By Tessy Igomu
The Mile 2-bound Coaster bus shambled lazily along the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, Lagos, belching smoke from its rear. Moments into the journey, a dark-complexioned man, a pouch secured firmly round his waist, stood up and coughed roughly to attract the attention of the other passengers. He was obviously one of those itinerant traders selling assorted articles to passengers in commercial buses.
He tried to throw banter at those in the bus, but all he got was silence and empty stares. He then wondered aloud in Pidgun English: “Una no dey laugh? Na so recession take hold all of una? Na wa o!”
By the time the bus got to Mile 2, not one passenger had shown any interest in his merchandise. At the Durbar Bus Stop in Mile 2, he slowly climbed down from the bus, shaking his head and muttering some inaudible words.
Lately, the word ‘recession’ has become the commonest refrain on the lips of every Nigerian. From the North to the South, East to the West, sad tales continually issue forth from many Nigerians. Even children can naively capture the meaning of recession and how negatively it has impacted on their wellbeing.
To Buligo, a Basic two pupil, recession simply means that those extra pecks, like visiting fast food joints with his parents every Sunday, have to be temporarily suspended. In all his innocence, he can’t but ask when recession, which he assumes to be a human being, will leave his parents’ house.
“My daddy said recession is in every house and I want him to leave soon,” Buligo mouthed with a pout.
Indeed, hard times have gripped most Nigerians, and many are they that have ‘tightened their belts’ in order to survive the wind of recession that has hit the country with a feverish pitch. The economy, many have maintained, is going from bad to worse, and the purchasing power keeps diminishing.
A crash in the price of oil, the mainstay of the Nigerian economy, and a fall in the value of naira, fuelled inflation and led to the country’s current economic challenges.
According to economic reports, inflation rose from 8.2 per cent in July 2015 to 17.2 per cent in August 2016, with the country’s GDP falling to minus two per cent in the second quarter of 2016.
A major fallout of the development is that presently, feeding for most families has become very difficult, as prices of essential foodstuff keeps skyrocketing. Many are finding it really difficult to meet their financial obligation.
The reality of the situation sinks in more with revealing reports of how families have devised stringent measures to tackle the prevailing situation. While meals are skipped in some homes, some now cook only once in a day. The cooked food will go for breakfast and dinner while lunch is skipped.
To survive, many have withdrawn their wards from expensive private schools and registered them in public schools. Others have cut down on holiday trips and removed ‘luxury meals’ from the family menu.
One of those who recently took the decision to withdraw her children from a highbrow school located in Opebi, Ikeja, Lagos, to a low-paying one in Isolo is Remilekun. The woman, a caterer and beautician, said it would be foolhardy to pay as much as N500, 000, for her two kids in the face of the prevailing economic situation. She further disclosed that of late, her catering business was experiencing a lull, as people no longer hosted parties like before.
For Basil Okafor, a taxi driver at 7&8 bus stop, along Osolo-Way, Ajao Estate, Lagos, the recession is even worse than most people can imagine. The father of four, a former banker, was among those that lost their jobs to the economic meltdown. He stated that to make ends meet, he had to convert his Toyota Sienna into a taxi, adding that he usually joined other commercial vehicles for business every evening. He also said that several things he felt were irrelevant, like having to eat bread and tea daily for breakfast, had to be stopped in his home.
“Recession cost me my job,” he told the reporter. “There are many of us like that here. You will be surprised to see men that were once very successful, bringing out their vehicles in the evenings to pick passengers. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Who would ever believe that someone like me could turn my car to a cab? But this is how far the situation of Nigeria has pushed people like me. People are finding it very difficult to survive. I deal with the public and I hear how passengers lament. From everything I see, famine is gradually setting in.”
Social life thrives
But the current recession doesn’t seem to affect the resolve of Nigerian men to ease off the tension in their minds at beer parlours and pepper soup joints. Many still find life at the bars and pubs very appealing, insisting that such places have the capacity to make them forget their sorrow, albeit momentarily.
For these revellers that consist of young adults, professionals in various fields, football enthusiasts and members of the business class, who want to connect and have a great time over drinks, food and nice music, nothing can stop them from ‘enjoying themselves’. Under the convivial atmosphere provided by alcohol, these men are mostly united in loud arguments, spanning sports, politics, state of the nation and women.
And there seems to be a competition to retain whatever is left of the drinking population. As such, several beer parlours now add other attractions, including free live football matches on cable TV, live bands and comedians to keep retain patronage. Some mount projectors and big-size TV sets to air live matches.
For Ike, the manager of a pub in Onigbongbo, Maryland, Lagos, nothing can ever come between a Nigerian man and his chilled bottle of beer. Although he admitted that there was a little lull in the business, he noted that it was really nothing to worry about.
“Though some people that come around don’t spend like before, they still come out. We have more people visiting, but the purchase is a bit low. I just think Nigerians are learning to spend wisely,” he submitted.
Ike said he was more concerned with devising new ways to survive and flourish in his business by ensuring that those that flock to his joint are served chilled drinks with mouth-watering delicacies.
However, ‘Madam Africa’, a rotund lady that runs a popular pub on Asa-Afariogun Street, Ajao Estate, held a contrary view. To her, there had been a lull in business. She said most of her customers had drastically reduced the number of times they visited. She noted that the number of people that trooped to beer parlours should not deceive anyone, adding that many merely sat down without buying any drinks.
A boom for prostitutes?
According to reports, the Nigerian sex industry is valued at over one billion naira per annum and is a business that always has a way of evolving itself. And in spite of the recession, one business that seems to be enjoying high patronage is prostitution. Rather than dwindle, the business is enjoying a boom, with prostitutes, claiming to be smiling to the banks.
