At once poor, proud and profligate
Nigeria parades a plethora of unflattering socioeconomic indices. With a poverty head count of 53.9%, the population of the poor in Nigeria of about 100 million is more than the whole population of Egypt(93m), United Kingdom (65m), France (64m) , Turkey (79m), Democratic Republic of Congo(79m) among others. Nigeria’s Human Development Index value for 2015 of 0.514 is below the average for sub-Saharan Africa, putting the country in the low human development category, positioning it at 152 out of 188 countries and territories under the UNDP ranking. Nigeria’s life expectancy at birth of 52.8 years is among the worst in the world compared to 60.6 years average for other low HDI countries and 64.1 years for Ethiopia and 58.7 years for Democratic Republic of Congo. The World Economic Forum uses Human Capital Report to rank countries on how well they are deploying their peoples’ talents. The index takes a life-course approach to human capital, evaluating the levels of education, skills and employment. The 2016 Human Capital Report ranked Nigeria 127 out of 130 countries, the worst country in Africa except for Chad and Mauritania.
Juxtaposed with these bleak statistics is monumental profligacy enshrined in our ethos and manifesting in the debasement and perversion of our cultural values. We habitually squander scarce resources on our routine household and business tasks, on parties and celebrations.
According to experts, for every one million population 1000 megawatts of electricity is required to satisfy every need. With a population of about 180 million, Nigeria’s optimum power requirement is about 180,000MW compared to more than 50,000MW that South Africa, with a population of 53 million, generates and distributes. Ironically, enormous amount of the grossly inadequate energy is being wasted. A study carried out by Lagos State revealed that 4,358Kwh of electricity is wasted annually. By switching to energy saving bulbs only, N12.7 billion could be saved in Lagos State alone. Only 1% of Lagosians practise energy conservation leaving the planet groaning with 9.5 billion pounds of carbon footprints per annum.
If Lagos residents practise energy conservation, an amount of N38 billion could be saved annually, equivalent to about 50 per cent of Lagos State budget for the whole of the Health sector in 2016. Energy is wasted in some ridiculous manners like drawing the curtain in daytime and utilising artificial lighting, switching on lights when nobody is inside a room, boiling a kettle-full of water to make a cup of tea, indiscriminate use of air conditioners including sleeping under duvet or quilted sheets in a tropical climate!!
Recently, CNN featured a typical Nigerian wedding in Houston, Texas, USA and adjectives such as colourful, flambuoyant, elaborate and not-watered-down were liberally deplored. I was not sure whether to consider the programme a flattery, hollow compliment or a mischievous jibe. Also, a friend of mine and the family recently gave a “befitting” burial to their late father at a handsome amount of about N25 million. Our penchant for frittering away resources on parties, celebrations and ceremonies has become legendary. Our factories that used to churn out goods, working shifts in the seventies and eighties have been turned to Events Centres and Churches leaving us at the mercy of the proverbial manna that will divinely fall from heaven. According to a study commissioned by the Lagos State Government, Lagosians spend more than N520 million monthly on food, drinks, music, clothes, and fuel for parties.
This is apart from the environmental costs of pollution due to use of generator, noise pollution, man-hours lost in traffic snares around most party arenas. Over the lifecycle of an average Nigerian, excuses have ingeniously been invented for celebrations including, naming ceremonies, churching and dedication, annual birthdays (landmarks expected to be more grandeur), matriculation, convocation, wedding (Now conveniently broken into separately celebrate-able segments of Introduction, Engagement, Registry and Holy Solemnisation) and burial, among others. At a time, champagne consumption in Nigeria was growing so rapidly that she was billed to rival France only as the topmost consumer. Even though this trajectory was thwarted by deteriorating economic circumstances, Nigeria still remains Africa’s top champagne importer, consuming more than one million bottles in a year.
Our legendary wastefulness is also manifesting in scant regard for human life. Our health institutions’ penchant for industrial actions seem to give the impression that health workers value everything else above the sacredness of human life, which they took oaths to protect. The most effective shift in our hospitals seems to be rotating industrial strikes between residents and other doctors, nurses, laboratory technologists, pharmacists and other health workers. Some of the flimsy excuses for incessant strikes include ego trips of who should head hospitals among the major professionals and solidarity strikes on matters unrelated to the immediate employer. In what smirks as a diabolical sense of humour, Resident Doctors in Osun State went on industrial action for more than one year and called it off ostensibly in the interest of their beloved patients!
Sodade is a retired Permanent Secretary from Lagos State Civil Service.