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Sustainability of Livelihoods Today, By Okey Ikechukwu

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The Nigerian ecosystem, if we must call it one, is in trouble. It has been for a long time now. The foundations for our current troubles were not laid today. Decades ago, at the level of leadership, a few young Nigerians made murder a means of leadership change at the national level. In matters of state policy, personal preference and arbitrary discretion became a fundamental principle of state policy. In place of “National Development Plans” limited regime programmes, often designed to massage the ego of incumbents, became the norm.

The story is not very different with the distribution of national resources. Allocation and ownership of oil wells in Nigeria today, for instance, does not rest on equity. If there are any clear and objective paradigms that run counter to cronyism, it must be a closely guarded secret. “Allocation” is the operative word here. And allocation is by a hegemonic political leadership, spanninig five decades.

Beyond Nigeria, the global ecosystem is also in trouble. The world has been driven by consumption for about a century now. Unbalanced exploitation of natural resources, abuse of the environmental and the dictates of a few nations that place their interests above all else define humanity today. The promotion of despotic regimes that do not serve the interests of their nationals has been the business of some powerful nations. Outright overthrow of focused governments with good plans for their nationals and economic neocolonialism are the templates inflicted on the rest of the world by some powerful nations.

We are seeing the negative multiplier effects of all these, of course. The current Nigerian situation is only a partial derivative of tge global environment. Bad leadership is a homegrown component of our own situation. We were already in a deep hole when the COVID-19 Pandemic struck. But we did not stop digging. In fact, we are still digging furiously. As the COVID-19 caught us, and the rest of the world, unprepared, it became one of the most significant “Moderator Variables” for humanity in the 21st century. Being a Moderator Variable, it changed our ability to function optimally at the individual, group, national and Multinational levels.

It led to shutdowns, layoffs, collapse of local economies, collapse of national economies, collapse of the global economy, recalibration of agreements and contracts, overall reduction in per capita income, a damaged insurance industry, ruined incentive structure of airlines and reward based customer services, suspension of import dependent businesses, and the crippling of monocultural economies. In sum, COVID-19 and its aftermath deepened the crisis of a planet that has developed a modern environment and economy that is characterized by unsustainable livelihoods.

Now that the usual means of securing the necessities of life are endangered everywhere, a form of natural selection is already taking place. Individuals, organizations and nations that cannot adapt to the new normal are on their way out of existence. Quietly, but inevitably, it will happen. The jobs and other activities that large sections of humanity use to support their existence have either gone under, are going under, or are billed to go under. Unstructured economies and badly governed polities, like ours, will be among the worse hit. The fine speeches of those who talk much about macro economic indices, instead of looking at the living conditions of their neighbours or even their cousins here in Nigeria, will not get us anywhere. Our consumption-driven and free-floating environment, wherein official state actors are spenders and not producers, is sure to create more troubles; going forward.

Vulcanizers, bus conductors, most SMEs, and major manufacturers, are flat on their backs. Installed capacity is no longer a relevant variable in economic discussions these days. Redesertification has taken over large swaths of Northern Nigeria. Every business that once seemed like it provided sure means of livelihood, skill sets that seemed to guarantee lasting means of livelihood and every business proposition that once seemed flawless, stand confounded today. So, unprecedented unemployment walks the land.

The crisis in many places, especially in unstructured economies like ours, is that a larger population of economic actors do not know that not every means of livelihood is a business. Every business entity is an enterprise, but not every enterprise is a business. Businesses are structured, with organized efforts and activities; with a flow and KPI pattern that targets growth and sustainability. But enterprise, with poor business outlook may just be an ego-driven excursion in expenditures.

Because ours is mercifully termed a developing economy, even flounders petiously with little prospect of early recovery, we overlook the fact that we now have low birth rate of new businesses and high death-rates of old and new businesses. We overlook the fact that we have short life expectancy of serious businesses, due to a diseased and a stifling operating environment that guarantees malnutrition. Add low literacy rates, a generally underdeveloped human capital. Then think of low per capita income, overall low productivity and a higher percentage of the population living well below poverty line. Does it all sound very inspiring?

Now, consider the prevailing poor social infrastructure, unstable policy and regulatory environment and lower rate of capital formation. It all boils down to one thing: if indeed Nigeria is a developing economy, then we must say that livelihoods are dysfunctional here. Because sustainable livelihood emerges at the point of intersection between sound policies, developed human capital, business opportunities and strategic management, the dysfunctionality of the Nigerian State promises very little that is exciting.

It is time for us to review the impact of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), the Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency (SMEDAN), the Bank of Industry (Boi) and similar organisations over the last 30 years. We should also consider abolishing the conditional cash transfer programme, which was recently in the news for not having paid some five hundred thousand supposed beneficiaries, since 2016. This new endeavour is a drain pipe that will create, and retain, a cesspool of idlers on the dole. We should do a costs benefits analysis of national expenditure on infrastructure and streamline the institutions of state. The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the North East Development Commission (NEDC), the Diaspora Commission, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, the Niger Delta Ministry and related agencies should ideally be scrapped.

National Planning Commission should do a forensic human capital audit for the nation. The aides of state governors should not be more than ten, working in a pool that meets weekly to give updates and review achievements in health, educations, infrastructure, security and youth activities.

Above all, let it be said for the record and for the umpteenth time that the most unrealistic, irresponsible and unsustainable means of livelihood that Nigerians have now come to live with is the pay packet of lawmakers and the Security Votes of State Governors. Because insecurity has been growing simultaneously with the increase in the Security Votes of our governors, the challenge of sustainable livelihoods in Nigeria today, especially in the face of grinding poverty, may yet go beyond, #EndSARS and beyond #LootCovidPalliatives, to #TargetAllPast and PresenPublicHolders. Enough Said.

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