no successful criminal”. I verily believe that ultimately, everyone pays a price for everything we do. I do not steal because I do not want to pay a huge price because I verily believe in the law of Karma. One of my favorite quotes comes from the immortal Dr Martin Luther King Jr, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it tends toward justice”

How much can three thousand naira do for anyone? I started calling round to find someone able to transfer some money on my behalf to my colleague so that he and his wife do not starve. It was more difficult than I had thought because everyone wanted to warehouse whatever they had but I finally found someone who sent five thousand naira to him and his wife. When they called me back, you would think that I had just sent them a million naira!
Not long after, I got a call from another COSON colleague who told me that he was dead broke and that he could manage but did not know what to do about his young son who was just a few months old. I reminded him that I do not do Internet banking and could not transfer any money to him. Despite the fact that this guy lives more than five kilometers from me, he told me he was prepared to come to my residence to get anything to save his child. I told him not to forget that there was no transportation on the streets and he assured me that he was prepared to trek.

Trek he did. Luckily, my daughter had made some soup the day before. My guy who was practically gasping for breath ate some eba and drank some ice-cold beer and came back to life. How much did he get from me? Just five thousand naira but he was so grateful, you would think I just saved his life. After some banter, he began his five-kilometer trek in the hot sun back home and called after a few hours to thank me profusely.

Then, I got an angry phone call from a COSON member in Benin City who was completely agitated by the lack of any real support from the government for the citizens who are suffering beyond belief. He asked me if I knew that no musician in Nigeria was earning any income as there was no entertainment activity going on in the country. He asked me why COSON could do anything for the members. I reminded him that COSON accounts in two banks are frozen and we could not access the funds. He sounded more and more angry and said that he was going to rally musicians to petition the President and the Vice President and everyone else so that the accounts are re-opened immediately. I was not sure he understood.

Rolling on my bed that night, it became clear to me that my life was no use if I am not prepared to do something about the glaring anguish of my constituents across the nation. As soon as it was daylight, I called a senior member of the COSON management and asked for a statement showing everywhere that COSON had accessible funds. In a few hours the information came. Then I called back to say that I am thinking of asking members of the Board to approve practically all the money we could find to be distributed to COSON members across the country who were going through unimaginable trial. She gave me a hundred reasons why what I was suggesting was simply impossible and that the logistics at a time when the banks were rendering skeletal services were not possible to execute. She suggested that we should think about it after the lock down. After the lock down? I hung up the phone on her.

I called my driver, Abey, one of the greatest Nigerians I have ever known. I told him that as much as I respect the lock down, we must hit the streets on a mission to save lives. I called several members of the COSON Board on the phone and told them why we must find a way to do something immediately despite the many challenges we face. The support was solid and it was decided that we schedule an emergency meeting on our digital platform to formalize the process.

Ultimately, we found out that by shifting our plans, we could actually send palliatives to the tune of 72.5 Million Naira to our members across the nation. I put so much pressure on our accounts officer at the bank called Seyi. Working on the phone, Seyi and his colleagues set up the digital platform that made it possible for the COSON management team of Vincent Adawaisi, Isa Haruna and Tony Imusen to send a modest amount of money to COSON members across the country. The money was not much but it may have given members of COSON a chance to buy recharge cards, some drugs, some garri, a few cups of rice and possibly make some soup and have some hope.

When you are rich, you do not know what sixteen thousand naira means. My phone crashed from the endless calls from members of COSON across the country offering prayers to members of the COSON Board in every language spoken in the nation.

I thank my great team for understanding that when you are starving, half bread is better than none. At the end of the day, our lives mean nothing if we cannot use it to lift others.

See you next week.

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