But some prostitutes told the reporter in Lagos that they were still in business because they decided to slash their prices.
Perpetual, a fair complexioned lady from Abia State, who operates at a brothel on Old-Ewu Road in Mafoluku, Lagos, told the reporter that the recession had turned out to be a blessing in disguise for her and some others.
Perpetual informed that many men now visited regularly to unleash their frustration through sex.
“Business is good now. The way these men now come here, you will think that there’s someone somewhere blowing whistle for them,” she said, releasing whiffs of cigarette smoke into the air.
“I have been in this trade for many years, and it was by choice. But now, lots of girls are joining in large numbers because of the bad economic condition. There is no month that we don’t get a new person, coming to join us here. For me, the recession should continue so that I will be smiling to the bank every time.”
Recession and libido
Asked if he still got aroused in the face of the biting economic condition in the country, a tricycle operator promptly retorted: “Body no be stone!”
In his words, the male organs would always carry out their basic duties whenever the need arose. He, however, admitted that the frequency had reduced.
“I don’t play with it o. But you can’t compare it to when things were okay in the country. When I have the urge, I don’t go beyond one round. I need the energy for work,” he noted.
But some others told the reporter that the mere thought of meeting financial obligations could easily kill the libido.
“Does sex put food on the table for your children?” asked Maurice Osobo, a businessman. “It is a lazy man that makes sex so important. I am not saying men don’t have sex again. All I am saying is that no man, under this economic condition will be thinking about sex when there is need to think of how to make money.”
Illicit drugs to the rescue
These days, the use of alcohol and other psychoactive or performance-enhancing drugs has become the order of the day. More people seem to have discovered that the use of drugs like marijuana (cannabis sativa or Igbo), amphetamine, cocaine and heroin might help them forget their problems, even if temporarily.
Of all the drinks relished with these drugs, perhaps, the most lethal and discovered to be in high demand is Paraga, a combination of roots marinated in ethanol and, sometimes, Ogogoro, a locally made alcoholic gin.
Another one is Monkey Tail or Nokia. This is made with leaves and twigs of the cannabis plant and marinated in ethanol. And for those who have found succour in this lethal combination, the attraction remains the price. With as little as N50, getting high actually becomes a reality.
Recession and God
Nigerians are known to be very religious people. And according to the Catholic Archbishop Emeritus of Ibadan, Oyo State, Felix Alaba-Job, what people believed would ordinarily kill Nigerians usually ended up bringing out the best in them.
The cleric noted that recession had brought people closer to God, noting that people now find succour in the house of God than anywhere else.
While agreeing that the economy of the world was in turmoil, he counselled that man must overcome and live through it.
He explained that human beings worked the monetary system of the world to benefit them, thereby tilting wealth into the hands of a few. He said Nigeria was no exception, explaining that the wealth of all was misappropriated by very few and which ended up putting the economy in distress.
Alaba-Job said the world’s monetary system was deceptive. “It’s a system that makes life appear to continue even when things are bad globally,” he noted.
He spoke further: “This makes it impossible for people to know the depth the economy has sunk to because the government still functions even though it has not been able to pay salaries, pensions and allowances for months. You know the repercussion of teachers, teaching on empty stomachs; students won’t get the optimum. The ripple effect is that we end up graduating passive-illiterate graduates.
“This is how bad recession is in all facets. It doesn’t stop people from living in affluence. Unfortunately, economists would say the economy is good. But the ordinary man struggling to make ends meet holds a negative view.
“I believe it is a time for everyone to think of strategies to make life pleasant. But in all, God has assured that he would not leave us. He has also given us assurances of hope. It is now that the church is enjoying an overflow. People are using this time to seek the face of God because they know there is no salvation in any other.”
Austin Okeke, Senior Pastor, Redeeming Life Mission, Festac, insisted that the recession offered a big opportunity for the church to reposition itself in the life of the country and its people. He noted that contrary to expectations, church attendance all over the country, based on reports, had more than doubled. He said of late, his church auditorium was always filled up every Sunday.
“People are retracing their steps to God. It is only in God’s presence that anyone can find succour from all life’s challenges. That is also where you find peace of mind and the unfailing strength,” Okeke said.
Increased mental health in recession
Mental health experts have for long maintained that economic insecurity could have negative impact on an adult mental health. A 2011 review published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry points to increase in suicide, substance abuse and mental health diagnoses associated with economic problems. This is even as studies have established a connection between increases in suicide and suicide attempts in Nigeria, due largely to inability to cope with the economic recession in the country.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), economic recession is expected to produce secondary mental health effects that may increase alcohol and suicide death rates. In the WHO statistics 2012, Nigeria was ranked 102 in incidences of suicide among populations, with an annual figure of 6.5 for every 100, 000 in the population.
A consultant psychologist with Healing Field Neuropsychiatric Centre, Isolo, Matthew Osahon, said ordinarily, the inability to meet one’s financial obligation, especially as a man, was capable of causing depression. He noted that with the economic situation causing strain on people, families and relationships, there was bound to be a rise in mental health disorders.
Osahon noted that even though Nigerians were not disposed to willingly submitting to counselling or getting appointments to see a psychiatric, there were strong reports to suggest an increase in cases of documented depression, suicide, alcoholic addiction, among others. He noted that these were signs of economic depression.
He called for unity and the need for family members to form a supportive shield around one another during this period. He said such would go a long way to reduce undue stress likely to trigger mental illness.