So, finally we are in a recession. For common Nigerians, that is just a big word. All they see is the hard life that many of us frankly have been dealing with for many years now: dwindling resources, unemployment and frustrations of all type. What is a recession? How is it different from a depression? Well, for many of us, all a recession means is increased suffering and the cost of goods and services in the country. The ordinary man measures the growth of the economy or lack of it by his or her purchasing power. Not for us, the high sounding figures and statistics couched in certain Bretton Woods-laden concepts. And after all the graphs, numbers and charts, the common man is more worried about kerosene, maize and maggi. At the end, it is not about GDPs and what not. No, it is about hospitable bills, rent, transport, security and a bit of the good life. Each time the experts advance rationale for why we are in the rut, we only feel the pains of guinea pigs in a lab: how in the world do you explain to those poor creatures that their sacrifice is worth anything? And no matter how well phrased the grammar is; and how foreign accented the voice is, in the long run there is always the issues of three square meals, health care, clothes on the back and a decent roof on the head. Charts, statistics and theories might be the play things of the experts but real people worry about the next meal, the money in their pockets and the markets they go to everyday.
And they are looking up to my sister, the British trained minister of finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun for answers. They couldn’t be bothered about her weave-on, fantastic dress sense and fine diction; they want to know if she can deliver. Now, I have never met her but I can imagine the delusions she is having over the economy. I imagine that she is probably spared the horrors of seeing the miseries in my backyard here at Marraraba and Nyanya as she drives to work. Because living in the posh places in town, she drives to work daily seeing sleek cars on the road, good, healthy looking people, and plush offices with smartly dressed staff; it is possible for anyone to lose sight of reality given these circumstances. But then Kemi Adeosun is a home girl it appears. She was a commissioner at one time and must therefore understand the plight of the common man in her native Ogun states from where she found herself in these giddying heights. Commissioners by calling are not so removed from reality as some people perceived. In most state capitals they live with the residents. Those lucky to be in the commissioners’ quarters also find time to go across town to meet with relatives and constituents. So, yes, Mrs. Adeosun probably wasn’t far removed from the daily grind of average Nigerians. But becoming a minister must be something else. I have heard people worrying about Kemi’s preparation for this job. A commissioner of finance in many states is not really in charge of policies as the civil servants actually do that. In some states, they are overshadowed by a super stakeholder who directs everything. When that happens, they are turned into errand boys and girls who come to Abuja to sign and collect the monthly fat cheques. They take the cheque back home and are dutifully told how to begin the sharing. After this, they fade into the background again and wait for the next sharing day. But Kemi Adeosun probably had the opportunity to do more than this at the state level. Yet, there is no comparison between her and her predecessor who she probably revered in the past. The formidable Dr. Nkonjo Iweala was and still is a reference point when it comes to these matters. Even though many have argued that she was also part of the problem having not mustered the political will to save up when oil prices were up. Those looking for a good excuse for why things are stagnated like to point to this as a major reason why Kemi is having sleepless nights. They note that if Nkonjo Iweala and her team had saved up enough money, we won’t be in the quandary we are in. However, critics of Mrs. Adeosun don’t ever give up insisting that she is just not ready for the challenge of the economy spiralling out of control. And by expressing doubt in her abilities, they distract the good woman from her destiny. Her traducers would like to see an Iweala-type running the show. Others say the thing to do is for an economic team to be constituted. And with the President’s chief adviser on the economy passing away last week, many just saw the symbolism in it: that the economy is finally gone. Well may be it is not that bad yet.
We are not exactly in the kind of recession a country like Venezuela finds itself. We are not in queues waiting for hand-outs yet, but cases of people stealing pots of soup off the stoves are increasing. A family couldn’t afford drugs the other day and the baby died. One man hung himself in Plateau state. Then pictures emerged the day of some residents stealing bags of poisonous maize in Katsina state (do you recognise that state?). They would rather eat deadly food than die of hunger. It is the devil alternatives. Either way they were going to die anyway. In one compound, neighbours decided to pool their food supply together to avoid shortage. A bad guy did away with the collection and locked up his house. His co-tenants didn’t even bother to call in the police. A woman gave her son away as collateral the other day. A man beat up his wife and left home to go literally hug a transformer. One of our friends concluded plans to marry an older rich widow as his way of escaping hardship. We told him he was going to be in bondage for the rest of his life but he replied that he was already in captivity and that it couldn’t get tougher than it is already. I have friends that have taken to taxi businesses; one sold his cars; the other gave up his house for pittance. Nigerians are daily making adjustments they never believed they could make.
We are not on food lines yet because Nigerians are resilient people. They wake up each day hustling for food and money. We are not a lazy people, so we find work in places people can’t imagine. An enterprising mother would fry akara in the morning. Along the way, she would add pap (akamu) to it and gradually move into cooking rice and stew. The proceeds would pay for health and schools needs. Our youngsters are creating new jobs everyday: phone repairs, phone charging, barbing saloons, selling recharge cards, graphic designs, printing, shoe making, carving, painting, book selling, MCing, DJing, music, sports, and just about any legitimate means of making ends meet. Sometimes all they want from their government are the things beyond them: security, electricity, small loans, fuel, good roads and favourable policies that would make their dreams come true. With light, the boys running barbing saloons don’t really need any government job. Many of our women just need some space to sell their creative wares; they don’t need any government jobs. Many young people have finally grasped it: that their certificate won’t get them a meal and so have decided to embrace reality. Just a tiny support from government would make a world of difference. The most heart-breaking one is when I see police men chasing away hawkers. Okay, so first you have no jobs for these people. They eventually become creative and start a business without any loans from any bank. You then come and chase them away, confiscating their small ware with which they are patching up their tattered lives. So what are the alternatives you have for them? These are the 95 per cent who are not impressed by the weave-on and good diction obtained from a British scholarship. They just want to live and have a slice of the Nigerian dream too.