By Toyin Falola
E don cast
Na everybody go chop breakfast
Have to say bye-bye, oh
Burna Boy, “Last Last”
Nigeria’s social decadence has been attributed to various issues, ranging from the family to society as a whole. Family problems brought on by unhappy marriages, divorces, and negligent parenting have been identified as contributing factors to Nigeria’s social dysfunction. Some claim that children inherit features from both parents, but what happens when a child’s parents are unable to give him or her a proper upbringing? These are the depressing truths about people’s perceived shortcomings as members of society. Do we keep saying, “las las we go dey alright”? What impact would this have on the nation?
Tobias was roused from sleep by the cockerel’s crow, an alarm system created by nature. The feed of his roommate’s transistor radio crept into the room, bringing him news headlines about the rising price of petroleum and food items. The news was interrupted by “E don cast, last last na everybody go chop breakfast.” That was the intro to the trending song on the streets, “Last Last” by Burna Boy, although he creatively added his own “t” to the people’s “las” (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=421w1j87fEM). His roommate and friend, Malik, who had allowed Tobias to squat at his place after leaving his parents, had been disgusted by the news and changed the channel. Ironically, neither of them had an idea where their breakfast for that day would come from.
Inhaling a lungful of the hemp aroma that had seeped into his room through the window, Tobias noted that the boys outside had started smoking weed again. Welcome to the world of the living, Tobias. He always referred to himself as a part-time orphan. His father and mother had gone different ways before he clocked the age of ten, and he had only spent a couple of years with them together and separately. A drunk, pilferer, and a ball of brute anger was not someone he would like to point to as his father, nor a pathological liar and lady of the night his ideal woman whom he could call his mother. Hence, one day, he left his mother’s place and did not return to his father, instead resolving to carve a route to success for himself in a tough world.
This decision was made soon after completing his senior secondary school education. He was an average student with no family to finance his tertiary education, but, like the rest of his mates processing their admission into various universities, he began to make his moves with high hopes. His parents were in his past now, and he resided with his friend in the slums of Agege in Lagos, where he was able to secure a job as a waiter in a local beer parlour. The pay was not much, but he was motivated and could save up to purchase his Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) examination form.
A day before the exam, he notified his Madam that he would resume slightly late to work the following day. When she heard why he would come late, she looked at him weirdly and asked why he was taking the exams. He told her about his ambition to further his education in a tertiary institution. She listened calmly with rapt attention and let him finish before bursting into wild laughter. Tobias was perplexed by her reaction. She did not let him wonder much about the reason for her behaviour before asking him the million-dollar question that he had no answer to: “Who will pay your school fees and take care of you in the university?” Tobias stood there scratching his head till his Madam dismissed him with a wave of the hand and more thunderous laughter.
The exam day looked perfect. It was the right mood, a bright sky, and serenity that was rare for the kind of place he resided in. He arrived at the exam centre brimming with confidence and happiness. Those who have tertiary education will get good jobs and make big money in the future. He was about to take a big step toward securing that tertiary education; he would be so rich in the future.
Shortly after the examination commenced, Tobias realised the serenity that came with that day was nature’s way of mourning the fact that he had wasted his money on the exam. Every single question looked like it was written in Latin. He was perplexed when he scrolled to the last question, only to find out he did not understand even one. Tobias had expected some of the questions to be tacky because he did not have the time to study and depended largely on his knowledge from secondary school. But to his shock and amazement, some of the questions were not tacky—ALL of them were! He began to sweat profusely.
With only 15 minutes left on the clock, Tobias had not selected one answer at the time most of the other candidates were already leaving the hall after completing their exams. Now 10 minutes remaining, he decided to do the guesswork for his exams rather than submit a blank answer script. If he put his best into trying to select the options he felt were correct, he probably stood a better chance of scoring some marks. A few marks here and there were better than an outright zero.
Tobias dragged himself back to his workplace from the exam centre to put in his shift for the day. It was evident that something was wrong from his face, but no one cared enough to ask about his troubles. He wished he had good parents whom he could turn to for solace. At home, he told Malik his ordeal. After listening to his lamentation, Malik asked why Tobias worried himself over tertiary education that was obviously meant for rich kids. The poor ones who manage to get into the institutions are frustrated by strikes orchestrated by the government and the lecturers. After a short pep talk, his friend whisked him to a beer parlour, where Tobias downed shot after shot of local dry gin to make him forget his worries while he helped himself to two parcels of weed.
After that night, God became the most sought-after entity for Tobias. He had heard the many miracles God had done for those who followed His teachings and kept His commandments. Tobias prayed earnestly about his exam results; he needed a miracle. He also fasted, and his hope gradually increased when he occasionally dreamt he had one of the best results. Tobias interpreted the dreams to be visions of his forthcoming examination success. As the day for results drew closer, his confidence increased, and his fear lessened.
The news that the examination results had been released got to Tobias at work. He was not in a rush. He patiently waited till he was home before checking his scores. 34. Nothing more, nothing less. Tobias was brought back to the harsh reality of his fantasy world. He had failed the exam woefully. This time, he did not wait for Malik and his “motigbesona” (a street derivative of “motivational”) speech. He went to their usual joint and ordered shots of gins before his friend joined him. That night, he smoked weed with Malik for the first time. After coughing repetitively, he gradually started to get the hang of it. On getting to bed, his head was free of worries, and sleep came for him like it had not been in months. From then on, Tobias faced life squarely. Weed and gin became his tools for clearing his mind.
He made up his mind to try JAMB again the following year. This time, he got textbooks from secondary school students around his place and wrote the exams. When the results came out again, there was no cause for joy because it was another woeful result. In the third year running, Tobias paid for a special centre—one of our “miracle centres”—that helped students with the exams and increased their chances of scoring high marks. This time, he was sure it would end on a good note. On exam day, he and a colleague, who had paid extra for special assistance during the exam, had no help. However, they were assured that their results would be doctored and they would have good grades. The results came, and again, it was terrible. He had been duped.
Las Las, Tobias gave up on taking another exam. His friend, Malik, also nailed the coffin when he said that many graduates are seeking non-existent jobs and that Tobias should just face his hustle squarely because, at the end of the day, the goal for both graduates and non-graduates is to secure financial stability. With this as his watchword, Tobias wakes every day to take on all the menial jobs he can lay his hands on to survive. Gin and weed became his go-to mediums for relieving the stress that comes with the struggle for survival.
Every evening, after returning from his daily hustling and bustling, he joins the boys smoking outside:
I need igbo and shayo (shayo)
I need igbo and shayo (shayo)
I need igbo and shayo (shayo)
Shayo (shayo) shayo (shayo)
*(This piece is dedicated to Dr. Yemi Ijaola, a Cardiologist based at UCH, Ibadan, who has enriched my slang vocabulary, and to my street guys and “Area Boys” at my various joints in Somolu, Yaba, and Onigbongbo)