We do not bother on/about who did not come
I was the market boy for my mum's food business for several years. In the evenings, after the day’s sales, I would be given money for food items from the open-space grocery stores. Considering my age, one would think that as a boy, with two younger sisters, I had no business being at the market. I knew it too. Rather, I share your opinion as a Yoruba boy. But I am an orphan. As the first child, I stepped up to this rhetoric service to distract my mum from having a cause to think about her deceased husband and, to keep the family income stream stable. After stunts upon stunts at the market by my sisters, mum made it known that they are not to be trusted with her business. The days that I am not available, Ìya Fáúsá would rather go to the market herself than trusting her money to my sisters. Òyìngbò is the market name. It is about 3.2km from the canteen.
Awa ti di oja Òyìngbò / We are like the Òyìngbò market
Ao mo p’enikan o wa / We don’t bother on/about who did not come
The maxim is about the Òyìngbò market as popularized by Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey in one of his famous Juju tracks, where he referenced the market as an open grocery space that has no recording of the absentees but willing buyers and sellers. This particular song alludes to the crowd of sellers, buyers and the go-betweens at the market space on a daily basis, where human beings outnumbered the purported passage-ways, amidst mischief and all sorts of pocket-picking, purse-swindling and goods-stealing by some go-betweens and touts. You have to be vigilant when surfing through the market. You might experience the same nuances in other market spaces across the West African coast. In one of her first attempt at Bolojo music, a genre of music popularized by legends such as Y.S. Sule, Sir Vasco da Gama and Jossy Friday whose track “Gbanja Re o” she actually remixed, Zeynob Habib, a Beninese musician referenced Dantokpa Market (known as Tokpa) for its dandy nature and flirty structure. Once, through my numerous nomadic sojourns, I found myself meandering through Grand Marché in Lomé , my friend’s younger brother suddenly turned and warned me to be vigilant with my pockets and gadgets. I smiled and continued to surf the market with my acquired tact from my market boy days. Today, the song about Òyìngbò market is sung by some sycophants who find it appropriate to not associate themselves with unscrupulous characters.
Meanwhile, in the early days of corona virus (COVID-19) in Lagos, the traders at the Òyìngbò market never envisaged how its elicited panic would impact on their daily lives and trade. It was business as usual as they all went about normally. As a main grocery market centre in the Lagos metropolis located on the mainland, Òyìngbò draws its customers across the city. The market navigating-structure gives in to customers who cluster together when engaging in their trading activities. But since the administrators had no plans for the traders on physical distancing in the wake of the global pandemic, the lockdown has dealt them a heavy blow.
It all started in Lagos and then other states but I chose to interrogate Òyìngbò market and document its pre-lockdown with the present condition of both the traders and the market, in order to juxtapose my findings with the post-lockdown activities. It was no surprise that the traders have no plans of shutting down. The ready-made response to my questions were, “who will take care of my family and how will I cater for my children’s needs if I do not sell?” In an informal economy, these questions are pertinent because incomes are proportional to the quantity of sales on a daily basis.
As the lockdown imposed by Mr. President continues, and Òyìngbò as an essential market space also continue to run with fresh peppers, vegetables and other food items on display, buyers are in their homes honoring social-distancing and self-isolation.
In their struggle to stay alive, a particular word on the lips of most low-income was “palliative.” After a week of lockdown, I noticed that palliative had become a politically correct word to use for anticipated government support in order to augment the citizens’ lives. When hunger finally struck, the pandemic also shrunk, at least that is what it seems now when people are no longer afraid despite the increasing rate of COVID-19 patients being announced. To stay safe and be alive is based on daily bread. Head of households would be at any gathering where food items are distributed without minding the cameras, CCTVs and humiliation that come with such exercise. Social distancing is no longer observed because without physical contact in the struggle to take some food home, you are not going to win and the prospect of daily bread is bleak. “I have kids at home, they have not eaten today, that’s why I am here,” some interjected when the roving camera caught their posture. At some relief centre, the wait for distribution of food items was similar to the anguish of Vladimir (Didi) and Estragon (Gogo) in Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot.
On social media, images of people queuing and pushing themselves for food circulate freely. While a large percentage of the images are from unrelated incidents, the pandemic has nonetheless given the political elite a platform to exploit the masses’ incapacitation and docility in the most unceremonious manner. In spite of the general knowledge of social-distancing, politicians in collaboration with certain NGOs continue to gather people in their hundreds at various community centres to distribute packs of relief items to them. As the epicenter of the ravaging virus in Nigeria, Lagos leads in this unethical distribution and images emerging from other regions across the country are equally shocking. Every recipient of relief items must respond to why they risk their lives for daily bread, “We have no choice” they say. To be part of political orchestrated inhumane performance and think otherwise is to be in denial of one’s reality.
Certainly, the deeds of political elite prompted by the pandemic will be a determinant of the voting pattern in the forthcoming election. In 2023, the Nigerian voting populace might be able to liberate themselves from the shackles of the political class through conscious voting. Like the weekly willful donation in churches and mosques across the country, voting over the years in Nigeria has been the tithe paid by political loyalists to the politicians. For the market women at Òyìngbò market and other community-based markets across the country to continue to sell at their rented shops and spaces, they have to pay tithe with their votes to the selected party candidates during election. Still, ours’ is not democracy but ‘demonstration of craze’ as Fela Anikulapo Kuti says in his song, Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense.
Lagos has the largest tested and COVID-19 infected patients and deaths from the pandemic. Some people in the city’s suburbs are yet to be convinced that COVID-19 is real. I live in Iwaya community, a ghetto on the fringe of the city and listening to people talk about how the lockdown was a ruse to expend both the financial and material supports secured by the state government, makes me question the information dissemination process adopted by the government. Although, ‘no amount of evidence will ever persuade an idiot’ as Mark Twain says, there might be need to view ‘COVIDOT’ – as an adjective that qualifies the ineptitude of people on the pandemic.
Playing advertorial jingles on radio and television stations might not be enough in a country where electricity is part of the daily prayer points at places of worship. The imposition of face masks in the state has not changed human clustering at bus-stations and public spaces either. Banter and bargaining once rent the open grocery space, again, Òyìngbò market returns to its pre-covid-19 navigation structure as the lockdown is called off. Meanwhile, the number of tested positive patients is on the raise in Lagos state. And the question that kept coming to my mind is: is this death trap or mere exercise of government autonomy?