When misfortune hits a man so terribly that he cannot feed his family, then there is a recession. That is the economics understood by persons with financial disability. So many good men and women are right now in very deep shit as the economy spirals out of the hand of the glibs driving our bus. I am not writing this so that you and I can start whining. I am writing so that we can know that this recession which they have described as “just a word” is, to the poor, more than a word. It defines our world. Children are going back to school, schools are increasing fees, employers are reducing pays – or not paying at all- and we say the world has not come to an end for the poor !
Forget about all the big grammar people in government spewed last week about the economy in momentary crisis and improving soon. To the poor man in the village and city slums, recession came a long time ago. To the government worker who labours without pay or with half or a quarter pay, the definition of recession is the permanent abject state of the man’s purse. To the old, spent pensioner who cannot remember the last time he got his stipend, recession is that word which has been with him since his trouble started. The economy contracted years ago for the public school teacher who could no longer look his daughter in the eyes and tell her why she could not have regular meals despite his daily toils.
Imagine these: Federal universities are almost entirely free. That accounts for why some of us, children of farmers, had the audacity to venture there three decades ago. Today, the varsities are still largely free, but children of directors in the public service now lose admission into those schools because their parents could not pay acceptance fees. These directors could not pay these paltry sums because they just could not. Their employers had no salaries to pay and the cooperative societies that used to fill the gap have been run into bankruptcy. Schools are resuming this month. How many parents are not scared stiff of what happens in the next two weeks on the children who will ride on the okada of recession back to school?
Is there a curse? Why is there no forward movement despite great efforts made? There is an ancient Turkish saying about a city built to survive all humanity. “If the whole world were destroyed, Ani (the city) would rebuild it; but if Ani were destroyed, the whole world wouldn’t be able to rebuild it.” It was that strong and sure. But what eventually destroyed that impregnable city? A curse it placed on itself because it refused to do justice to its poor. So, Whatever is talked about now is just an affliction gone viral. There is so much noise now because the immunity of the big and powerful has gone with the bubble. When the economy was described as the biggest in Africa, the man in the gatehouse could not understand the why of the big celebration by persons of power. It had no meaning to him. They said there was prosperity, but he still could not meet the mark in matrimonial responsibility. His bills were unpaid, his debts remained as they had always been. What was big in an economy that did not provide for his welfare and hope for his ragged kids? The only signs of change he could see were the number of private jets in Abuja and Lagos and the lengthening convoys of imperial government officials.
Today, the big players are blowing imprecations in the air because their bubble has gone burst. The shitstorm of this spine-wracking era is hitting all like the locusts of Egypt. The disease called want and uncertainty is no longer an exclusive curse for the poor. It is the new aso ebi. And now, the celebrants of just two years ago are sulking, seeking more teary eyes to join in mourning the contraction of the big. You read everywhere now that even the big banks are groaning, telecoms giants are quaking. But, when the going was good, what good did they do to their customers? Did the banks not lure their unwary customers into signing documents with hidden clauses that threw the poor into greater misery? Did the poor man not change his phone numbers every month in search of that operator who would be honest enough not to steal from his little nothings?
Rich men never like sharing anything with the poor. Not poverty, not riches, not death. Nothing. A 2009 piece in the New York quoted U.S. comedian and actor, Tom Papa shouting at rich men’s possible fatal coping strategy with that year’s recession: “How about these billionaires killing themselves? They lose their money and they kill themselves. How insulting is this?! They’d rather die than live like us.” The same newspaper reproduced a report in the Daily Intel where another comedian and actress, Rachael Harris, conceded that the acute recession of that year was “happening to everyone” big or small. She goes on to suggest that the way to live through it was to feign it was not serious. “When you make light of it, it takes the stress out of it. Like when somebody comes up and says ‘Hey, I’m so freaked out about getting fired that I’m gonna fire myself.’” Interesting. Do we take that advice now that it appears there is no sign that someone somewhere is working on a solution on our behalf? I would have suggested the comedy strategy. We can ask the big boys and girls of comedy in Lagos to sedate us with some silly, sweet jokes, but this economic load is carrier specific. It is yours and if you run away from it in the morning, you will come and pick it on your way back in the evening.
Yesterday, King Sunny Ade sang the sad tale of the husband who accompanies his wife to her lover’s bedroom “because they must eat.” There are sadder stories today of mothers selling the fruits of their own wombs “because of hunger.” And we can be frustrated, sad and angry at the mess we have made of our country. We can scoff at the unsteady hands of a leadership that wove this leaking basket of hope. But while we are angry at the lack of sorry from those whose greed and incompetence combined to make this land one of perpetual recession, can we notice that the response from the knowledgable lords of the land to this thing called recession is tax and more tax? You and I are to pay tax while they sit back once again, wining and dining over the loot wrenched from the poor. If you don’t understand what I am saying, just wait and see how much you pay soon as tax for reading this, for asking why I am writing this and for doing nothing about your state.