Johnson Babalola
February 18, 2024

A ku ipalemo Valentine yi o (Greetings as we prepare for Valentine)

On Valentine’s Day, while seated at an entertainment garden in Abuja, I remarked to my friend, whom I’ll call P, about the absence of couples at the hotel where I stayed, the restaurant where I dined, and now at the garden where we found ourselves overseeing the funeral rites of a locally raised chicken. This poor fowl met its end in the hands of Adamu, an innocuous-looking middle-aged man who employed salt, pepper and suya spice for its cremation. P responded, suggesting that the timing wasn’t conducive for love, citing financial hardships plaguing not just Nigeria but the world at large. He then proceeded to share a story.

A few days prior to Valentine’s Day, P had a conversation with his home security personnel, KT, regarding some missteps. After KT apologized and promised reform, P presumed the matter settled. However, as KT was leaving the room, he paused, half-opening the door, and said, “a de ku ipalemo valentine yi o” (greetings as we prepare for Valentine’s Day). P, understanding KT’s implication, smiled. Over the years, P had been in the habit of providing bonuses and provisions to his staff well in advance of such occasions, including Valentine’s Day. Yet, this time, with financial constraints, he hadn’t managed to do so. Hence, KT’s greeting was not merely a customary salutation but a hopeful hint, anticipating perhaps that P might have overlooked the occasion. P acknowledged the gesture with gratitude but later, with a reduced amount of cash, fulfilled his obligation to his staff. He recounted how they, in turn, prayed together for better times.

This anecdote reflects the prevailing circumstances not only in Nigeria but in many parts of the world. Focusing on Nigeria for a minute, I have observed that everywhere one goes, there’s an air of expectation, be it in hotels, restaurants, airports, or even interactions with taxi drivers, mall attendants, and shopkeepers. The ubiquitous “Good morning, sir” or “God bless you, sir” often masks a subtle plea for financial assistance. While such pleasantries are customary and indicative of good manners and perhaps good customer service, they often feel disingenuous, lacking sincerity. I once remarked to a friend that judging by how his security officer expected gratuities from visitors, his safety was far from assured.

Yet, one can’t entirely fault individuals for seeking monetary rewards for every service rendered, whether solicited or not, even the most minor ones like assisting without solicitation, with turning taps on in airport restrooms. The economic hardships facing the country are stark. It’s disheartening to witness capable young individuals either unemployed or underemployed, rendering the common refrain of “God bless you, sir” more as a plea for securing their own futures. A nation cannot prosper if its youth, its greatest asset, remain idle or underutilized. There’s an urgent need to provide meaningful employment opportunities that engage the youth intellectually and instill a sense of patriotism.

So, every time we’re reminded of an upcoming event or blessed by others, there’s most of the time, an underlying expectation. May our nation, Nigeria, evolve to a point where our greetings stem from genuine care and concern for one another, rather than a mere anticipation of financial rewards.

Johnson Babalola, a Canada and Nigeria based lawyer, leadership consultant, storyteller and corporate emcee, is a public affairs analyst. Follow him for discussions on real life issues that affect us all.

You can obtain a copy of his newly released book, REJECTED on Amazon, FriesenPress, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Play, Apple Books, Nook Store etc.