Meetings of Community Development Associations (CDAs) are interesting affairs. Almost without fail, these gatherings mimic the larger space within which they take place — at least so does the one that I associate with.
Scheduled to start at 8.00am on the last Saturday of every month, I cannot remember when last it convened before 9.00am. Given the calibre of members, this has nothing to do with members’ numeracy (or lack thereof). Indeed, the fact that there are members who are unfailingly present before 8.00am (and who then have to pass the hour until the meeting “is called to order” in idle chatter) puts the lie to our inability to count being the root cause of our inability to be on time.
Despite this shortcoming, discourse at the edge of the meeting is taking up by visceral griping over the Nigerian condition; especially how our elected leaders have let us down since we resumed the vote in 1999. Scant consideration is given to how foibles at the micro-level, including simply being able to arrive an event on schedule, conduct business impersonally, and depart on time, may be contributing to the nutritive medium feeding our national under-performance.
Ignore the penchant for being “fashionably late”, however, and the CDAs’ meeting agenda must read like a page off the executive council meetings of any government in the country: security, infrastructure (roads, sewerage, electricity, etc.), how to pay for these, and noise pollution from churches in what is largely a residential neighbourhood, invariably dominate the conversations. Nevertheless, over the 16 years of my association with this particular CDA finance has been the bête noire.
Costs of maintaining the community have risen steadily, especially for security — the transition from night guards only, to a 24-hour manning of the gates leading into the community has not helped, either. In this period, a little over 20% of residents have borne 80% of the cost of keeping the community in pocket. From acknowledging that more responsible governments at the national and sub-national levels would obviate the angst from thinking through these burdens, the community’s panjandrums have struggled with bringing about changes to the community’s finances.
There is no doubt that it is currently inefficient. However, arguments about ways and means of boosting revenue have floundered on both libertarian and egalitarian concerns. The one perspective has argued that it would fly in the face of the community’s civil liberties were efforts to raise fund to include restrictions on movement in and out of the community for non-financial members. The fact that financial members are largely landlords means that any lock-in or lock-out would disproportionately affect tenants in the community. So, the right to ingress and egress also clothes itself in a near militant refusal by tenants to be “oppressed” by the propertied class.
A Martian observing any of these meetings could not fail to notice how a conclave in a small community on the outskirts of Lagos State so faithfully mirrors the national psychoses. Meetings that don’t start on time are a worry for a people bent on improving their lot, no doubt. But this willingness to let the “commons” go to waste in the assumption that it is “society’s” responsibility, is this not a far bigger threat to the cohesion of our communities?
We cannot solve the problem of assigning responsibilities for the management of our shared spaces without being able to address the burden of “free riders”. And how do you mainstream free-riders without infringing the exercise of rights that make us all human?
Mulling on these knots, our hypothetical alien visitor would have been gobsmacked by a suggestion that came off my community’s CDA meeting for August. Worried by the same issues, this member reminded the august gathering how certain communities in the country defer to wealth. If, according to him, a 15-year old were the wealthiest member of such communities, elders, and the like in those communities would swallow their pride and do homage before the teen, in order that he may spread his munificence all round.
Given that only God gives such wealth, it is arrogant for the community to hold out against the richest member (only recently arrived this) — or so this strange argument went. He therefore advised that the community swallow its pride and go cap in hand to have its many problems resolved by this financial Johnny come lately.
Only after listening to this allocution did it dawn on me how certain parts of the country could have found it in them to celebrate as Nigerian heroes, nationals who were found guilty of drug trafficking in other jurisdictions, and executed for this offence.