Bursting free from the shackles of the perennial January squeeze, Wednesday welcomed February into the world of 2023. As with similar seasons of ages gone by, humanity should have been relieved as the proletariat got propped with much anticipated pay checks. Even though we know that the wage ease only momentarily blacks out the bourgeois burden to deliver dividends in droves.
Talking about dividends, the fossil fuel industry got in the spotlight during the week. Never mind the chagrin thrown up in different spectrums but the announcement of a $40bn profit by Shell is mouth-watering and eye-popping at the same time. Riding on the year-long Russia/Ukraine conflagration and a post-pandemic global economic recovery, the profit is reported to be the company’s highest in 115 years. In the United Kingdom, heated debates over windfall taxes and multiple wage-induced winter strikes by workers whipped up the sentiments against the oil giant. This week, workers in the civil service, health, education and transport sectors, among others, downed tools in what was described as the biggest public sector shutdown in decades. The disruptions caused to families, homes, offices and other work places in the private and public sectors provided ample arsenal, in addition to the cost of living crisis, for the opposition to pummel the Tories at this week’s Prime Minister’s Question Time at Westminster. It was therefore not difficult to understand why Shell’s profit generated some outrage in certain quarters, including in Nigeria where the energy giant is shrinking its hitherto gargantuan operations after decades of environmental despoliation. More so, the charge over ‘paltry’ investment in renewables reeled against Shell is sure to resonate in the months ahead and likely crescendo at the COP 28 climate confab in Dubai later in the year. Luckily perhaps, proceedings will be presided over by a brother of big oil, a typical oxymoron for campaigners and activists for climate change and energy transition.
The contradictions however stretch further afield. In Memphis, memories of Martin Luther King echoed eerily. It was not the time for good reminiscences like the perennial black history month and all. The brutal beating to death of Tyre Nicols, a black brother and father of a four-year old boy by a team of police officers reminded all of us that America continues to signpost the world’s struggle for racial equality. Only that this time around, a different dimension and pernicious perspective has been introduced to the decades-old strife for the American dream to be realised through fairness, justice and equal access to opportunities. Tyre Nichols died from the stings of a scorpion squad of five black – yes, all black! – officers who are part of a division of the police department which is reported to cost council authorities some $28million in annual funding. Suddenly the picture has flipped. The knee on George Floyd’s neck was white – a very familiar evil. The chokehold on Eric Garner was white – the ‘I can’t breathe’ refrain became a sickening dejavu of several others before Tyre. But that the 29-year old martyr of civil rights was clobbered by his own black brothers revealed another side to the story of America’s most notorious plague. The funeral eulogy by the very relentless Rev. Al Sharpton, respected civil rights beacon of all times, exposed the unfortunate significance of Tyre’s murder in the blood-stained hands of those paid by the state to protect him from harm. His riveting and comforting echoes at the Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church serenaded the sore fact that 55 years after King paid the supreme price for civil liberty and racial equality in America, Tyre was felled by beneficiaries of that ageless sacrifice. The conversation around race and police brutality will forever bear the insignia of this contradiction.
But what can be more contradictory than for the local currency of a country to be traded in-country at parallel rates? I am no currency expert or even an economist for that matter but this scenario is nothing short of a rude and comical reality show that Nigerians have been treated to all week long. On the heels of the redesign of the naira and the deadline for currency swap, life in Nigeria has taken on new swathes of suffering hell. The chaotic images from banking halls and ATM machines where Nigerians are seen scuffling for scarce cash are metaphoric of the existential daily struggles to live in the world’s most populous black nation. While the new notes (200, 500 and 1000 denominations) are lavishly desecrated by the peculiar Nigerian practice of spraying monies at parties (as seen in some videos which circulated on social media), which by the way is a long-standing contravention of the law, hardworking ordinary citizens cannot find the legal tender in the legally designated places. Transactions in both the formal and informal sectors felt the pinch with the latter getting the hit more. As the situation got more and more desperate with the deadline for the swap closing in, those who can afford it are forced to pay a premium to access the new notes at several Point of Sales (POS) ‘black market’ and other unaccredited currency merchants. That this situation pairs with the hardships imposed by an unabating gasoline scarcity that has further depleted the purchasing power of the naira has made Nigeria a living hell of geometric proportions. No money. No gas. Tough life.