As much as Nigeria needs engineers and doctors, it also needs properly trained social scientists. I am talking about people who can see and understand social changes going on in a country and interpret them for policy makers. They must be able to deeply analyse what is happening to people across the country and its implications for economic policy and national development. You often cannot divorce what people believe from economic development and many times policymakers design what they think is a solid policy only for them to end up confounded by its complete failure in implementation.
A few years ago, I started doing a review of Nigerian newspapers on my twitter feed every morning. I used to check Nigerian newspapers every morning anyway so I started tweeting stories that caught my attention with a short comment. Long story short, it’s now been going on for over 4 years. One thing it has allowed me to see is certain social patterns in Nigeria. That is, some things that are happening seemingly quietly under the radar but with serious implications for the socio-economic development of Nigeria. Unfortunately, I am not a sociologist so all I can do with the information is analyse it in a limited way and then speculate as to what exactly is going on. Here are a few examples of things I’ve come to see regularly. These things are more than a trend and are worth a deeper investigation by qualified people.
The family unit
It is not just that the rate of divorce in Nigeria seems high, although that is a problem. It is the kind of reasons why people seem to divorce. These reasons suggest a seeming carefree attitude towards marriage especially among the poorer parts of society. There are many reasons why people might choose to separate and without being in their shoes one can never fully understand them. But it is happening and happening a lot.
What I seem to be seeing is that outside of the middle and upper classes, the ‘normal’ family unit appears on its way to extinction (where normal is defined as where children are growing up with 2 parents present). Everywhere else, millions of children seem to be growing up with only one parent or even none. And yet, parenting is a tough job even for 2 people, never mind one.
What does this mean for the future of the country? How much economic progress is possible when the most basic unit in a society – the family – is seemingly coming apart? Is it economic pressures driving families apart or the other way around? We need social scientists to help us with these questions.
You’ll be amazed at how many stories of cultism there are in the papers practically every day. The terrorist cult group, Badoo, has been in the news lately because of the sheer brutality of their methods. But they are by no means the only cult group in Nigeria. They are practically everywhere across the country.
When I was in University, cults offered young men the illusion of protection and strength in numbers. It gave them meaning and the feeling that they were part of something important. But now, I am not sure I even understand what cults are about anymore. It just seems the vehicle of choice through which young men, with nothing but time on their hands, express themselves.
What does this mean for job creation and the workforce in general? I can’t say for sure but given that people now seem to be joining cults from a very early age, we might be witnessing a lot of young men who will never be able to fit in anywhere in the economy and are condemned to a life of crime.
The price of babies
Whether you are aware or not, selling babies is quite common in Nigeria. The market is thriving and booming in fact. Perhaps due to Nigeria’s impossible adoption and surrogacy laws, this market has sprung up to meet an obvious need.
What has surprised me however is that over the last four years, prices have not changed much. The price of a baby has been steady around N350,000 to N500,000 depending on whether it is a boy or a girl. It has not been affected by the exchange rate or the economy in general. Middle men play a huge part in this mini industry as brokers between buyers and sellers. Typically, the woman who delivers the baby only ever gets a small part of the money – say around 20%.
What does it mean that women are willing to go through the risk of having a baby only to sell the child for a very small amount of money? Women cannot realistically breed children for sale as a career – they are limited by time and the fact that most women can’t have more than one child at a time. And why have prices remained stable? Is it that there is not much demand but a great deal of supply?
There are many other things I see regularly. Let’s not talk about paedophilia as it’s an incredibly disturbing topic for me even though I see stories about it almost every other day. And why is it that every time there is a masquerade event anywhere in Nigeria, violence always follows? Last year, Lai Mohammed claimed that a single masquerade could create 1,000 jobs but is he aware of the trail of violence they leave in their wake? To my shock, someone recently told me that the recent clash between Hausas and Yorubas in Ife was linked to what is known as, Gbo’Mu Le Lantern loans. Find out what that is – the theory is not totally unbelievable.
The point of all this is that there are so many problems linked together in Nigeria today. It might be difficult to get the economy moving without paying attention to social changes going on in the country. These issues are not studied enough and more importantly, policy makers don’t take account of them when designing policies. Social scientists, where are you?