Arithmetic Deficiency Syndrome (Tropical Idiopathic Dyscalculia)

Wilson Orhiunu

First Gentleman with Wilson Orhiunu

(Email: Twitter: @Babawilly)

An Oba was once asked during a television interview how many children he had. I was a child at the time and waited for an answer. He looked at the ceiling for inspiration before answering: “Children are a blessing from God and not to be counted like cattle.”

My young mind interpreted thus; this man has a poor grasp of Arithmetic. Since that day I have come to believe that some parts of West Africa have a major issue with counting. Every newspaper reported in one way or another the failure of my countrymen to count accurately. Money was the biggest issue, followed by the population. Next, it was the voters registered and subsequently the votes cast. The amount of crude oil coming out of the ground could never be totalled up effectively.

Only the unborn babies knew how to quantify time it seemed for they all come out in nine months.

There was some hope for me when Fela sang thus; 49 sitting 99 standing, suffering and smiling. Actual figures! I soon lost hope again.

I grew up in a society in which anything that had to do with numbers was a problem. On Saturdays at wedding ceremonies, “due to circumstances beyond our control” proceedings always started late. 5pm was always the new 1pm.

While on a trip to Ghana I asked a local what the distance was from Kotoka International Airport to Tema. He answered thus, “Charlie, as crow flies or by road”. I was taken aback by his exactitude and decided to be mischievous.

“Charlie, as the witch flies is what I prefer” I said to which he replied, “In that case ask a Nigerian” (If I slap pesin dem go say I dey violent!)

Now compare this incident to the driver I asked about a proposed journey in Lagos.

“Fred, how far is Aguda to Epe?”

“Ah, Doctor e far o”

“How far?”

“Ah, go slow fit dey for road and the road fit bad.  Rain fit spoil road sef,” he said

“How far na? Assume it is Sunday and there are no cars on the road”

“Ah, I no fit say o.  Maybe three or four hours. See John dey come, he go know. John!”

John comes and greets us. “How far big bros?” he bowed slightly in my direction, not in respect but hoping for a monetary gift’.

“John, what is the distance between Aguda and Epe?” I asked

“Ah, I no know how much time e take us that day as I sleep for road”

“Distance is not time. How many Kilometres?” I said

“I no know book big bros. Enter motor check time. When you reach Epe look ya time again.  Then you go know how far”

At this we all burst out laughing.  No wonder the standard greeting in Naija now is “how far?”

Nobody knows.

Asking too many questions make people feel uncomfortable as life is just too unpredictable.

“Who know tomorrow?” “Na God hand e dey”. “Do your best and leave the rest”.  “Man no die man no rotten”. “Anyhow e happen we go patch am”. All these phrases have become tranquilising drugs to ease the pains of poor planning caused by poor counting.

How does a state government plan education for its citizens without knowing how many children of school age are in circulation? There surely should be a ratio of numbers to students to teachers, abi?

Then there is the small issue of age. No one seems to know his age it appears. From our footballers to our politicians – all politicians are under 50 and all footballers are under 25 years old. Na wa!

I once was trying to remember a certain date and couldn’t. After struggling with friends for what seemed like hours, someone had a eureka moment and reminded me of the Naija CD I bought around the time in question. I rushed to my collection, grabbed the CD and voila, it was not dated. Now who in the history of the world has ever heard of an undated piece of music? Even now we know that George Frideric Handel wrote the Messiah (containing the Hallelujah chorus, a Christmas Naija favourite) between 22-8-1941 to 14-9-1941. He had neither iPad nor internet but he kept records and knew how to count. Here I am unable to know the release date of music recorded in the last 10 years. Ah!  Does not the Holy Book say we should number our days?  What is the book between Leviticus and Deuteronomy in the Holy Bible we carry in Naija called?  Numbers o!

In summary, my suggestions to improve the tropical idiopathic dyscalculia are:

  1. Stop saying Nigeria’s population is about XYZ. Just name a figure and if it is wrong let it be
  2. Stop saying “that man is very very rich” and when you are asked how much is he worth you answer, “he wad scatter”. Please put a figure to it
  3. When asked about your estimated time of arrival be exact. “Between 12pm and 5pm” is not a time neither is “to 5”. I know you have issues from your past as you slept in Bendel State one night and woke up the next morning in Delta State and had to change your nickname from Bendelite fire to Delta Fire. You have endured changes in fundamental institutions in the country such as coup de tat, annulment of elections, closure of universities, etc. You have no trust in the army or police. You don’t even trust yourself anymore. Bros, be a man and be exact. Commit to something and if you fail then you fail. Even in a world with so many variables one should still have a plan
  4. Practise to get your numbers to add up on your monthly and yearly budgets and never let your budget document go missing.

Daz all.