Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Bad Counting and Missing Billions - Arithmetic deficiency Syndrome

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By BabaWilly

An Oba was once asked during a television interview how many children he had. I was a child at the time and waited for an answer. He looked at the ceiling for inspiration, coughed and swiped at an imaginary house fly (or perhaps it was a palace fly) before giving the answer. ‘Children are a blessing from God and not to be counted like cattle’.

My young mind interpreter the unfolding drama thus; this man has a poor grasp of Arithmetic, he was wanting in that skill of juggling numbers and getting them to arrive at a quantitative destination. Since that day I have come to believe that some parts of West Africa have a major issue with counting. This erroneous idea has been further buttressed by the newspapers I made my kites out of in the streets of Suru-Lere in my youth. Every edition reported in one way or another the failure of my countrymen to count accurately.

Money was the biggest issue, followed by the population. Next it was the voters registered and subsequently the votes cast. The amount of crude oil coming out of the ground could never be totalled up effectively. Anything that had an amount next to it was a big problem. The amount of money, amount of time, amount of people, amount of crude and amount of votes all proved enigmatic. Only the unborn babies knew how to quantify time it seemed for they all come out in nine months.  Amounting and totalling brings confusion to Naija and confusion like we all know breaks the bones.

A few exceptions to the rule existed in the 80s. There was a beacon of numerology that stood out for me. An educated maverick and social commentator, who could sing, play the saxophone and actually count. I refer here to Fela who proved his statistical abilities when he sang thus; 49 sitting 99 standing, suffering and smiling.  This was in a nation where the famous mathematical puzzles to date had been, where is the 2.8 Billion Naira? and what is two thirds of nineteen? The two great unsolved mathematical mysteries of my country.

Fela also sang about water, light ti, food and house si, in the song Original suffer head. He claimed that if you lived in Africa, yu go know plenti about these four big necessities. This great knowledge was simply that you knew these essentials were scare. The politicians never tell us the numbers though.  How many gallons of water are required daily and what is the short fall? How many Megawatts of electricity do we currently have available and how much is needed? How many tons of cassava are consumed daily and how can we increase the harvest and thereby lower the price of garri? How many families are there to be housed and how many units of housing are required to house all families? When will the big four be sorted; (date and time)?

This goes much deeper than having a degree in mathematics or statistics. It is all about the cohort application of numeral skills in daily life and in future planning. Perhaps these mosquitoes in addition to the malaria they spread also inflict all Naija people with dyscalculia, a malady that makes the long trip from one to twenty impossible.

As I write the CBN governor is out of a job for he said he counted how many apples NNPC remitted to the Federal Government and found so to be missing. The NNPC re-counted and said nay, ‘notin loss’. However the Central Bank count and keep the apples so they should know! The Finance minister decided to count and has said 10.8 apples are missing. The federal Government who receieved less apples than they should have have not noticed their basket is not full, so an independent panel of enquiry will be set up.

All I can say is, e no finis, e no finis, e no finis, e no finis, e no finis..pa ra ra. (Army Arrangement by Fela Anikulapo kuti) While I could condone a dispute about whether Ronaldo was in an off side position and not interfering with play when his Real Madrid colleague scored the goal, I don’t believe there is any room for debates with simply counting apples (even though an apple here represents a billion dollars). Ah ah! Even a young Michael Jackson knew it  was easy as 1,2,3 so many years ago.

I grew up in a society in which anything that had to do with numbers was a problem. On Saturdays wedding ceremonies started with that phrase, ‘due to circumstances beyond our control’ and the master of ceremonies tells you why the reception is starting 4 hours late. How hard is 1pm difficult to decipher. 1 is not 4 and 4 is not 1. It was 1pm on the invitation cards sent out 3 months ago and yet someone could not count. It is not a circumstance beyond control when numerical skills are lacking. It is a circumstance remedies by education. Go back to primary school joor!

My Nigerian mathematical hero was Prof Awojobi. He hosted the game quiz show Master mind and his catch phrase was ‘absolute nonsense’ said with disdain as it the contestant suffered with a reproachable stupidity that demanded banishment to far away Pluto. He  gave hope that a brainy Nigerian could rise to celebrity status in a country that could not count. He brought hope to the nation, then he unfortunately died young. What a loss. (Perhaps  algebraic salvation resided in P square for while not quite P squared, they sing and dance mathematically. They are the nearest Nigeria has to Mathematics on TV. I hope they would one they count up the budget and let use know how much moni she can chop in their hit tune chop my money).

While on a trip to Ghana I asked a local what the distance was from Kotoka international airport to Tema. He answered thus, ‘Charlie, do you want as the crow flies or by road’. I was taken aback by his exactitude and decided to be mischievous.

‘Charlie, as the witch flies is what I prefer’ I said to which he replied, ‘In that case ask a Nigerian’. If I slap persin dem go say I violent. Now compare this incident to the driver I asked about a proposed journey in Lagos.

‘Fred, how far from Aguda to Epe?’

‘Ah, Doctor e far o’

‘How far?’

‘Ah, go slow fit dey for road and the road fit bad. Rain fit spoil road sef’ he said

‘How far now? Assume it is Sunday and there are no cars on the road’

‘Ah, I no fit say o. Maybe 3 or 4 hours. See John, he go know. John!’

John comes and greets us. ‘How far big bros’ he bowed slightly in my direction not on account of my age but on account of the monetary gift I may give him’.

