Opinion | Nigeria has a recklessly dysfunctional relationship with money, unlike America

By Itodo Samuel Anthony

In America every dollar is valued. Because almost everyone who is an adult does some kind of work for their money. Perhaps this is why everyone’s hustle is respected and valued. People are not dashing you careless money in this country like they do in Nigeria, so before you buy beer and pepper soup you go reason how many hours you take work to get the money. Also, that is why every adult takes care of their bills…nobody is going out with you to pay for the entire 24 bottles of beer that three of you drank; everybody drop your credit card for the bill. You can’t be in this culture and not value money. There is too much careless money in Nigeria, many of from dirty sources, so much so that people who are jobless but have access to money can even look down on those who are working hard and can only get so much.

In America, just like everywhere else, money is important, but it isn’t just enough to have money. No one worships you here or looks at you twice because you have money. There is so much value in work here that one of the first questions you get from anyone, even before you get a half date is, “What kind of work do you do, or where do you work?” No, they are not trying to size your pockets, it is just a fallout of the cultural expectation that every adult should work for their money. I cannot count how many times I have been asked this question even after saying I am in school. These days I feel so awkward when I say I am not working, like I am being irresponsible, even though I have as much money to take care of my bills, if not more, as the person asking me the question. I always have to give a good justification why I am not working, and even at that I feel like I always lose some points on the “responsibility perception scale”.

It isn’t enough to just have money. This is America. You have to work. Show workings for your money. If people are going to respect a wealthy person it most likely is about the process by which they came about their wealth, not the wealth itself. Nobody will be greeting you “rankadede sir” because you’re a billionaire in America. The guy working for minimum wage in a grocery store can muster as much confidence and sense of self-worth as the billionaire CEO of a financial company in Boston. You no dey feed am. His $12 an hour is paying his rent and buying his burger and coke for lunch. He will belch with confidence.

Nigeria has a recklessly dysfunctional relationship with money. The country is not built on any solid set of sustainable cultural values. A thief will be asking a police chief to victimize an innocent man, and the police chief will be cracking jokes and laughing. Total moral debasement. Because nothing else matters but money. The secondary school dropout in Agege who hits a jackpot from Yahoo rises suddenly on the relevance pedestal above everyone else on his street, and the professor doing noble work who drives an old Camry becomes the object of celebrated jokes. A society so perverse that parents and even religious leaders will turn a blind eye just to have their pockets lined with the filthy lucre of their children and congregants. A country that is defined by the wanton competition amongst people, everyone desperate not to have a better society, but to just be on a higher rung above their neighbor, on this socio-economic ladder whose legs have been compromised by the relentless gnawing of termites, and standing in a pile of dung higher than its length.

America respects you. It doesn’t matter what you do. The billionaire who is far-divorced from your realities still respects your $12 an hour wage and job…because you’re not begging him to feed, you’re not stealing from him, and you’re doing honest work. I think Nigerian billionaires do too. It is usually folks who have not really had money, and have suddenly received a 250k contract to supply palm wine to the truly wealthy, that turn around, mistaking the ass they are sitting on for a high horse, to shame people doing honest work.

But again I can’t expect much, from a country where there is too much loose money from politics, corruption, and fraud…a country where you can be jobless and live like a king, and never have to feel uncomfortable when people ask you, “Where do you work?” A country where there is no moral burden to justify how you make your money. A country for which normalcy is defined by chaos.

Itodo Samuel Anthony, an award winning Nigerian teacher and Petroleum Engineer, writes from the U.S.