`Oga, what is the colour of your money?’
That was the question a puny little policeman in the usual black uniform and oversized boots asked me at the airport. It was a question I cannot forget. No, it was not the usual policeman’s attempt to extort money from me. It was a simple, honest question.
I was shocked. I stood there gaping at him, not understanding.
Well, to go back to the beginning, it was in those wonderful days when a minister of the federal republic of Nigeria said on television that flying was not for the poor! That was true even though a minister of the federal republic, supposedly a servant of the people, including the poor majority, should not be saying such things on television. And coming to think of it the truth is that there is really nothing for the poor, not housing, not free education, not affordable medical care, and definitely not flying. In this part of the world, whatever it is you want, if you cannot pay for it you are done for.
I was not rich but I did not think I should be counted among the poor. I had a good job and considered myself to be heading for the middle class soon. That I chose to fly to the east rather than spend over eight to ten hours to travel the three hundred plus miles from Lagos to my hometown by bus I suppose, was that mental state that I was in at the time, a state of mind that said I belonged to the upper level of citizenry, those whom flying was meant for. But, come to think of it, flying did not really make sense. Those were the bad old days when one had to spend one and half hours getting from the house to the airport, another one to two hours struggling to get a boarding pass. If one was lucky he would have spent three to four hours for the plane to take off for the one hour flight to Enugu. Then from Enugu take a taxi for another hour and half journey to my ultimate destination. Sometimes of course you do not get to board the flight after wasting the whole day. When you sit back and ponder it you wonder whether the struggle to fly was worth it in the first place.
Anyway, on this particular day I had reached the airport bright and early. Dressed in my favourite brown check jacket on black trousers I joined the fray to obtain a boarding pass. On that day it seemed half of Lagos wanted to fly. It was hot. Intending travellers were five deep before the counter all shouting `Okay, ticket, okay ticket’, meaning that all they wanted were boarding passes having paid for the flight and obtained the confirmed tickets. Having a confirmed ticket was no guarantee of flying. Very often flights were overbooked. Cancellations and lateness of flights only added to the confusion.
I was much younger then and very soon bullied my way to the front of the desk behind which the ticket clerks were seated. But at that particular time they simply gathered up their papers and declared the flight full! Like everybody else I kept pleading but it soon dawned on everybody that the flight was full. The choice was either to go home and try again tomorrow or to wait and continue the struggle to board a later flight. The surest flight was usually the first flight which I had now missed. I stood aside by my travelling bag with other disappointed travellers.
But suddenly I got this feeling that something was amiss. Slowly it came to me. I patted my jacket breast pocket and frowned. Then my right hand darted into the breast pocket. The wad of fifty thousand naira I had collected from the bank for my expenses was not there. I tried the other pocket. 
It was not there. It was not in my trouser pockets and not in my hand luggage. Then I stood surveying the crowd. One of these rich people or one of the touts engaged by one of the rich people had deftly removed my money. You see, there are two types of rich people who fly. The first type would engage a tout, and there were many willing to be engaged, and stand back and survey the melee from a safe distance, or even come to the airport when he is satisfied his tout or driver would have secured a boarding pass. I belonged to the group that did not have that extra money to pay a tout when I was physically fit to struggle by myself.
Then I saw the policeman in his position by the gate. I went to him and said, `Officer, my money has been stolen.’
Oh, sorry, oga. How did that happen?’
`It was when I was struggling for a boarding pass!’
`I see. How much?’
`Fifty thousand.’
`That is a lot of money. Sorry, oga,
`Sorry? Is that all you have to say?’
`Oga, what do you want me to tell you? You see all these big men and women. They all carry plenty of money. Some of them even carry millions in cash. Believe me. I know. I am a policeman and I know what you big men get up to.’
`Oga, how will I know which is your money?’
I did not understand. I said, `What?’
`Oga, how is your money different from other people’s money? What is the colour of your own money?’
Then it dawned on me. What makes my money different from other people’s money? Naira is naira. They are all the same colour, unless they are of different denomination. And if you have to carry a lot of money it is usual to have it in the largest denomination and most of these moneyed people must be carrying money in the largest denomination. This ordinary looking policeman is right. What is the colour of my own naira? I was so embarrassed. I felt very stupid. I picked up me bags and went home.
Well, many things have got better these days and many things worse. One thing that has got better is the banking system. You do not have to carry a lot of cash to travel. Your ATM card is all you need. Gone are the days when traders carried loads of money and boarded night buses to transact business in Lagos. Armed robbers had a field day. And many travellers lost their lives. Communication has also improved. You can move money by phone! But that also has its down side. Internet fraud is rampant. Your bank account can get wiped out in a minute! Our youth are very adept at bad things.
But certain things have not changed. It still takes me at least eight hours to get to my home town by road. And flying is still not for the poor. And education, water, electricity, and housing are all still not for the poor. Come to think of it. Is there ever going to be anytime anything is for the poor? May The Almighty deliver all of us from poverty? Amen!


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