By Ogaga Ifowodo
CAN’T recall now when the apple became the official fruit of Nigeria, announcing its newly begotten status along every main road and at every street corner, stacked one on top of the other in green or red pyramids in trays or on the importation cartons, taking the pride of place in the produce section of every supermarket.
The apple has also staked its claim to our appetite in the more traditional open markets, as I learnt the other day driving past and seeing an apple stand somewhere, it seemed, between the meat and fish stalls at Utako Market in Abuja! A reminder, I suppose, to shoppers not to forget to get their natural vitamins and anti-oxidants which, presumably, only the apple can supply, along with their proteins.
When the apple, a temperate region fruit, began to rule our tropical palates? My guess is the late eighties. Shortly after the Gospel of No-Alternative-to-SAP according to military dictator General Ibrahim Babangida and his finance minister, Olu Falae, had led to capitulation to the IMF/World Bank.
The result was that trade liberalisation and the removal of tariffs, not to mention devaluation of the naira (we are still talking about that today) and cessation of social or human capital spending—in other words, all commonsense measures to protect the domestic economy and the people—came to govern, like an implacable god, every national economic policy.
The goal was clear enough to the imperialist designers of those “conditionalities” and to anyone not wilfully blinded to the truth: to make dependent economies, the postcolonial ones especially, facing acute shortage of foreign exchange to service their debts, become even more dependent by being forced to import just about everything when their national currencies become so weakened they render local industries comatose and unable to compete with the manufacturing giants of Europe, North America and Asia.
The dual devaluation of currency/trade liberalisation condition is a well-laid neo-colonialist trap, set with the bait of the seductive lie of making imports more expensive and exports more competitive, thereby encouraging local industry. Never ever letting out what happens when there is really no local manufacturing capacity worth its name, or that even where it exists in some creaky and inchoate form, it relies almost wholesale on the importation of raw materials, machinery and spare parts, and quite often expatriates too!
All of which means even more pressure on the devalued currency needing more and more bagfuls to exchange for a dollar, the first choice currency of international trade. Causing instant death to many local industries and a slow, painful extinction of the few intrepid ones, as witness the many factories and warehouses that are the primary tithe-collection and miracle-vending acquisition targets for pastorpreneurs (businessmen masquerading as pastors or, according to Christ, wolves in sheep’s clothing).
The metallic or artificial counterpart to the apple as the sign of the capitulation of our economy to neoliberal economics is used or Tokunbo cars. We see them arrayed along every main road and street, and often right in front of the neighbour’s house turned overnight into a used car sale depot. Since brand new vehicles are out of the reach of ordinary citizens, we rejoice to be able to buy a 10-15-year-old tokunbo, and would even go to dedicate it to God with praise and thanksgiving and merriment.
But as with the ubiquitous but harmless looking — indeed, healthful apple — every purchase takes away dollars unseen. Yes, we pay for the apple and the tokunbo car in naira, but the importers do so in dollars. Hence our current value-of-the-naira tragedy. Which would not be the case if only there were an equal exchange of produce, say for every imported red delicious apple we also exported a golden sweet orange.
When the only thing we do substantially export, crude oil, was selling for over one hundred dollars a barrel, and there were enough green-backs to service our acquired tastes, there appeared to be no problem. At any rate, the national economic logic says, import or die! Without a rail-based mass transit programme — not to be confused with transport by minibuses — and with our minds now trained to believe that an imported temperate fruit trumps all of our tropical offerings, what are we to do?
After all, didn’t we learn it in school that an apple a day keeps the doctor away? Was it ever said that an orange or a mango a day does the same wonderful thing? And did anyone tell us that the choice of the apple was arbitrary, being metaphorical, since it could well have been any other temperate fruit: pear, peach, apricot, plum, cherry, blackberry, etc? That the point really was to urge the eating of a fruit a day, and that some would even swear that the kiwi or Chinese gooseberry, not the apple, is the wonder-fruit?
Not to forget the point. We are not keeping the doctor away by importing apples in shiploads. On the contrary, the apple has come to symbolise our complete dependency syndrome, our incurable appetite for what we do not produce. How long before we understand that an apple a day converts our naira to dollars and keeps our money, not the doctor, away? Time to repeat to ourselves everyday: an orange a day keeps the doctor away and our money at home.