The Igbo of South-eastern Nigeria have a saying that if you want to understand the severity of the illness that befell the monkey, all you have to do is look at the mouth of its brother the baboon that blew the fire for it while it was on a sickbed.
By the same token, if you want to understand how sick the Nigerian economy is, just buy a N50 Gala sausage roll. Take a close look at your little finger and you may well have seen the current size of this widely-consumed sausage roll, and other brands like it. Someone says it’s suffering from kwashiokor.
To be fair, the makers are not to blame. They are merely responding to the economic exigencies of the time.
“This economic recession has affected us in so many ways, especially with profitability. Cost of production has gone up. Our N50 gala is now smaller because consumers say they must pay N50. To remain in the market, we had to reduce the size of our sausage roll,” Joan Ihekwaba, general marketing manager, UAC Foods Limited, said in October.
But it is not only sausage rolls that are affected. 60cl PET bottles of Coke, Fanta, Sprite, Mirinda, 7up, Pepsi, Teem Bitter Lemon, etc have all disappeared, replaced by 50cl bottles. Likewise, Beloxxi crackers biscuit now has two sticks in a pack instead of four; Parle-G glucose biscuit has nine sticks instead of 12; Newbisco coasters biscuit has four sticks instead of five; Nasco biscuit has reduced its 50g digestive biscuit to 48g. The list is endless.
In worship places, despite the best of efforts of preachers, the offering boxes are no longer filling up.
In education, it’s a mixed experience. One thing is clear, though: many private schools are struggling. Some parents are withdrawing their children from private schools, where the fees are exorbitant, to more affordable ones, while some others are heading straight to public schools. The adversely affected ones have kept their children at home pending when situation improves. But private universities are gaining as many parents whose children are studying in universities abroad can no longer afford to pay dollar-denominated school fees with a weakened naira. As such, their children are returning to mostly Nigerian private universities.
To assist parents in paying their children’s school fees, commercial banks have structured some loan packages. Diamond Bank offers Diamond School Fees Loan of up to N2m at a discounted interest of 19 percent p.a. GTBank asks parents to take advantage of the GTBank Back-To-School package, namely, paying “your child’s school fees using your Naira Mastercard and GTCollection platform”; “Smart Kids Save Account, a flexible savings account designed for children between 0 and 17 with high interest rates”; and “GTBank School Fees Advance”, which gives you access to “competitive credit to help pay tuition fees for your children up to 3 times a year”.
There are many others like this. And they all sound great. But the challenge is not in getting the loan, it is in paying back. Some parents with strong earning capacity may go for it because they can easily pay back if the repayment plan is really as “convenient” as presented. But many won’t, the simple reason being that their income cannot sustain any repayment plan, no matter how magnanimously structured, and there are several other needs begging for attention. And those who have lost their jobs, or those who are not even sure of the job they have, how can they pay back?
In housing, those who know say occupants of residential houses in many highbrow areas are vacating to low-priced areas, mounting immense pressure on these “poor man’s” areas.
In urban markets, many traders are changing their lines of business or shutting down outright. Many importers can’t import again. Where is the dollar? Many families have run away from trouble by simply relocating to the village. Some who travelled home for the Christmas and New Year celebrations haven’t returned to the city. Are you waiting for them to come back? Pipedream. They have left your city for good. Life is cheaper in the village.
So, never mind that bushes are still being cleared and people are digging the ground to plant blocks like seeds that germinate into magnificent mansions. The other day someone drew my attention to the new buildings that are springing up in the Lekki-Ajah axis of Lagos, despite the biting economic hardship. Never mind that.
Also, never mind that car dealers haven’t all closed shop and cars are still being bought; never mind that airlines are still in operation and still enjoying patronage – never mind all that. Even in a recession, there will still be pockets of prosperity here and there; some people will still make money, but that’s an insignificant percentage. The generality of Nigerian masses are wallowing in the pit of hell.
And while this is happening, the country is adrift, with no sense of direction. Nigerians are speculative about the whereabouts and true state of health of their president. The rumour mill is booming. Some say dead, others say alive. No evidence to prove either. The man in the eye of the storm is dead silent. No word. Among his men, there seems to be an oath of secrecy. When they open their mouths, it’s to pour shit on suffering Nigerians, in their characteristic devil-may-care manner. After all, what will the masses do?
We hear Northern elders and politicians are in secret meetings. Is this true? We don’t know. If so, to what end? We don’t know. But there’s apprehension. It’s déjà vu. Everyone remembers the Yar’Adua saga – that obnoxious tale of an ambitious wife, a scheming cabal and an ailing president. And innuendoes are flying about.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Niger, two brother governors are locking horns, dragging each other’s name in the mud. One has a verifiable track record of performance, both in and outside of government; the other, a perennial debtor to civil servants and pensioners, makes empty boasts about how he was a billionaire before coming to power. But my question is this: the Biafra we seek, is this how we will live in it?