There was a civil servant who lost his job. He used to be a typist but no one wants to hire the services of a typist anymore. He had six wives and many children. He is lucky to have a roof over his head even though his house is very rickety and the annual storms threaten to blow that roof away. The plumbing is broken; there is stench everywhere. His children usually have bitter fights, with some of them threatening to set this house on fire. This man admits he hasn’t quite raised some of his children properly – some are in gangs and cults, some on drugs, and others have a perpetual need to pilfer. His wives constantly bicker and invoke juju on each other. But his house has so many rooms – enough for all the children and wives, with even extra space to invite strangers to come and enjoy short stays. This now ex-civil servant also has a huge farmland which he inherited from his forefathers. Because his children are lazy and ill brought-up, the farm is mostly abandoned.
Now what does he do first, now that his story has changed for the worse? How is he to keep his sanity, to ensure he feeds his children, else they one day strangle him to death?
He has several options. He can go a-borrowing from his neighbors because he needs to sustain his erstwhile standards of living. He is used to opulence anyway, and owns the largest cars on his streets even though he always knew – or should have known – that he was just lucky to be a typist to some big chief executive for a spell. Everyone knew that the skills of a typist was becoming useless as everyone could now type their own documents. Even the chief executive has learnt to produce his own documents! Yet, this ex-typist could just go borrowing since he read somewhere that it makes financial sense to borrow money to survive if one’s finances go into a trough. He could even be ‘smarter’. He could borrow with the aim of investing in a small pure water packaging plant where his many sons and daughters could be employed, or to turn around his farm. The risk here is that he has little manufacturing – or even farming – experience and he could well mismanage these borrowed funds. His experience four decades ago when he briefly lost his job, was that the monies he borrowed for the same purpose, was frittered by the greed and recklessness of his dysfunctional family.
In the last borrowing experience, his family was thrown into embarrassing penury to the extent that his creditor neighbours took liberty to walk into his house as they wished and walk out with any asset. The insults galloped, the creditors applied punitive interest rates, his family became even poorer and more dysfunctional, his sons stole more, did more drugs, fought in the marketplace. His daughters plied their bodies on the sidewalk to any man for a meal. He claimed that he paid far more than he borrowed to these creditors but they kept coming back for more. When he was allowed to make some lump sum payment to clear his name a few years ago, he paid an arm and a leg. But now, he is back in debt and it is so tempting to pile on much more.
Our typist friend has a few more options. He could take control of his family if it’s not way too late. He could look inwards. He could reassess his resources. He could ensure his children are dutifully engaged so that they quit being a nuisance to the world. If our friend is not a weakling this could be achieved. Still, if he asked me for advise, that is what I will tell him to do; look inwards. First, try to sustain your family. Make sure any of your children that should be working is working. Even when work is not available, keep them busy by every means. Let them be obsessed with making your home clean and neat. That alone is a lot of work. Let them sweep, sweep and sweep again. Let them clean constantly. Let them paint your house over, and maintain the landscaping. Let them take pride in their surroundings. Let them do it so well that the world will notice and come visiting.
Make the most of your vast farmland. Engage your children there. Think about improving your every space; farmland and homestead. Get ready for the world. Pay your children with what you have; with the food from your farm. You don’t pay them with the products (currency) from another man’s farm. You have to develop a sustainability mentality. You have to believe that with such a large family, with the energy and passion of your children, with the resources you’ve always taken for granted, with the time on your hands and the 20-20 vision of hindsight, you have what it takes to be great again. I believe this is the ONLY real option left for the ex-typist, whom many people are telling to go and get foreigners (investors), to bring money to develop his farmland for him. Whereas this is a great idea, foreigners usually have their eyes on the prize and demand more than just their investment back. Plus the fact that foreigners would usually pay a higher premium if they see that the typist has already tidied up his home, than if everything is in disarray.
I would advise the typist that he has to at least try to right the wrongs of the past. He shouldn’t make the same mistakes all over again. And he has to act immediately, because there are centripetal and centrifugal forces acting at the same time to tear his family apart and take over their house and farmland. Many people in his neighborhood believe that other families will make much more of his resources than he is presently. I will urge this ex-civil servant to note that making a great family takes a lot of painstaking work, perseverance and a long term view – which he has never had.
Dear readers, you guessed right who the ex-typist is. Just like typists are no longer needed, our crude oil is not as needed as before. Our chief executive is the USA. It now produces its own oil. But so do many other countries. In Africa alone, a handful of new oil-producing countries have emerged; from Ghana to Uganda through Kenya. Nigeria is big and beautiful enough to contain its own people and be a tourist haven. But without security – which can only be ensured by youth employment – not only will Nigerians keep running away to other climes, no sane tourist will visit us. The other options are no-brainers. They say when in a hole, the first rule is to stop digging. We couldn’t have gone through the debt crisis of the 1980s to 2006 and be toying with repeating the process. Borrowing from the World Bank and IMF – contrary to what the minister of Finance says – cannot be our ONLY option.
IMF and World Bank loans should not be made to sound so benign. Their rates may be low, and they may give moratoria, but in the realm of international finance, these ‘supranational’ bodies have FIRST CHARGE. They have arranged things such that no one can default against their loans. They get paid first, followed by others. Local holders of bonds get paid last.
But the debate is still on. I may be wrong. The typist is still consulting far and wide. What would you advise him to do given his circumstance, his history, and his ambitions?
‘Tope Fasua, an economist and consultant, is CEO of Global Analytics Consulting.