The Economics of Our Social Lives – By Efe Wanogho

The Economics of Our Social Lives – By Efe Wanogho

Culled from ekekee.com


Every once in a while, it becomes most apposite for every individual or community of individuals, to take stock of the extenuating factors in their lives, and determine to what extent such factors contribute or detract from the attainment of set goals. Thus, at the level of the individual, not a few men who have enriched civilization with their indelible footprints on the sands of our universal and collective psyche, have advocated moments of introspection and retrospection, wherein the individual evaluates his lifestyle and decides whether or not to reinforce certain conducts of his, or to part ways with them. It is in the spirit of this reevaluation that this piece aims to beam the spotlight on our social lives and draw possible lessons that may inspire social change, and with it, catalyze economic growth.

A plethora of statistical estimates in the public domain posit that the demographics of the Nigerian population tilt overwhelmingly towards a predominance of a youthful population. Some reports state that as much as seventy percent (70%) of the inhabitants of the Nigerian geopolitical space are young people. These same reports paint a sordid picture when it pertains to the number of Nigerians that are gainfully employed. The unemployment rate in Nigeria was last reported to be 23.9 percent, according to 2011 estimates. Whereas that figure is astronomically high compared to other economies, many Nigerians believe that the figure is a modest and conservative estimation as in real terms; the rate of unemployment is way beyond 39 percent. Now, for a country with an estimated population of about 167 million people, and most of them young, it is an anathema, nay misnomer, that unemployment would be very high.

As always, as indefensible as it is, there’s a myriad of explanations for this situation. For this piece, I want to look no further than our debilitating consumerist tendency and our manifest obsession with all things foreign. That we are an import-dependent economy is trite knowledge. But we are not import-dependent simply because we cannot produce, but mostly because we have been conditioned to denigrate that which is homegrown. We bestow superiority on whatever comes from outside our shores to our own detriment. The average Nigerian youth is an encyclopedic authority on the most expensive designers of clothing from the Western world. Names like Gucci, Prada, T.M. Lewin, Versace, Louis Vuiton, Piere Cardin, Atmosphere, Calvin Klein, True Religion, etc., are household names in Nigeria as the army of our unemployed youth, together with those who are in some employment, be they white-collar or blue-collar, would rather spend a fortune to procure such products from countries which our leaders visit endlessly, in search of Foreign Direct Investments. How can we reasonably bemoan our employment situation when it is self-inflicted? Do we really expect factories to spring up in every nook and cranny of Nigeria when we are subsumed in the patronage of offshore factories which is tantamount to subsidizing the foreign economies at the expense of our stagnated, if not degenerative economy? So, without much ado, we must rein in our obsession for foreign products, particularly for those for which we have locally produced alternatives. What sense is there to believe we are “cool”, only when we are robed in attires that are shipped from overseas? What has happened to our distinct pride in our cultural heritage? Even if we must look foreign in our appearances, is there anything stopping us from utilizing the untapped potentials that Nigeria avails us? We shall return to this foreign based consumerist disposition, another time.

We have a society that celebrates needless ostentation in the midst of excruciating poverty. Someone is bereaved following the death of a family member, and while you would naturally expect some period of solemn sobriety, and a funeral that is reflective of same; what you find is the frittering away of humongous resources in a bid to make a statement to onlookers and people who mostly do not really care, that this or that burial ceremony, was the talk of the town. As if it is not enough to have lost a family member to death, many a man is made to literally empty his bank account. Thus, when you see someone in a sorrowful mood following the death of a relative, the likelihood is that the person is not only mourning the demise of the departed, but mainly mourning an imminent depletion of his resources. Where is the economics in that? What about wedding ceremonies? Aha! Another socially necessary evil, some would say. One wonders how many societies contract the number of wedding ceremonies that a single couple is made to go through in Nigeria. There is the traditional, white, and registry or court wedding. The issue here is, how many weddings are contracted by the very Westerners who we so much seek to fashion our lives after? What about the shameless practice of families practically selling off their daughters in the name of lists for the would-be groom? You have the father’s list, the mother’s list, and these days I hear the youths also have their own list in some communities. What we have done is to over emphasize the ceremony for the benefit of fulfilling that social requirement, and undermined the actual success of the marriage itself. Where is the economics in all of these?

