This may sound embarrassing, but I must publicly admit that whenever I am writing a figure that goes beyond hundreds of thousands, I have some challenge with the number of zeroes involved. You see, I was never really on talking terms with all the Mathematics teachers I had. But with the way I was made to learn the multiplication table at my dad’s feet – close enough for his hands to disagree when I muddled it up – I passed every Mathematics exam I ever took. I said so. If you want proof, write a letter to WAEC and stop allowing bile ruin your stomach.
So yes, I have paid my dues. But even after paying my dues, Mathematics has refused to stop tormenting me, what with the kind of figures I read of in the papers these days. They simply scatter my head and make me feel dizzy. You see, English has spoilt the power of Mathematics because it has seriously watered down our appreciation of the size of numbers. It is easy to write one billion and it sounds so lowly, so miniature, like something you can count on the tips of your fingers. But if you attempt the mathematical exercise and begin to write down the zeroes involved, then you will understand that there is a difference between the ‘b’ and ‘m’ that appear in front of the word “illion”.
What am I talking about? In the last few weeks, no day passed without media houses, in connivance with our thieving public officials, offending my sensibility with figures that I cannot write down in numbers. This is no joke. I am now feeling very harassed. Billions, trillions all over the place. And they even make it worse by providing these figures in Dollars and Pounds. So I have to find out exchange rates and do multiplications to get the right number of zeroes to meet the exact (or near exact) figure of what one person decided to appropriate to him (her) self in broad daylight.
You see, it all began with the pension funds scam. No, the word scam is disrespectful, very belittling. Let’s call it “magic”. That’s the only thing that can explain it. I read the news over and again, did the zero adding several times and when I finally saw the people who put me through all that stress on TV struggling to cover their faces from shame, I was disappointed. Maybe I expected them to appear like ruminants on four limbs, with four stomach chambers, hence the desperation to stash away extra helpings of our commonwealth for cord chewing later. Alas, they were standing on two legs like me. Kai.
Then came the Ibori case. I am convinced Jeffrey Archer had this dude in mind when he wrote “Honour Among thieves”. You see, there are thieves and there are thieves. For a long time, I had been hearing “Ibori is a thief, Ibori is a thief”, but I didn’t know what they meant was that he was a treasury cleaner. We really need to differentiate between somebody who snatches a purse at a bus stop and someone who vacuum cleans a state treasury, emptying the “dirt” into his personal dustbin. Initially, I promised myself to ignore the figures and focus on the plenty English the Judge was speaking, but all these my extra smart friends on twitter would not stop going on and on about it so I took out a calculator and began punching. Sigh. Is it not a miracle that we still have a state called Delta at all?
My eyes were already spinning out of control when the main course was finally served. You see, when a figure enters trillions, then it is the same thing as saying infinity. That’s my postulation really. I mean can there be anything more than trillion? The zeroes are just endless. Some calculators, a while ago, would have given an “error” verdict if you punched such figures into them. But hey, believe it or not, that’s what grew legs and flew away like a bird in the name of subsidy payment, according to the House committee that undertook to sniff around a little. And then I also read of the miracle of money transfer; how the former accountant general performed a Guinness Book of Record worthy feat that should go into accounting text books worldwide. As I read, my head spun. All I saw was zeroes, like motif on an amateur painter’s canvas, like irregular tracks on ant-infested wood.
But for a miracle, I might have ended up in “Yaba left”, so I have renewed my undertaking to avoid figures henceforth and stick with the words. If you attempt to wrap your head around the sleaze this country has endured and is enduring, insanity is sure to come for you. Who wan mad?
First published in Daily Times