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Saturday, 21 September 2013

Nigeria: A Haven of the Ostentatious and the Wasteful? By Ikechukwu Mbachu


Ikechukwu Mbachu
One of the curses nature imposed on Nigeria is that of abundance of resources. Like the saying goes “too much of everything is bad.” Nature deemed it fit to “overbless” Nigeria with resources and Nigerians in a spectacular fashion have turned the blessing into a curse. In terms of natural resources, few nations in the world are as endowed as Nigeria yet Nigeria is still waddling in the abyss of underdevelopment.
Inarguably there is a variety of factors responsible for our economic woes in Nigeria, but two major precipitants most people tends to overlook is the ostentatious lifestyle of some Nigerians and the general culture of waste prevailing in Nigeria. Take a cursory look at the major streets of Nigeria, to the discerning one thing should be clear, there is too much waste and showoff in the land.
In Nigeria, we astoundingly and astonishingly fritter away so much of our resources that one begins to wonder if the concept of saving and judicious use of resources means anything to Nigerians. We waste all kinds of resources in Nigeria, no kind of resource in Nigeria is spared of wastage! None! Economic resource, human resource, intellectual resource, water resource etc is perennially wasted in Nigeria with no thought for the morrow. The perplexing part is that we don’t just waste, it now seems like we are now exalting the culture of waste. The present culture of wastage cuts across all segments and strata of the society and knows no boundaries.
Permit me to give an account of the experience I had one time in Nigeria, I stayed the night in a friend’s house and in the morning when we were about to leave, I noticed he didn’t bother to switch off the light bulbs in his house. I thought he probably forgot to put them off since we were in a hurry and tried to remind him to turn off the lights. To my utter amazement, he told me he doesn’t care, matter of fact he liked leaving his light bulbs switched on. I asked him if that was not a waste of resources, he answered curtly and sarcastically, what resources? I said natural resources. He told me he doesn’t know what I am talking about and if he could, he would leave the all lights in his apartment on perpetually. He then added for full effect “Na light when we no dey even see at all naim you dey worry me make I save, I no dey save anything.” Although I perfectly understood his frustration with the epileptic power supply in his area, I tried to make him see that he may just be part of the problem with his imprudent and wasteful use of scarce power. He stood his ground that he didn’t care much about my sermon on judicious use of resources.
I left his place slightly sad because I know my friend’s mindset is not an exception, rather it is the norm. Most people in Nigeria don’t care about conservation and prudent use of resources. But there is no way we can progress as a nation if we continue on this road of waste.
Most of the great economies achieved greatness by a simple economic strategy. They made it a necessity to conserve their resources and consume less than they produce. In Nigeria the reverse is the case; we consume far more than we produce. As a country we spend more than we earn and this reflects in our constant annual deficit budget. The sad thing is that most of the wasted resources do not go to satisfy the basic needs of the people, but it’s simply used to feed the ever burgeoning avarice of the rich.
Government official are most guilty. Daily, we are regaled with stories of how poor Nigeria is by government officials and how Nigerians should adjust their belts yet the same government officials live like Arabian royalties, like we have all the money in the world. They fly out of the country at the slightest whim and when they travel, they don’t do economy or business class, they do first class.
They lodge in six star hotels, they collect hefty estacodes, they are paid all sorts of allowance and salaries that is clearly not commensurate with the services they give Nigerians.
In reality, the rot really starts from the “oga at the top” who spends almost one billion naira on food yearly when more than 70% of his countrymen lives on less than $2 per day. Only “oga at the top” reportedly has a fleet of 12 airplanes, while the nation as a whole cannot boast of even one jet. What kind of lopsided allocation of resource is that?
On their part, our governors are the culprit-in-chief of wanton waste of resources. From their conduct, it is apparent that these guys are so separated from reality, the reality of excruciating poverty in the land, the reality of so many destitute and desperadoes in the land. A single word that is lacking in the dictionary of all the governors is modesty. From their offices which looks like palaces of sheikhs to their convoys which will make some presidents in Europe go green with envy, to their jets, everything about them screams waste of public fund! The other day I heard a governor moaning about the seizure of his jet as if it was his breathe that was seized. Amazingly, so many Nigerians even joined in the hullabaloo, they raved and raved, yet no one asked if the dividends of democracy have trickled to all parts of the state that the governor now felt justified to indulge himself in the luxury of owning private jet.
Truth of the matter is going by our economic situation NO governor deserves to own a jet in any guise. There are states in Europe, Asia and America which are ten times richer than the states of the jet-cruising governors, yet these guys do not own jets, some of them them even resort to using public transport when the occasion calls for it.
I once saw the convoy of a Chancellor in Europe which comprised of a grand total of four cars, amazingly the convoy cruised past me without any fanfare. If someone didn’t tell me, there is no way in the world I would have known that the leader of one of the richest economies in Europe and the world just passed me. Compare this with the typical Nigerian governor, who moves in convoys of up to 35 cars. As for “oga and madam at the top” don’t even go there! Why should a governor waste such much resource in a land as poor as Nigeria? Let’s not even talk about the cost of maintenance, lets just concentrate on the cost of fueling those fuel-guzzling jeeps in the governors’ convoys. Is this how to build an economy? By wasting so much for nothing? I see the “Governojets” I weep! In just one geopolitical region, three governors reportedly own private jets, yet the states which they govern continue to wallow in squalor.
