The True Meaning of Recession – Reuben Abati
Guardian columnist, Reuben Abati has written an insightful piece on the Nigerian economy which is officially into recession thereby invoking scathing hardship on the people.
Recession is when Nigerians begin to shift the traditional dates for social parties. You know we love parties a lot. Virtually every weekend, there is one party or the other, very loud celebrations where people wear the famous aso ebi, and the Naira becomes a flying object, being thrown all over the place, at the musician, the celebrant, and her friends and family, with so much joy floating in the air, and plates of jolloff rice, eaten half way and left to waste, area boys having their own share of the fun, and Nigerians showing the world that life is indeed for the living.
Sometimes, these parties make no sense: imagine a man throwing a big party to “turn the back” of his great grandfather who died 50 years ago (!) – a great grandfather he never knew, or a lavish party to celebrate the purchase of a second-hand car. Those things are very rare these days. And when some parties are held, the date on the invitation card is during the week: can you imagine being invited to a wedding on a Monday? I have seen that happen. The event was over and done with before 5 p.m. Smart way to save money in a season of recession. There were guests of course, but not the kind of crowd you’d get at a typical Nigerian party on a Friday or Saturday. The celebrants actually confessed they didn’t have the means to feed too many people. That is what recession has done. Nobody boasts anymore about “declaring surplus” – a once-upon-a-time very famous phrase in this country!
Parties are now organised with such strict protocols, it is like trying to access Aso Villa. You would be screened, your bag will be checked, and don’t think it is Boko Haram attack they are afraid of, they just want to be sure you are not gate-crashing, and if you don’t have an invitation card, you would of course be turned back. There are some exceptions of course, where the protocol is a matter of security: particularly at those parties where there would be many VIPs. Nigerian VIPs don’t like to mix with just anybody.
Even if you manage to gatecrash, nobody will attend to you. What operates at parties these days, is a KYG (Know-Your-Guest) system. After sitting down, someone has to identify you as his or her guest. You don’t get served food, unless your host or hostess gives specific instructions. And you can’t drink a carton of beer anymore at your host’s expense! I certainly can’t remember when last I saw anyone getting drunk at other people’s expense at a party. Even close friends of celebrants, the ones who are a bit comfortable, go to parties these days with their own small cooler of drinks. The celebrant will offer you one or two bottles. If you want more than that, the ushers could become hostile or they could tell you pointedly: “drinks have finished.” I have had on one occasion to give the ushers, money to go and get me the drink of my choice. But once upon a time in this country, drinks don’t stop flowing at parties. The host will be so ashamed he or she would order more drinks and apologize to no end.
Recession is when you now read in the newspapers virtually every week about people committing suicide. Nigerians are so fun-loving we were once described as the happiest people on earth. Right now, we will fail the test. Suicide used to be so rare in this country. It was considered impossible. Why would anyone want to kill himself? I used to hear people say: “eba is sweet oh, I can’t come and die” or “life is for the living” or “e go better.” People are not so sure anymore. In the past month, there have been reports about two foreigners doing business in Nigeria who have also committed suicide. Every reported suicide in recent times, has been tied, one way or the other, to the recession in the country. One man had an argument with his wife over school fees and housekeeping money and he went and ended it all. Another man actually left a note saying he had to kill himself because there is too much hardship in the country. Marriages are collapsing. Domestic violence is on the rise.
Recession is when companies are retrenching everyday or closing shop and SMEs are dying. In the last one year, high unemployment figures have been announced. Banks have had to shed weight; the foreign exchange crisis has forced many companies to downsize or abandon Nigeria, investors are taking their funds out of the country, many states of the Federation are so much in distress, they have stopped paying salaries.
Recession is when enjoyment spots that used to be filled up every Friday evening are now empty. Nigerians used to celebrate what they call “Thank God it is Friday.” In Lagos, Friday evenings used to be the boys’ night. Husbands didn’t go home early. These days, husbands go home early and Fridays have become slightly boring. Recession is when prostitutes reduce their charges. I have it on good authority, from those who know, that even prostitutes have had to embrace change. And old girlfriends now demand pension benefits. Recession is when families which used to run the generator 24 hours and boast that their children can’t stand heat, have had to adjust, and run the generator only from 12 midnight, or before.