By Muyiwa Adetiba
The economic stats for Nigeria haven’t been good for quite a while and the consequent quality of life of an average Nigerian has been on the decline. The situation predated this administration.
In fact, arresting the societal rot and improving the quality of life and living were among the campaign issues of this administration.
Unfortunately, while there have been positive gestures towards the provision of infrastructure, very few Nigerians can honestly say the quality of their lives has improved in the last few years. Whatever we had economically as a country was worsened last year by the lockdown. The stats are grim today and no amount of sugar coating can alter that fact.
According to World Bank report, the inflation rate as at April this year was the highest in four years with food prices accounting for over sixty per cent of the inflation. In other words, we are inching towards food scarcity. And contrary to what the President told us in his Democracy Day speech that over ten million Nigerians have been lifted off the poverty hole, the World Bank report said over twenty million Nigerians have actually sunk further into poverty – thanks to inflation, insecurity and currency devaluation. If you are in doubt as to what or whom to believe, just venture out and you will see poverty walking the streets and want dwelling in homes.
The economic situation affects all Nigerians in varying ways, the more vulnerable being single parents – especially females –the unemployed and the elderly. Today, I want to talk about people my generation because I see them, I feel them, I am of them. Mine is part of the generations which grew up in a relatively easy country. We found jobs almost immediately we left school. We subsequently got car loans, got decent accommodation and got married almost in that order. Many of these were accomplished before age thirty.
Those who went abroad did so because the four or five universities at the time couldn’t absorb them. Many came back almost immediately after their studies. We also met-and cherished – a value system where children took care of their aged parents as soon as they could. In fact, many took the responsibility of training younger siblings off their parents as soon as they got jobs.We were to become the first generation to take care of both our parents and our children while still in middle age.
The gradual decline in educationbecame serious when government took over secondary education. Members of my generation responded by investing heavily in private schools just to get something commensurate with what they had. When university lecturers’ strikes became incessant and almost paralysed tertiary education, they again invested in foreign education to get a commensurate education for their off-springs. That unfortunately, has led to the beginning of their problems. Many of their children did not come back because there was no job to come to. Those who came back soon took off for the same reason. A sizeable number of them have married foreigners and have deliberately or inadvertently burnt their bridges. Now, the ones who studied in Nigeria have joined them in the search for greener pastures. Even those who have jobs, relatively decent jobs, are leaving in droves. They look at the economic, educational and social situations in the country; they look at security; they observe the attitude of their leaders to these problems and opt to vote with their feet. Whatever reason they give for checking out – professional fulfilment, positioning their children for tomorrow’s labour market, or simply survival – the inescapable fact is that they will not be around their parents in their old age. A prayer of the Psalmist in the Bible is that one’s children and grandchildren would surround one’s table in old age. It is not a prayer that people of my generation will take for granted anymore. A friend died a fortnight ago. None of his four children was in the country. None to hold his hands as he breathed his last. He died pretty much as he had lived in the last decade of his life, alone. Even hospitalisation arrangement had to be made by an ‘adopted son’. It is not the way to go. But it might be the way of many if the prevailing situations in the country that are sending our young ones out are not addressed.
Added to this emotional burden is the economic burden. Whatever those of my generation got five, ten years ago by way of pension or gratuity has been rendered almost useless today by devaluation and inflation. I know an ex-banker who had to leave his house in Dolphin Estate Ikoyi for the mainland so he could let it out to put food on the table. This was a house his bank helped him get during his high flying days. Many have moved out of their houses for similar economic reasons. Many have had to let out parts of buildings that housed their failed businesses to service loans. Now the Lagos State Government sees the houses as commercial and charge accordingly irrespective of whether rents are paid regularly or not.
What policies do the Governments – State and Federal- have for those whose active days are over? Many have been self-employed all their lives and have little investments beyond their children who have now flown the nest. Many countries develop health, food, accommodation and transportation policies for their elders. Here, we are developing ways to tax whatever investmensts they have made for raining days without offering any benefit. So rather than alleviate their economic and emotional situation, we are worsening it. Other countries are seeking ways to make people look forward to retirement and old age. Here, we seem determined to make people dread getting old. The buffer we used to have in our children has thinned out -they have their own economic dragons to slay. Many are not around in any case. Government should introduce new buffers. Being old should not be a curse.