The Nigerian lawmakers, who are some of the highest paid lawmakers in the world, are in a class of their own when it comes to wasting resources. Recently it was reported that 34 members of the senate have not sponsored any bill for the entire duration of their stay in the senate. What a horrendous waste of resources! What the heck are they in the senate for? For sightseeing or to collect allowances?
The Nigerian dollar billionaire and millionaire, especially the nouveau riche, are not left out in this malaise. They spend outrageous sums of money trying to outdo themselves in their petty game of opulence.
From the way they squander money on acquiring expensive toys like airplanes, yachts, it doesn’t take much arithmetic to discern the fact that most of these guys flaunting their obnoxious wealth did not work hard for their money. From the oil subsidy thieves, the politics-made millionaire to the jet cruising pastors, most of them can afford to lavish money because they never worked hard for the money. Nigeria has the highest number of private jets in Africa. The question then arise: Why should Nigeria have the highest number of private jets in Africa? Is it that we have become too rich or what? Surely the increasing number of jets is not indicative of economic growth or development, rather it is an evidence of mis-allocation of resources. It is indicative of the fact that the commonwealth of the nation is been diverted into a few hands at the top.
Take a long look at Nigerian cities; the mishmash is befuddling. On the one hand you see sheer opulence and at the other there is excruciating poverty. Nigerian cities can best be described as a paradox. Only in Nigeria can you see owners of expensive machines like Porsche, Bentleys, Pontiac and others driving nonchalantly past a sea of desperately poor hawkers, beggars and destitute on the death traps we call roads in Nigeria without any care in the world. The kind of exotic cars you see on some Nigerian roads makes one begin to wonder where all the money is coming from, The same land where the minimum wage is eighteen thousand naira. Yet there are so many expensive cars struggling for space on Nigerian roads. Certainly these cars do not belong to the hoi polloi or masses, it belongs to the “big big Ogas at the top” who corner the wealth meant for the people. If this is not evidence of chronic corruption in the land, then I wonder what is.
Truth is the so called average Nigerian big man spends a little too much on luxury goods, no wonder branches of many luxury goods companies are sprouting up in Nigeria daily. Recently it was reported that Nigeria has the second highest growing champagne market in the world. This is the same country where 63% live on less than a dollar a day. Who are those buying these jets? Who are those drinking these champagne? Who are those driving all the expensive cars? How many are they? How can a few set of people hijack the resources of the country for the sole purpose of satisfying their ostentatious greed?
The unfortunate thing is the government regards this wastefulness as a sign of economic growth, it is not! It is simply “a bubble or burst economy” and from the way we are heading we will most likely burst, because our consumption is hinged on oil, nothing more! Elementary economics dictates that you don’t grow by consumption only, you need to think manufacturing.
Most Nigerians are plagued with a disease economists call conspicuous consumption, that is the need to to consume resources not because it is really needed but just to show off. We see manifestation of these traits every day, Our governors are buying jets, our musician are flouting wealth, the pastors and religious leaders are not left out, they are buying jets left and right as if jet is going out of the market tomorrow.
The danger with conspicuous consumption is that it easily leads to greed and thievery. A man who is contented does not need to steal. The corruption we see in Nigeria is a direct result of our need to impress each other with frivolities. At the end, it becomes a brutish rat race, a race of survival of the fittest. But are we really surviving. How can so few people be rich in an ocean of poverty?
The craze for ostentatious living in Nigeria is boosted, accentuated and promoted by the modern day Nigerian musician. The modern day Nigerian musicians and entertainers have taken outlandish and ostentatious lifestyle to another level. For the contemporary Nigerian musician, no song is complete without mention of how much he has in his bank account, and how many cars he has. All they sing about is “my pocket and your pocket no be mate” “I don hammer” “maga don pay” “I don make am.” Listening to these new kids on the block and the way they glorify money, you don’t need to wonder why our youths are so crazy about making it and making it big, no matter how they make it.
It is time to cut our coat according to our cloth, as a people and as a government. We can’t continue living only for today, we have to think about tomorrow. For us to take the giant leap out of poverty, sacrifices have to be made. There is an urgent need for resources conservation, be it time, natural resource, economic resources, human resource, energy etc. It is imperative to block all the loopholes of wastage in Nigeria, starting from “Oga at the top” to the “madam at the bottom”. For us to get out the the poverty conundrum, there has to be a reorientation, people need to be reminded of the need to conserve resources. The rich people on their part need to understand that a tree cannot make a forest. One rich man cannot make a nation except he spreads his wealth.
In conclusion, it behooves on the president to show the way. He has to start by letting government officials know that governance is not an opportunity to loot or show off. He should start from himself, and do away with all the extraneous luxuries he is currently enjoying. He should borrow a leaf from the late Burkinabe hero, Thomas Sankara, who personally lived a very frugal life as a head of state and introduced sweeping changes and ordered all his officials to jettison all their luxurious lifestyle for a modest one. If he cannot emulate Sankara because he is dead, he should take a cue from that model of modesty, the Uruguayan president, who lives in a ramshackle house and donates 90% of his salary to the poor in his country.
Finally, the truth is that only when Nigerians learn to manage our resources in a frugal and proper manner will Nigeria get out of the poverty conundrum.

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