Afolabi Gambari

It was just as well that the Minister of Finance,
Kemi Adeosun, officially declared last month that Nigeria had entered into
recession. Otherwise, the dire situation was long in coming, no thanks to the spendthrift
carriage that had characterised the previous governments at the centre.

But you can always trust Nigerians to possess
arguably the most efficient shock absorber anywhere. They responded to
Adeosun’s declaration almost immediately, no matter that majority of them had
not contributed anything to the recession, let alone deserve the devastating impact
it would impose on them. Bad enough, the storm, as it were, descended at a most
unthinkable period when the Islamic Eid festival loomed. The annual event was
doomed to be low-keyed in many Muslim homes around the country. Thousands in
the public service had already gone without wages for several months. Thousands
more in the private sector had also seen their prospects severely curtailed due
to cost-cutting measures. Doom loomed everywhere.

Yet, there was always going to be a way out to eking
survival.

It would have been a huge surprise if other ethnic
groups than the Igbo led the way to survival. Emboldened by the dreadful pass
they endured during the 30-month civil war between 1967 and 1970, the Igbo
would not be caught unawares by a mere recession that could, at best, be
temporary. One newspaper report captured the unfolding picture best when it
highlighted the bold move by some indigenes of Abia State resident in the
capital Umuahia as they prepared to relocate to the rural areas in a bid to
“lessen burden of recession”.

According to the report, “many families in Abia
State capital, Umuahia, have opted to either return to either their villages or
less expensive parts of the state in view of the obvious effects of recession.”

The report depicted a keen sense of observation: “It
is now common to see several lorry loads of people and their belongings heading
towards the rural communities as survival in the cities is now illusive with
irregular salaries and fewer cash in circulation.”

The report continued, still deploying observation
for illustration: “At Ohobo Road along Olokoro Way in Umuahia South, a couple
was seen packing their belongings into a waiting Mitsubishi lorry while their
underage children folded their arms in disbelief, occasioned by their parents’
decision to take them back to the rural area against their wish and
unceremoniously.”

Nor had the observation-laden report been exhausted.
It continued: “Also at Azikiwe Road, opposite the Umuahia Township Stadium, another
family was seen mobilising its members to move belongings from the building. It
was the same story at Ohafia/Arochukwu Park beside the Umuahia North Local
Government Headquarters where the number of families relocating to the rural
areas with heavy luggage has increased.”

One of the fleeing Umuahia residents, Mr. Callistus
Onyemere, a civil servant, who volunteered to bare his mind, did not mince
words in expressing his frustration.

“I have reached end of the road,” Onyemere lamented,
tears welling in his eyes. It was a pitiable sight, according to the report.

“With the high cost of living, I had found it tough
to sustain payment of my house rent at the Agbama Housing Estate before
government declared the recession,” he said, stressing: “I have no other option
but to return to the village with my family.”

Onyemere’s frustration did not becloud his sense of
planning, however. Hear him: “My wife and I have resolved to use money in our
savings to renovate the three bedroom apartment we have in my father’s compound
in the village. We plan to use the remainder to get our children enrolled in
affordable public schools in the area. Hopefully I can now spend a little
amount of money to transport myself to and from the State Secretariat in
Umuahia every day.”

It was, interestingly, different strokes for a house
owner at the Umuahia Low Cost Housing Estate, Chief Habour Uwaegbulam, and the
Regent/Administrator General of Ahuwa Oboro in Ikwuano Local Government Area of
Abia State, Chief James Uchegbuo. Uwaegbulam lamented exodus of his tenants
which threatened the financial wellbeing of his family: “Several of my
apartments are now deserted as everyone seems bent on returning to the
village.” But Uchegbuo foresaw a huge turnaround in his community: “Without a
doubt, the return of our people back home will help accelerated growth that
will in turn lead to concrete development.”

The foregoing clearly suggests that the gloomy days
are here again and perhaps in unprecedented ferocity.

But the Nigerian academic community and the labour
unions see things from the point of view of sophistry for which they are renowned.
Both pressure groups desired to engage in “fight to finish” with the central
government to seek explanation for the recession. Yet, they let out their
tactics, as usual.

President of the Academic Staff Union of
Universities (ASUU), Prof. Abiodun Ogunyemi, who hinted on their impending move
at a symposium in Lagos with the theme “Three decades of neo-liberalism and the
Nigerian economy”, according to a newspaper report, said: “We (the academia and
labour union he meant, apparently) can no longer as a country afford to
continue to follow the dictates of external forces such as the International
Monetary Fund and the World Bank to run our economy.”

It needs no wise person to contend that the stand
being taken above has no bearing whatsoever with the highlighted reality in
Abia State; it is a case study of theory being different from practical. But,
do the sophisticated elite represented by the academia and labour union care?

As always, every grim situation in Nigeria leaves
space for relief, no matter how tasteless such relief is. Photographs of
President Muhammadu Buhari with US President Barack Obama, at the “sidelines”
of the recent United Nations General Assembly, as well as photographs of
Michelle Obama and Aisha Buhari, were practically unleashed on Nigerians by
presidential aides to suggest that “all is well” with the country’s image
abroad. A statement ascribed to Barack Obama after the meeting also said, to
suggest that the American leader was on top of the situation in Nigeria: “You
are facing difficulties but we believe in you.”

It remains to be seen how this “American
endorsement” will rub off on the recession that is beckoning on the millions of
ordinary Nigerians back home for embrace. 

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