‘John , what is the distance between Aguda and Epe’ I asked

‘Ah, I no know how much time e take us that day as I sleep for road’

‘Distance is not time. How much Kilometres’ I said

‘I no know book big bros. Enta motor check time. When you reach Epe look ya time again. Then you go know how far’.

At this we all burst out laughing. No wonder the standard greet in Naija is  now ‘how far?’

Nobody knows.

Asking  too many questions make people feel uncomfortable as life is just too unpredictable.

‘Who know tomorrow? Na God hand e dey. Do your best and leave the rest. Man no die man no rotten, anyhow e happen we go patch am. All these phrases have become tranquilising drugs to ease the pains of poor planning caused by poor counting. On a micro level, when families are invited over, the lady of the house will ask, ‘how many are coming’

If told five, she goes to the kitchen and caters for 10 as ‘these men cannot count jare’. Na men get the problem.

Then she is greeted by 15 on the said day! Now how does a state government plan education for its citizens without knowing how many children of school age are in circulation? There surely should be a ratio of number of teachers to children. The number of teachers can sometimes be an impossible thing to discover as phantom teachers exist who are paid salaries promptly and monthly but are in no position to teach for they do not exist. What about health. If the agreed ratio of Doctors to people is 1 to 100 thousand then it matters if the population is 4 or 12 million, abi?

Then there is the small issue of age. No one knows his age it appears. From our footballers to our politicians. All politicians are under 50 and all footballers are under 25 years old. Na wa! As for all my ladies, you are all exempt for it is rude to ask a lady her age. Men, we want to know your age abeg. There was this diopka in the village who a young child from Lagos asked his age. He laughed for a long time and placed his hands over the boys head. ‘I fought in Burma’ he said.

The young boy turned to his father who then scolded him for troubling Papa. Papa never said his age. Even in traditional ceremonies where the oldest man had to bless the Kola, he and two other friends would go into a twenty minute argument before deciding who was the oldest. They did this at every occasion. ‘Na who senior pass?’ they asked each other while downing cold Gulder. Would it not have been easier to furnish birth certificates and settle the contention?

I must say that seeing them argue was always entertaining. Arguing about who was older when they went to Burma. Since no one was there to contest their arguments and documentary evidence was never produced, everyone took it as the mystic of the aged. Dating births is poor without an ability to count the years. Death rates cannot be counted. Even the Royal society of witches could not furnish my research fellows with how many pints of blood they sucked last month. The silly winches cannot count either.  Death certificates with serial numbers will tell us how many are dying but people don’t know.

I once was trying to remember a certain date and couldn’t. After struggling with friends for what seemed like hours, someone had a eureka moment and reminded me of the Naija CD I bought around the time in question. I rushed to my collection, grabbed the CD and viola, it was not dated.

Now who in the history of the world has ever heard of an undated piece of music? Even now we known that George Frideric Handel wrote the Messiah (containing the Hallelujah chorus, a Christmas Naija favourite) between 22-8-1941 to 14-9-1941. He had neither I-pad nor internet but he kept records and knew how to count.

Here I am unable to know the release date of music recorded in the last ten years. Ah! Does not the Holy Book say we should number our days? What is the book between Leviticus and Deuteronomy in the Holy Bible we carry in Naija called? Numbers o!  God help us. I am quite angry about this whole nonsense but I juss dey yab. We dey count nau. If Eagles get match and dem red card one of awa players, sebi na 36 go remain for pitch abi?

People sef get problem. A Politician earning 5 apples a year comes for re-election campaigns to the area and he is asked to present 10 apples before he would be listened to. Can the electorate not count? Where is he expected to generate the funds from??

In summary, my suggestions to improve the tropical numerical dyslexia matter is as follows,

- Please let us stop saying Nigeria’s population is about… Conservative estimate…approximately…by all indications just over….Just name a figure and if it is wrong let it be.

- Stop saying ‘That man is very very rich’. And when you are asked how much is he worth you answer, ‘he wad scatter. He get money well well’. How much??? Please put a figure to it.

- When asked about your estimated time of arrival be exact. ‘Around 5pm’ is not a time neither is ‘to 5’. I know you have issues from your past as you slept in Bendel state one night  and woke up the next morning in Delta State and had to change your nickname from Bendelite fire to Delta Fire. You have endured changes in fundamental institutions in the country such as coup de tat, annulment of elections, closure of universities etc etc. You have no trust in the army or police. You don’t even trust yourself anymore. Bros, be a man and be exact. Commit to something and if you fail then you fail.

- And finally when I ask, ‘how much do you need?’ Give an answer. Don’t say between 3 and 35 thousand looking into my eyes to gauge how much of a mugu I am. Just name your price gbam. Your oga at the top will not come and give another figure. Dats all.


Dr Wilson Orhiunu



  1. As much as this post is interesting, it is really long. Sorry i couldn't read everything, but I understand your point.
    For the case of missing billions, i leave that to God's hands. For inviting 5 people, and 15 people show up, it is a case of "mo gbo mo ya". I am currently in Ghana, and i kinda understand what you mean about distance. whenever i ask a Ghanaian for directions, they tend to say something like "it's 200m away from here" or "it's a 5 hours journey". They are time and distance accurate, especially when giving directions. Whenever they answer me, i am always blank, because i don't know how to measure distance in that form. lol. I am making a conscious effort to be more specific about these things. lol.
    Thing is, we are not taught these things in school, so following them won't come easy

  2. Hi,
    ImpurfectHer, how far? The article is not too long. Try harder. Nollywood films are Part 1 to 15 and Nigerians tend to watch to the end without problems. Thanks for reading what you could. God bless. Babawilly


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