Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Decent living in Nigeria’s recessed economy

It is no longer news that Nigeria’s economy is in recession. Austerity measures are now trending at both personal and corporate levels. Growth is shrinking; inflation is now officially 17.1 per cent; interest rate on lending is in double digits; unemployment soars and poverty deepens. A time like this calls for introspection and retrospection. At a personal level, I have been “restructuring”. As my disposable income becomes lean, I have had to adjust my lifestyle accordingly. No more expensive clothes and shoes.   I now cook more and eat out less. Oh, you’re asking why I cook? Well, it’s part of the “restructuring”. Other family members now live in less expensive parts of the country while I alone slug it out in Abuja and retreat frequently to meet the rest of the family in our new home.
Unfortunately, many Nigerians still live in Fantasy Land. They still hold lavish parties and indulge in their excesses, even doing so on credit. There are many who still can’t eat without soft drinks, wine or beer to “wash it down”. There are those who still enroll their children in expensive private schools even though they are heavily indebted to the school management as they perpetually default in payment of school fees and other charges. There are still those trendy guys and ladies who offer arms and legs to buy exotic cars in order to “oppress” their neighbours, friends and relations. These fashionistas can’t dress without perfumes and play the good guy by ensuring that they buy all the “aso ebi” chosen for socials. Sincerely, I do believe that it’s good to be trendy and enjoy the good things of life but only on one condition – if you can afford it!
My point of argument with many people is their inability to curtail their appetite for things they couldn’t afford. Why live in city centres for instance when your income can only get you a decent accommodation in the satellite towns? Why live in a duplex or three-bedroomed flat when your lean income can only conveniently pay for a two-bedroomed or a room and parlour apartment? I live in one of the satellite towns in Abuja and have seen many colleagues and acquaintances paying through their nose in eyebrow areas of Abuja like Maitama, Asokoro, Wuse, Jabi, Utako and Gwarinpa.  Their excuse being that they want to live close to their places of work. Should that be a deciding factor or your purse?
In truth, this austere time calls for change of attitudes, lifestyles and priorities. Hanging on to old values and proclivities is what has landed many couples in troubles, heartaches and depression. Why play the superman or hero when you do not have the financial muscle to back up your presumed status?  Why go into consumptive debts rather than borrowing for investment and productive purposes? Before I relocated my family to their present abode, many years back, I bought a plot of land in a developing area. The land was very cheap then but the area in question had no public electricity supply. I wasn’t so keen on acquiring the land initially because I thought it would take a long time before the area would become cosmopolitan. Wise counsel eventually prevailed and I paid for the property and commenced the development. It took years of savings and loans but to the glory of God, it’s completed now and my family now have a palatial home to live unlike when we were all squeezing ourselves in a two-bedroomed apartment here in Abuja. While the building project was on, I was using a 1998 model of Nissan Sunny which many of my colleagues call taxi.  Well, the car which I called “old faithful” served me well until I disposed it off last year having acquired a better car after the completion of the housing project.
When I see people being disgraced and embarrassed for defaulting on their rent, I take pity on them. At the same time, I wonder why some of them, especially those who are doing private business, insisted on staying put in an expensive environment like Abuja. I know that the illusory attractions to many city centres are the social amenities like good roads, pipe borne water, electricity, modern houses and offices and above all job opportunities. However, what many migrants to the cities do not know or choose to ignore is that there are limited opportunities in the urban centres. I have many curriculum vitaes of friends and relations looking for job in Abuja or anywhere for that matter. Sadly, much as I tried, I have not been able to assist any of them.
It is high time government at all levels worked collaboratively to develop the rural areas in order to stem the deluge of rural-urban migration. The white collar and blue collar jobs many desperate job seekers are angling for are thinning out. Look at the sheer volume of people who applied for the ongoing police recruitment. The same story with those who applied for the 500,000 teaching jobs advertised by the Federal Government. It behooves government to make our rural communities liveable so that many, especially the youths, that are daily flocking to urban centres will stay back to harness their potential in their various communities. If there are good roads, hospitals, schools, security, electricity, potable water, recreational facilities, internet connectivity and cottage industries in many of our rural areas, the inhabitants of these communities will not have the urge to seek a better life in the urban centres.
I recall that during the Babangida administration, he set up Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure under Air Vice Marshal Larry Koiyan. Something of that mould is needed now and urgently too. Dearth of basic amenities is what has been responsible for the rural-urban drift.
With rural electrification, efficient transport system, including rail line and marine transport, it will be easier for rural dwellers to daily commute to town. This will significantly reduce their cost of living and enhance their standard of living. As it is one of the utmost plans of government to diversify the economy, many youths in rural communities can be incentivised to stay back and engage in productive agricultural practice. There have been clamours for the restoration and expansion of farm settlements where government provides the land, accommodation farm implements, seeds and soft loans to young people. This is very important. One other good way government can help develop rural communities is by citing some of its Ministries, Departments and Agencies in developing areas. There is no gainsaying that the citing of the Nigeria Law School and Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board headquarters in the Bwari area of Abuja assisted immensely in opening up that area for rapid development.
Methinks it’s time for sober reflection, adjustment of priorities and living real.
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