Are we miserable people?
Some of us were not entirely pleased with it, seeing that we were largely snarling, not smiling owing to the difficulties in the economy and other attendant factors; but the rest of us appreciated the research by the egg heads. It gave us something to chew on as we continue to nurse our negative attitude towards our dear nation.
It is impossible for anyone who has been in any of our major towns and cities for only one week not see some conclusive evidence of how truly happy we are as a people. We celebrate births and deaths with equal gusto. We celebrate appointments, promotions and even retirements. And of course, we celebrate election victories, no matter how crookedly it was secured. We lock up a whole street to enjoy ourselves with ear-shattering music. Ever seen unhappy people do this? I doubt. We have mastered the delicate art of suffering and smiling. Thanks, Fela. We are happy, very happy.
But a few days ago, another egg head waded in with a new global bad news report which shows that Nigerians are among the most miserable people on God’s earth. These egg heads must make up their mind. We are either happy or miserable. We cannot be both at the same time.
Professor Steve Hanke, an economist from John Hopkins University in Baltimore, in God’s own country, is the purveyor of this new bad news. He looked at the misery index in 95 countries and came away with the informed view that Nigeria, the giant of Africa, the oil-rich nation where petro-dollar rains continuously, is the sixth most miserable country in the world.
I know that President Buhari would not find this funny. For nearly four years now, the man has devoted his time and energy to removing those things that make us miserable. The egregious theft of our common wealth by those who are constitutionally in charge of the public treasury. He has put some high profile treasury looters in jail. Many others are on their way there for the simple reason that a corruption deficit would make Nigeria a new and great country.
PDP instantly responded to this bad news dished out by Hanke. Its spokesman, Kola Olognondiya, crowed about this, citing it as evidence that the report had proved them right that under the APC government led by Buhari, the country was rapidly sinking. I do not know the weight of misery and would not know if it is heavy enough to sink a country. But I should like to think that a miserable country may not necessarily be a sinking country.
The misery index, according to Hanke, “was calculated using economic indices including unemployment, inflation and bank lending rates.” He says that the first misery index was devised by Art Okun, an economist, “in the 1960s to provide President Lyndon Johnson with an easily digestible snapshot of the economy.” This has since been modified by other economists since then.
Those of us not tutored in the arcane language of the economists might have some problems with the role of misery index in our lives. We know about poverty and we know that more than a year ago, we displaced India from its comfortable perch as the poverty capital of the world.
So, listen to Hanke and see if this new fangled research finding on or level of misery makes sense to you. He says that his own “modified misery index is the sum of the unemployment, inflation and bank lending rates, minus the percentage change in real GDP per capita. Higher reading on the first three elements are ‘bad’ and make people more miserable. These are offset by a ‘good’ (GDP per capita growth, which is subtracted from the sum of the ‘bads.’
A higher misery index score reflects a higher level of ‘misery,’ and it’s a simple enough metric that a busy president, without time for extensive economic briefings, can understand at a glance.”
I am sure you know what all that means in English. I am surprised that the report ignored the correlation between poverty and the misery index in our country. All things being equal, it should follow, as night the day, that with our country assuming its new position as the poverty capital of the world, we cannot be immune to misery with a consequent high score on the misery index. We are trapped in high poverty and high misery indexes.
The Daily Trust Board of Economists is embarrassed that Nigeria was classified “as the poverty capital of the world.” The chairman of the board, Professor Ode Ojowu, said last week that “the board could not reconcile the ‘successes’ recorded in the agricultural sector with the classification of Nigeria on the poverty index.” But the board found it necessary to advise the president to reduce poverty in the land within one year of his second term in office. It it a challenge the big man cannot ignore.
One of the criteria Hanke used was unemployment. I took a look at our unemployment rate and saw at once that it is the main source of our high score on the misery index. Our unemployment rate as of last year was 23.10 per cent. With our current estimated population of 198 million, it means that about a quarter of the population or over 69 million people are unemployed. Youth employment was 13.41 per cent.
The two most populous countries in the world are China and India. China has a population of 1.386 billion. Its unemployment rate is 4.09 per cent. India, with a population of 1.37 billion, has unemployment rate of 3.6 per cent.
In absolute numbers of the unemployed in both countries would comfortably challenge the population of several African countries put together. But as you can see, our high rate of unemployment has nothing to do with our large population. It has to do with the sins of commission in our economic management over the years. As I always say, the chickens always come home to roost. So, there.
The real shame of where we are on the misery index is that even in Africa, some other relatively less endowed countries are doing much better than ours in ensuring that their citizens do not pound the pavements and wear their cheap shoes in search of jobs.
The unemployment rate in Niger Republic next door is 0.3 per cent and Rwanda has 0.9 per cent. The bad cases on the continent, in addition to Nigeria, are: Swaziland, 26 per cent and Mozambique, 25 per cent. We should not belong to this inglorious league where life is hard, hellish and brutish.
I take no comfort in the fact that Venezuela leads the inglorious pack. It has done so since 2015. The other countries are Argentina at number two; Iran was ranked third, Brazil fourth, Turkey, fifth and Nigeria sixth. I believe we have the capacity to get out of this inglorious league and substantially improve our score on the misery index. But that index could not be tackled in isolation of the crippling poverty that no one would be untruthful to himself to deny today. It is not always easy to manage poverty but a country that fails to properly manage its poverty faces the unsettling prospects of remaining trapped in it.
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