“The real wealth of a nation is its people. And the purpose of development is to create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy and creative lives. This simple but powerful truth is too often forgotten in the pursuit of material and financial wealth”.

UNDP 1990

I didn’t see him at first. He was crouched so low on the ground. The possibility that this object was  human, possibly breathing, with a mind capable of thought, just did not make any sense. So my mind stalled. I failed to tackle the obvious;  that this mass of withered limbs sitting quietly in the dust, was in every respect a fully grown man.

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Then another object caught my eye.

Swirling with certainty in the breeze,  with its vertical bicolor of green and white stood the Nigerian flag. It’s freshly painted  pole gleamed crisp in the sunlight. Spruced up. Clean. Cared for.  This piece of cloth wasn’t forgotten and forlorn in the middle of nowhere.  Somebody clearly understood the need to keep it looking its best. This was  a construct I understood perfectly.  One that didn’t assault my senses like the half-man who rested underneath it.

I wondered about him.

 Every day he crawled to this spot underneath the flag . Every day he aligned himself with this  symbol of a nation’s sovereignty and its embedded values. Here was a mind shrewd enough to choose this exact spot for maximum effect. Certainly, he succeeded in drawing  attention to himself and making “contact” with the thousands who walked past him every day. Whatever drew him here, the ironies were not lost on me, the  juxtaposition, though tragic, was undeniable.

Here was the Nigerian flag; with the symbolic  green stripes representing Nigeria`s natural wealth. And lying in stillness underneath it, was another symbol; one of neglect, a country`s neglect of its greatest wealth; its people.


I looked away for respite. I felt sorry for this man. He  represented everything uncharitable about a country  which has so much yet pays so little attention to the least fortunate in society.   Why care so much for an object  and so little for what that object stood for?

In the end, the reality remains. Many feet walked hurriedly past the flag. Many seemed  untroubled  by this lone, dusty creature. Perhaps the novelty had worn off. This person, blackened and buried under thick blades of matted hair was now a familiar sight. Like the flag, he too had so seamlessly worked his way into our  psychological landscape; we expect him to be there. However, whichever way we try to explain it away, there is nothing  right about this image.

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We must do better than just a flag to remind us of our  shared citizenship and moral values.  We must continue to question images which jar our senses and challenge our most basic human emotions. Most importantly, we each have the capacity to act independently, to exercise our personal agency. We simply need to act.