Beyond Politics, the Economics of an Ordinary Day, By Ifeanyi Uddin
The more I dwell on the matter, the more I am persuaded of Aristotle’s error. Daily jaded by events around me, I have no doubt that I am beyond politics. Similarly, I am assured by the same concatenation of increasingly fortuitous circumstances that I am nothing if not an economic animal.
From this vantage, when I look towards March 2014, I see not the planned elections, but the end of the school term. School fees and how to source these, then creep slowly into every aspect of my lived experience, especially my dream state, where they turn corporeal in a succession of nightmares. It is not news any more that my disposable income is disposed of before it comes in. Nor that I had hoped that the N10 decrease in the price of a litre of petrol was going to offer some solace to my dog-eared wallet.
All of this was before the naira went into free fall. Now just the cost of outfitting my work uniform takes up a frightening share of my “take home pay”. Strange phrase, the latter. It never took me home. Between hitching rides and trekking, I somehow managed to make up the difference. And back home? Costs are rising very fast on this front ― detergents, bathing soap, etc. What, for instance does it matter that I may now more cheaply fuel the petrol-powered generator, if the new value of the naira means I may no longer afford to buy a generator? My neighbor is not inclined to time-share. A flickering electric bulb now attracts more consternation than it once did.
Moreover, what to do with those accursed school fees? Why do I pay for a term of three months, when my wages come in monthly? Arguably, much of the educational arithmetic in the country is wrong. Private providers charge a prince’s ransom as they try to capture all the cost of the different positive externalities associated with a good education. A functioning public school sector would have cost me less, since rather than seek to recover the cost of the benefits from educating our people, government would have identified appropriations for education as an upfront instalment for the increase in domestic output that a more educated citizenry brings.
None of these answers the question whether I would be paying more for school fees next term. Nor by how much current fees would go up. I would definitely put out against a hike in the cost of providing the school bus. Cheaper fuel makes this easy. I might even try persuading the kids to give up the school meal, and hope that we could arrange a homegrown (anyone noticed how this adjective has snuck back into our vocabulary?) substitute. But there are other costs, including staff salaries, which may need to go up if the teachers and support staff are to continue providing their services. So, school fees go up, and my outgoings on this expense line with it?
I discovered a couple of days back, to my daily mortification, that I might not be able to borrow against my salary any longer, because the banks have stiffened their risk acceptance criteria. You do not have to be a “dibia” to reach the conclusion that our difficult economic times would soon take its toll on domestic employment. The oil and gas services sector is rumoured to have started bleeding personnel. Unsure that my employer would be in business next month (or that it may not have to let me go as part of a process of keeping costs down), no bank would advance me new short-term loans, especially not to pay school fees.
If I cannot borrow against my salary, and my take home pay drops me off further from my house than it used to, what to make of the prospects for next terms’ school fees?
I am told that in Brazil, the Bolsa Família (Family Allowance), a conditional cash transfer scheme, puts additional cash in poor families’ pockets, and for families with children, helps put kids in school who ordinarily may have fallen off the educational radar. If that is a fact, I wonder why we cannot have schemes here that pay a stipend to needy families if they send their children to school, and give those children a meal a day. India apparently feeds 160 million children (that is equal to the entire population of Africa’s most populous country) in its schools every day.
I had barely started ruminating on this, when my attention was drawn to the fact that Kogi State, apparently did try transferring cash to its needy citizens in support of more widespread education. But it recently had to stop the payment of West African Examination Council (WAEC) fees for students in the state, when the fees for this rose from N270 million in 2012 to N500 million in 2015. The governor blamed this inflation on the economic activities of “dubious and corrupt officials who hijacked the project to enrich themselves and their cronies”.
Whether in Brazil, or in the Indian state of Gujarat (where a conditional cash transfer scheme is also in place), the tax imposed on all forms of progress by “thieves” has been considerably reduced by the use of would-be beneficiaries’ biometric data and direct payment of the stipends into their bank accounts. Across the world, biometric authentication processes have also helped resolve the identity issues that make governance in all its forms difficult.
Our politicians, on the other hand, are fighting to ensure that biometric card readers are not used in the March elections.
Now you see why Aristotle was wrong, and I am not a political animal?