What about the herd-like following that the English Premiership football commands in these parts? Have we considered the man-hours, energy, and finances that we deploy to satiate and further our craze for foreign products? Of course, some of us young people would be quick to respond that the Nigerian League is a mess, and as such, it is natural that our appetites be satiated elsewhere. The question is: do you disown your mother because she is physically challenged, or disabled? Do you abandon your village because the condition of living of its inhabitants is tough? If we don’t fix that which we have, who would fix it for us? If Premiership football has become a global brand, is it not because the stakeholders in England did what they needed to do? Would we be watching the Premiership, if Britons had abandoned their football league, and sought succour in the sport in some foreign land? Is it not then shameful, if not utterly reprehensible, that Nigerian political leaders would clad themselves in jerseys of foreign football clubs, and board private jets out of the country to go watch football in some foreign lands? Is it impossible, if they truly love the sport, and are patriotic, to work towards raising the standard of the game in their domains?

Recently, I got some broadcast on blackberry about an impending increase in tariffs by DSTV, the South African Cable TV operator. Users were required to boycott DSTV services. The posers raised by some discerning minds were for the proponents of the boycott to show the credible alternatives. More so, when the rates in Nigeria were said to be exploitative compared to that in South Africa from where DSTV made its entrance to Nigeria; the question was: why were Nigerians not providing something to better the services of DSTV?

Being the information age, it is understandable that there is an unprecedented craze for all sorts of Information Technology and telecommunication gadgets. Our youth should not be left behind. What we are able to do with the instant access to information at a moment’s notice, is another matter. What is somewhat worrisome is when you find young men and women whose fathers are certainly not the Dangotes, Adenugas, and Bill Gates of this world; and who have no known credible source of income, clutching 2 blackberry phones, an iPhone, an iPad, and a laptop computer, at the same time. As some would say in the streets: how can someone be living a fried rice life on a “mama-put” income? The question is simple, what is the economics in that? If we take a cursory look around our homes and offices, how many of the gadgets and household furniture contained therein, were made in Nigeria?

Okay, enough of the foregoing.

What constitutes “groove” for some young Nigerians these days, is a life that is centered on alcohol, smoking, sex, and “clubbing”, amongst others. Without demonizing any of the above, let’s evaluate, not just the monetary economics, but also the medical and spiritual economics of these lifestyle practices. More often than not, we are wont to hear and see the phrase: “Thank God it’s Friday”, TGIF. Once this phrase invades our consciousness, what comes to mind for some, is a weekend of clubbing; a euphemism of sorts for unlimited exposure to tobacco smoke, excessive alcohol, and you know what. Whereas alcohol and tobacco have been certified to be injurious to health, what amazes one is that in the name of grooving, we are willing to spend fortunes to procure the Hennesseys, Vodkas, Martels, etc. at exorbitant rates. In one fell swoop, we undermine our financial, medical, and spiritual economics. Why? Because some of us just want to belong. We want to show that we got class!

Now that we are at it, we must not forget the imperialist cum colonialist branding of locally produced spirit/gin as illicit gin, during the colonial era. What we had was undermined and rubbished by foreigners who wanted to promote the export of their own products. That was understandable. What is not, however, is when we continue to look down on all things Nigerian, several years after the Colonialists left. In this regard, one must laud the Nigerian Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, for promoting Nigerian fashion through her dressing. What one cannot say is whether the fabric of her clothing is actually made in Nigeria. The Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, is also deserving of praise for his simplicity and “Africanness”, in this regard.

It is an axiom that, “if everyone sweeps his portion of land, the whole earth would be clean”. So also is it a given, that if every Nigerian thinks Nigeria in his social constructs, and aims to further the socioeconomic growth and progress of the country, the long awaited, but yet elusive, positive change, would be within reach. We must know that it is incumbent upon us, and not any foreigner, to define what is cool and what is not. We have to look inward and build upon what we have so that Nigeria can as well be a global destination for business and tourist concerns. If we claim that Colonialism ended with the attainment of political independence in 1960, we should show that it has actually ended, through a rejection of Neocolonialism in all its colorations.

The writer is @efewanogho on twitter.

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