What is the Nigerian dream?
While different people want different things out of their Nigerian experiences, the consensus seems to be survival–to beat the system and make it in spite of the one thousand odds stacked against us as young Nigerians. Have you ever wondered what it means for the average Nigerian to have access to a comfortable life of affording basic needs and occasional luxuries?
What exactly passes for a good life in Nigeria?
In a country where around two-thirds of the population lives on less than $2 (880) per day, living a good life means having access to necessities. It means being able to afford basic human needs, health care, education, and other amenities without financial difficulty.
As a young person living in Nigeria, it is not unusual to have many expectations for your twenties. Older people have told you stories of what they had, how they built, saved, and set the foundation for the life they now have, in their twenties.
Now, it’s your turn and you’re in your prime, and most of these things aren’t as obtainable as they used to be. In-between multiple jobs, the unfavorable exchange rate, and the recent hike in fuel prices, it’s almost certain that the system is working hard against you.
But how did we even get here?
A decade after the civil war, and two after the discovery of oil in commercial quantity, the Nigerian economy experienced a slight fall in oil output. This ultimately affected the gross national product. Yet, in the 1980s, the naira was still relatively secure, exchanging for about 0.550 naira to a dollar. This meant that at the time, earning a thousand naira would mean one earned about $1,800. Civil servants and average-income earners could afford to save up and travel abroad for different reasons, and buy cars conveniently. The CBN documented that the prices of food items were at an average of 350-700 naira per tonne.
By the early 90s, the value of the naira had dropped and was exchanged for about 21 naira to $1. This rate was officially maintained throughout the Abacha regime till 1998, even though parallel market rates went as high as about 80 naira to a dollar. During this period, the economy was at an all-time low, and retail prices for petrol stood at 11 naira. Inflation went as high as 72%, and the cost of living skyrocketed. Eventually, the inflationary pressures reduced and inflation stayed at 10% at the time of General Abacha’s death.
Yet, nothing, not even life under the stringent authoritarian military government, prepared Nigerians for life in the 2000s.
The dawn of a new millennium was a chance at a rebirth for the Nigerian economy under President Olusegun Obasanjo’s tenure. Nevertheless, fuel prices continued to spiral, from 20 naira to about 75 naira for a liter in the 8 years of Obasanjo’s tenure. At this time, the dollar was also exchanged for about 124 naira. The prices of food items were inflated and the cost of living increased as well. By 2010, the unemployment rate was 3.78%, and though the quality of life for the average Nigerian was not the best, it was comparably luxurious in the years that followed.
By 2015, many Nigerians were quite hopeful and optimistic, because it seemed like a promising era of economic prospects and development. These promises–of zero corruption and prosperity politics, in hindsight, were an illusion. Unfortunately, in 2016, Nigeria slipped into an economic recession. Commercial activities were stagnant while prices of goods and services continued to rise. This affected the general purchasing power of many Nigerians, due to the downturn in economic activity.
Another highlight is the impact of COVID-19 on restructuring and creating a new normal for Nigerians, especially its younger people. Although, the global crisis isn’t the sole cause of the decline in the quality of life Nigerians have experienced lately. President Bola Tinubu’s policies on exchange rate unification and the removal of fuel subsidies have made it more evident than ever that most Nigerian policies are not only tone-deaf, harsh, and aggressive but convey zero regard for the people’s wellbeing.
Life for the young and hardworking Nigerian is harder, now more than ever. Fuel prices are as high as 617 naira for a liter, and the naira is currently exchanges for around 800 to a dollar. A 10,000 naira salary in the 90s could easily cater for food, amenities, shelter, and enough left for savings. At 21 naira to $1, a 10,000 naira salary was equivalent to about $476, and one only needed to spend 275 naira ( for twenty-five liters of petrol.) Today, one would need to earn about 380,800 naira to receive $476, and would spend about 15,425 naira for ten liters of petrol. With the current minimum wage of 30,000 ($37.5), buying 25 liters of petrol will mean spending about 51% of the monthly wage on fuel alone.
The contrast between the cost of living in the 90s and the 2000s is staggering. It is also pertinent to note that educational costs are rising for even public institutions, and it’s becoming more difficult for young people to access basic necessities and amenities. More than ever, the divide between the lower and upper classes has widened, with the middle class struggling to stick in the middle.
It almost feels like a dream that there ever existed a time when young Nigerians weren’t struggling to leave the country en masse for their survival or that they could previously lead comfortable, financially secure lives in this country. With the uncertainty of the future, one could only cling to hope, like a drug.
What a time it is to be young and Nigerian. What a time it is to be in your prime.