(By Zayyan Umar)
“Occasionally, I read about a person close to my age that made a gazillion dollars after selling an ‘app’ they made to ‘Yahoo’ or ‘Google’ etc. Why should I have a problem with that person? My gripe is with individuals who want to obtain wealth from the wrong avenues i.e. public service and those who want to acquire wealth without a coherent plan. An example of the kind of person in the latter group is the guy who wants to be very wealthy but is not willing to work hard for it and his imagination can only go as far as ‘I want to hammer contract’.“
“Only when the last tree has died, the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money”
– Native American Quote.
HOW much is enough? This is the question I often ask myself whenever there is news of yet another public official or civil servant looting public funds. I read about the figures embezzled and I cannot help but think what does anyone want to do with that amount of money? Why are such gargantuan amounts being pilfered? Do these people not have a conscience? Do they expect to use such amount in their lifetime? How long is a human being’s life? Unless, of course, they are amassing money for their progeny, progeny’s progeny and so on and so forth. These unfortunate incidents are exacerbated by the fact that these individuals stealing public money are in positions where they do not need to loot public funds to live a luxurious life. It is so bastardised that it is not unusual to hear a person say ‘he stole money, but he worked’. Really? Even children should know there is something wrong with that statement. When an individual leaves a high civil service post or public office and it does not seem as if he has amassed stupendous wealth, we hear people say ‘what a foolish man, he didn’t steal money”. What does this tell us? It is now acceptable, it is the norm, and it is part of our culture.
Before going on, I feel it is important to note, a disclaimer if you will, that I, too, like money and would like to have lots of it. I have no issues with anyone who wants to be wealthy. Occasionally, I read about a person close to my age that made a gazillion dollars after selling an ‘app’ they made to ‘Yahoo’ or ‘Google’ etc. Why should I have a problem with that person? My gripe is with individuals who want to obtain wealth from the wrong avenues i.e. public service and those who want to acquire wealth without a coherent plan. An example of the kind of person in the latter group is the guy who wants to be very wealthy but is not willing to work hard for it and his imagination can only go as far as ‘I want to hammer contract’. The reason for the above disclaimer is due to the self-righteous tone of this article. I am not, nor do I claim to be holier than thou. Now, I want it to be clear that I am not picking on Nigerians. We live in a capitalist world where wealth is the yardstick for success, which invariably means there is lust for money, and the corruption that comes with it is a by-product of that lust and is present in every nation on Earth.
A British historian/politician by the name of Robert Skidelsky co-authored a book with his son Edward titled ‘How much is Enough? Money and the Good Life’. It discusses macroeconomic policy in the modern world, with a focus on the United Kingdom. While I am aware that this article’s monetary concerns are microeconomic in nature, there is just enough common ground to make it worth examining. In this book, they discuss the insatiability present in the contemporary world and the ‘growth at all costs’ mantra of current economic policy. The book argues that progress in a society should not be measured by conventional benchmarks such as per capita income or gross domestic product, but rather by what they call ‘the seven elements of the good life’ which are health, security, respect, personality, harmony with nature, friendship and leisure. What they are basically saying is an individual can live a perfectly enjoyable life without having riches so to speak, therefore it is not accurate to use monetary standards as a sole gauge for success. Their central argument definitely makes sense in a country like Nigeria where millions don’t have access to proper healthcare and the security situation is dire, yet the Minister of Finance spews nonsense about GDP growth so there is ‘progress’.
Let us discuss the culture of money in Nigeria. It is fair to say Nigerians worship money. Why? What is it about this rectangular shaped paper that makes us behave the way we do? Why does it possess so many mystiques? If you reside in Nigeria the answer is obvious, money can solve any and all problems, and that is not a figurative statement. This is not to say money isn’t influential in other parts of the world because it definitely is, but in Nigeria it is on a different scale.
To be continued.
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