Nigeria: Where only the rich can afford the basics

If you have had the opportunity to visit developed countries, you will have noticed the suspicious stares you get when you’re at the checkout counter of a supermarket, or in a restaurant and you pull out your wallet to pay your bill in cash.

Something that is quite normal back home immediately becomes taboo because, in many such countries, cash is mainly used by people of questionable character to avoid being traced.

What I have observed is that we put enormous pressure on ourselves to acquire so much cash. This is because we must pay in advance for everything we need or endure excessive interest rates when we borrow.

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This is probably the reason why people in enviable positions are tempted to take advantage of the opportunities their roles present, to gather obscene amounts of money, and store them up for their great-grandchildren. Thus, the oft-uttered phrase by these ignorant fellows, “my children will never suffer.”

Asides from the obvious flaw with this level of thinking – wealth acquired in this manner is rarely ever transferred successfully – as you have generations fighting and killing each other over monies and property their ancestors left behind. One sure way to fight corruption in our society is to reduce our dependence on cash.

Individual Income tax in the UK and US is about 40% and 50% vs. corporate tax of 20% and 25% respectively. The reason for this is clear, the government uses the high taxes in these nations to provide infrastructure. Compare this to a 25% individual tax and 30% corporate tax in Nigeria. (Source – Wikipedia).

For every one of the facilities I list below, it is the duty of the government to provide them as essential services, or enablers to good business investment. No other institution in society has this responsibility.

Transportation: because of the lack of decent transportation options intra and intercity, you need good cars. Note I said cars because you will find that one car is not enough when you either get married, or an auto-mechanic decides to become a nuisance with your only vehicle.

If madam is working, she needs one, if you have kids, you may want to arrange a third with a driver. This is the only time you can say you have really “solved” the transportation problem.

Housing: rent is intimidating, and until recently, you pay for 2 years upfront. Agency and legal fees will set you back 20%, sometimes 10%. If you cannot raise the full amount to cover this cost, you might need to lower your standards and settle for a residence that is quite some distance away from your office or business.

Education: public education has become a security and health risk. If you insist, however, your wards might lag behind in key metrics of child development in this Information and Data economy.

Teachers are not attracted to government-funded schools, which in turn affects the standards there. Private schools will set you back at sums almost equal to tuition fees at universities abroad, and except you directly monitor your child’s progress, you will struggle to appreciate the value received for the amounts paid.

I applaud the efforts of the present Lagos State administration to renovate and rehabilitate the public-school infrastructure.

Security: You might have to live in a secured gated estate to feel a sense of safety, and even this is not certain, especially when slums and the poor surround you.

The attack on the Circle Mall at Jakande, Lekki is a testament to this. The cost of feeling secure is prohibitive – from security alarm systems, cameras, bulletproof doors, burglary-proof windows, electric fences, uniformed guards, vigilantes, escort vehicles with armed police or military escorts, bulletproof vehicles, tinted glasses, attending the SPY Police college, special license plate numbers, and licensed weapons stored at all your residences.

Even some with all these levels of protection, still feel exposed when travelling out of their base, not to mention that all it takes to make you vulnerable is to have a close family member, relative, child, or friend kidnapped, and ransoms are negotiated with the threat of bodily harm or death to your loved ones.

Health: our political leaders travel out of the country to receive medical treatment, which indicates that you must be doing well to afford this.

The majority who live from hand to mouth will share terrible experiences of health challenges and treatment at our general and private hospitals. Do we talk about the carelessness of medical staff, the run-down facilities, the absence of basic drugs, or the different fees one needs to pay upfront for every kind of care?

Private hospitals which many now use are almost like banks. You start paying from the reception, and if it is an emergency, please call your Pastor, because the deposits required are usually higher than the annual salary of the average Nigerian.

The pandemic taught us that the rich are not spared this decay, because many died when they had to be subjected to the treatment we are all used to receiving. And don’t talk about insurance, because the only real health insurance we have here, is the one that provides air ambulances that fly you abroad for proper treatment.

Power: Inverters, Solar panels, Batteries, Stabilizers, Generators, Surge protectors, Diesel, Petrol, etc. Do you know that you must be comfortable to afford any or all these items at home or at the office? What about the cost of power from the grid? How much do you have to earn to afford a minimum of NGN30, 000 per month on electricity?

Water: Boreholes, water treatment plants, water tanks, reservoirs, pumping machines, pressure pumps, water wells, “abokis” carrying trucks with jerrycans of water, water tankers, and roof gutters to collect rainwater, et cetera. Note, if you don’t go to the stream to fetch water, you are doing well.

Waste: some work has been done in some states in this regard, but for those who cannot afford to pay the annual levy to have your trash picked up, just wait for a rainy night, and let it wash the rubbish away. In societies that are forward-looking, the government provides these and taxes its citizens to pay back. Here the rich pay to make these available. What happens to the poor?

When you find that you can afford all the afore-mentioned services without batting an eyelid, you are truly rich in Nigeria. In other climes, every one of the above is considered basic and can be afforded by people on minimum wage.

Harold Nwariaku FCIPS,
Lead Consultant, Harold & Co Procurement/Supply Chain Consulting

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