PNP CEO Chioma Azi shares her observations on the Nigerian recession during a recent trip to Nigeria.
After being away for nearly half a life time, I really didn’t know what to expect. It had been 15 years since I last set foot on Nigerian soil. And even though my last two trips home occurred when I was more than old enough to have strong memories, I knew that much had changed in those 15 years. Even more compelling, I was returning to a Nigeria that was (and remains) smack dab in the middle of a recession caused in large part by the global drop in oil prices.
So while I was so hopeful for the opportunity to visit with family, I really wondered what this current Nigeria would look like. Even without being on ground, I knew that over the past 15 years, Nigeria had changed and grown in all kinds of interesting ways. Foreign multinational companies, which have historically ignored African countries, had now flooded in. Nigeria’s exploding music, television and film industry continued to spread Nigeria’s cultural influence far beyond its borders, and small but important developments in Nigeria’s infrastructure & transportation sectors played important roles in spurring trade & economic growth. I couldn’t wait to finally see what I have been hearing so much about over the last decade and a half. But now this dynamic growth experienced by the country has been threatened by the recession. What would all of this look like? I wondered to myself.
Before I go further, it’s only proper that I give full disclosure: I have certain biases when it comes to Nigeria and Africa as a whole. I tend to have a positive tilt when viewing, thinking and even traveling on the continent. I tend to see the rosy sides, when most people prefer to focus on the negative. Perhaps this bias is based out of a tad of naivety on my part-after all I didn’t grow up in Nigeria so I cannot relate to the experiences of the average Nigerian, and certainly not to those of my father, who saw hell as a teenager during the Biafra war. Perhaps my bias is a response against the reflexive tendency of most people to see the bad in Africa, when it has so much good to offer.
Even without being on ground, I knew that over the past 15 years, Nigeria had changed and grown in all kinds of interesting ways.
Nevertheless, on December 9th, I boarded an Emirates flight to Nigeria not sure of what to expect, but optimistic and unafraid nonetheless. And whether it was a self fulfilling prophecy or something else, my return to Nigeria was everything and more that I had hoped for. I was pleasantly surprised by all the growth and change since my last visit in 2001. My beloved Mr. Biggs & Sweet Sensation that I visited as a pre-teen were now being out muscled by newer outfits like Chicken Republic and foreign imports like Coldstone, Domino’s Pizza and KFC. The Lagosian roads now bustled with newer Japanese cars; one could barely see a raggedy moto spewing fumes everywhere as I had remembered from my last trip (well, except for the dan fours, taxis and Indian kekes. In Africa the rule seems to be if it still moves, it’s road worthy!) Improved lighting, dedicated bus lanes and completely revamped street signage now made navigation much easier in Lagos-so easy that Google maps and Uber work like a charm there. Even in my home state of Delta, it was clear to see that growth had taken over. In my home town of Igbodo (the food basket of Delta state 😉 ) new roads were abound and the main market was in the midst of a major upgrade. New constructions by sons (and hopefully some daughters) of Igbodo living abroad are also popping up.
Yet, when you talk to the average Nigerian, much of what you hear are expressions of frustration on the weakening Naira against the dollar, the rising prices of food & other necessities, and the toll the recession is taking on day to day life. But as I spent my days touring Lagos, Asaba, Agbor & Igbodo whilst reconnecting with family, some interesting things stood out to me. From the perspective of someone who lives in obodo oyinbo (that’s the white man’s country for any non-Nigerians reading this), this recession I’ve been hearing about reminded me of the one Americans faced beginning in 2008. If you had asked me in 2009 about the American recession, I would have sounded a lot like Nigerians of today, with much of my frustration directed at the stunted economy which had left thousands of people (including me) jobless or underemployed, and wondering about their futures. Yet, then just as now in Lagos and other major cities across Nigeria, if you are to visit the markets and malls, they’re bustling. People are still living life, and some may wonder aloud, as one friend remarked to me while visiting the ever crowded Ikeja city mall (on a Sunday no less), “they say there’s recession in this country, I don’t believe it!”
So is a recession something you can really see? Or is it something more to be felt? After a wonderful time in Nigeria, I returned to the U.S. still curious about this issue and wanting to know more. So, I asked a handful of young Nigerians through a written survey about the recession and their outlook on the country. Although a highly unofficial survey, the respondents all come from a variety of professional backgrounds, including a public servant, a digital artist/photographer, a geographic information systems specialist, a clothing designer, and a social media manager. All respondents are residents of Lagos, but they come from all over the country, including Abia, Akwa Ibom, Osun, and Anambra.
“they say there’s recession in this country, I don’t believe it!”
All respondents were frank about the impact of the recession, with most stating that it has forced them to be more strategic on their spending or look for other sources of income. When asked how the recession has impacted their career goals (if at all) all but one respondent had positive responses, indicating that the recession has either made them more creative, more focused or more strategic on their goals. When asked what advice they would share with young Nigerians, the respondents all had solid advice. The public servant shared very practical advice, advising Nigerians to acquire a skill. The digital artist/photographer advised “consistency, effort & patience” and not to give up. The GIS specialist also advised never to give up on your dreams “no matter what it takes,” while the clothing designer had an even more fervent message to Nigerians to “never say die,” and not to wait for others to push you to work. Finally the social media manager encouraged Nigerians to be more creative, learn new skills and to keep adding value to one’s work or customers. These young Nigerians also shared that the things that make them hopeful about Nigeria include belief in self, God, Nigeria’s overwhelming resources, and the efforts of young people.
All in all, what I took away from my time in Nigeria and from the sentiments of a few young Nigerians is that like most things in life, the picture is more complicated than it may appear. To summarize the clothing designer, the recession will not last forever. Instead, Nigerians should focus on “what you have in your hands” as it will be the deciding factor in how Nigerians will weather the storm. I am also inspired by the words of the digital artist/photographer, who came to the same conclusion that I eventually came to as I weathered the great recession on this side of the Atlantic. He stated that the recession is an opportunity “to grow for those who think ahead [of] the bridge before they get to it” because like “an ant saving for a [rainy] day,” if you are prepared, flexible and most of all ready to push yourself beyond your comfort zone, you can manage any difficult situation. Either way, with all of the economic and political challenges confronting the country, my money will always be on Nigeria.
Interested in taking the PNP recession survey? Please click pnp-recession-survey.