Chibundu Onuzo relates tales of life in modern Nigeria:
On my last trip to Lagos, I drove past a new supermarket in an upper-middle-class part of the city. It was a huge concrete thing with sliding electronic gates, CCTV cameras and the sleek live wires that have replaced barbed wire in all fashionable districts. I remarked to my cousin, who was driving, that the building hadn’t been therea year ago.”You have to see inside then,” she said, swinging her car around. Hidden inside this building, which looked like a small military base, was an exact replica of Tesco, she explained to me. There were wide aisles, Dairylea and the greatest joy of all, trolleys.
Despite my cousin’s best efforts, I could not muster any enthusiasm for what was in essence an incredibly exclusive grocery store, and after I insisted on going home to my dinner, she gave up, saying with disappointment: “And I thought you were interested in development.”
Well, indeed! What’s the problem?
For the sake of this thing called development, the UK has created an entire government agency, the UN has employed countless people, and billions of dollars have been pumped into the African continent. But what exactly does development look like when it has happened? Surely not this gated shop with its parking lot filled with buffed SUVs. Yet, increasingly, friends and family in Nigeria will confidently point to such places as proof that the country is advancing.
Well, should they know? They are, after all, in the country to see the effects…
But wait. Aren’t you? When you said you ‘visited Lagos’, did you mean from somewhere else?
Well, we’ll get to that later…
I often tease my relatives, who are proudly living this Nigerian dream, about the hollowness of their situation. Only in Nigeria do the Mercedes-driving, Gucci-wearing, champagne-drinking inhabitants of a mansion still have to worry about running water. Money, I point out when their bragging becomes unbearable, can do only so much to cushion the effects of living in a third-world country.
Chibudi, it seems, won’t be happy until ‘equality’ is delivered for everyone.
Economic advancement for a few will never be a substitute for development.
She then recounts a visit to a French restaurant at which the lights went out briefly.
When the lights came on, I swallowed my soup and returned to France.
Yes. She doesn’t live in Nigeria, a third-world country. She lives in France. A first-world one. From where she lectures those left behind on the best way to live.
Hmmm. You know what else’ll ‘never be a substitute for development’, Chibundi? People getting out of the country with all their wealth and then sneering at the efforts of the people they’ve left behind…