Thursday, March 15, 2007

Death, Recreation and the working man - Part 2

I think the question remains: If there was an attitude change then why did it manifest? Or is 'manifest' the wrong word there? Since it points to a clear exhibition of a trend or behaviour whose prior aetiology might have been ongoing for a time, but perhaps subliminally.
So what caused this shift in the first place. Taking further the argument of the Third generation Corporate bosses becoming more 'profit attuned', renders perhaps a further history lesson. The Nigerian economy began to unravel in the early eighties, in the tailwind of the old Shehu Shagari government. This was when these bosses were wetting their feet as far as corporate baptisms of fire were concerned. Prior to these years were the years of illusory denial, of somnolence; hitherto unheard of profits arising from the disturbances in the middle east and then the Arab Oil boycott of the Americans and their allies for support of Isreal. The fame of the Nigerian government that was in power for most of the decade prior to that was built on the wrongly mismanaged wealth accumulated from that imbroglio. For me that era is largely memorialised by the phrase often attributed to that leader Jack Gowon, though I now, to be safe, believe it a largely apocryphal one, of being asked on a visit to the states to elaborate for a group of journalists the problems he foresaw in managing such abundant wealth. His reply, historically has been, "In Nigeria we do not really have a problem with the money, our problem if any has been how to spend it", or something to that effect.
The years immediately following the first transition to democratic rule were therefore years of discovery, realisation of our near parlous state, and then after the remains of the patrimony bequeathed the civilians had been embezzled through and through, the attempt to begin making amends. A body of policies, famously for that period in our national history, called The Austerity Measures, was what the government of the day instituted to try and curb the slow creep that was already becoming manifest(that word again).
The main ethic in the measures represented an attempt to reduce expenditure, but expectedly this failed. I mainly think this was because of the dual nature of all government expenditure in Nigeria. There is the stream that is devoted to the formal projects which ministers dutifully present at budget formulation times at the National Assembly, and which are clearly monitored and contribute to drawing up of all the statistics used for projection. Then there is the informal part of it given as kickbacks, stolen directly from the coffers or that is wrongly ascribed in order to satisfy some primordial loyalty or the other. Both streams finally end up in circulation in the open markets and I believe the later is larger and thus more eventful than the first.
So the measures targeted the first while the second just grew and grew as the avarice and egos of the members of the day became more unbridled finding outlets in accumulation of wealth, planning and throwing of the most lavish parties, buying up choice property in the most exotic of places and having the best wineries all over France mint and bottle the finest champagnes, branded in their names.
Of course conservative economies nearly always see workers as the first casualty whenever the need for cost-cutting arises. They are the most easily replaced elements in the chain of production. A conventional wisdom has always arisen to firm up weak hands whenever questions of redundancy have arisen. No it is not always voiced but it is nonetheless not going to go away, and it is that 'better technology should replace even the best of workers'. This argument has never failed to be thrown up since the industrial revolution. And for a mantra that has never really quite delivered on all its promises, the surprise, for me has always been with how come it has been around this long and not become discredited along with things like Copernican physics etc. I suspect that there is something of politics skunking in there, but let me leave well alone for now. That fight is for another day.
Going forward, these workers became the first victims of the austerity measures. retrenchments(down-sizing or right-sizing, depending on how you like your eggs) followed, companies shut down, and why? Because the National Planners in the seventies got carried away and failed to read that the oil boom of the time carried in its center the secret poison that would do in all who fed from it.
This poison I think was in the fact that the American economy soon went into recession meaning that their hunger for the oil which was driving the boon would soon plateau off, as their own manufacturers who couldn't sustain the pressure shut down. They got used to a certain low consumption level of oil, and then I guess the North Sea projects of the U.K government came on stream, and the Saudi's broke the Arab Anti-American solidarity leading to oil prices plumetting.
The scenes in those days must have been harrowing as families in Nigeria had to readjust to the new regime of parsimony. I often heard my lecturers at UNN, who for the most part themselves were students in the seventies tell of the sheer pleasure they experienced as students in their time. To hear them tell it, they were pampered and fed like pigs, and were surrounded by the most startling(to our ears) ease. The government picked up every tab they cared to drop, and HR people from the leading companies of the day came into school in their penultimate year to contest for their hands in employment. They lived two students to a room and played squash all evening, that most English of all bourgeois pastimes. They drank tea and had siestas recognised even by the Vice-chancellor, and said 'Please sir, may I do this and that' etc etc
Is there the possibility that the shock of losing this life of privilege was all too profound for this generation to bear? It is not inconceivable that their reaction to it all was to work harder and longer and to eschew all pleasure and outdo all rivals in whatever it was rivals all do to make more money. So jack went ahead and became a very dull boy, not to talk of unhealthy one too.

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