Greet an average Nigerian bread winner and mention the forced stay at home due to the partial lockdown and you will receive replies laden with lamentation regarding how the situation has made him or her poorer. It is a sad reality that majority of Nigerians are beginning to open up on the reality of citizen’s poverty.
But for poverty, majority of the people should not be lamenting excessively about being lockdown for fourteen days in order for a rampaging virus which kills in the thousands, and if allowed in the millions, to be properly contained. For a people who will spend loads of money on clothes, shoes and handbags, wristwatches, canopies, drinks and an assortment of foods for weddings, burials and ‘house warming,’ we should not be this poor.
In fact, it has become obvious that financial illiteracy is a citizens’ companion in Nigeria. Were this not so, no Nigerian breadwinner who has saved for one milestone event or the other should lack savings to fall back to, or a financial cushion that will prevent him or her from desperately looking for work to do during a lockdown occasioned by the Covid-19 disease.
Obviously, the citizen is like the nation’s leadership that has continued to play toss with Nigeria’s foreign reserves. The fact that Nigeria’s wealth has been pillaged and mismanaged over the years and that it has had an effect on the tendency of the citizen to as well be insolvent, at a most trying time in our nation’s history is telling. Even before the arrival of the Coronavirus, in many homes the hunger virus has not only visited but has become a resident! Many who now see the hunger virus in their wardrobes, pantries and pockets should reasonably remember when they were responding to the eulogies of a musician, or other vain titillation and excitedly sprayed wads in self-celebration. A reality check will let us realise how insincere we are to ourselves as a people.
Decades ago, wealth building was done steadily. People’s rise were measurable by members of their community and family. But now sudden ‘wealth’ or pretence to wealth is unquestioned and celebrated. Our values have taken the back seat and even when thieves of our patrimony are caught for the law to take its course, some people encourage these thieves to spend of what they have stolen, to defend themselves, so they can go home and enjoy the remaining spoils. Therein lies an example of the erosion of our values.
There are those who are genuinely dependent on daily wages and it is correct for the government to supply some succour. But this is a trying approach for a nation which has not mastered the art and science of conducting unbiased censuses. To this day, we do not know exactly how many we are and how many are really poor and in dire need. Second hand statistics, like the number of subscribers to telecommunication services and how many are on the BVN platform, may be a sort of starting point but they cannot replace a proper process of capturing and knowing exactly how many Nigerians there are.
The point is this; knowing how many we are tells us exactly how many are poor. Mind you poverty is not limited by definition to lack of money. Lack of access to information, lack of access to social and financial services, and lack of access to security and financial literacy services are also forms of poverty.
This pandemic, just like all the ones before it across the globe, will pass. And with its passing certain lessons will have to be learnt. One great lesson we should imbibe is frugality and saving for the rainy day. It is a lesson that both nation and citizen must imbibe. The excuse of a ‘Hunger Virus’ preventing people from obeying a federal government stay-at-home order will resurface again should another reason for same relaunch in the future. And to be caught on the flat foot on this would make all of us look foolish.
The way out is a deliberate plan to teach financial literacy and life lessons to all who go through the schooling system, professional training and vocations. That way, a following that asks the proper financial questions and a leadership that plans for the future will synergise.