The recessive times Nigeria is experiencing is fast putting holes in the pockets of a growing number of people. Unfortunately, the economy is still heavily import dependent and the solution being proffered by financial advisers is that people should engage in diversified economic activities to survive. The doctrine of multiple streams of income may add money to people’s pockets in the interim but how much value and sustainability would it deliver? We have become an economy that pays greater attention to figures than it does to quality and value. Consequently, our currency is losing value in relation to others while we keep working harder to earn more of it- in numbers.
I remember my days as a student in Federal Government Girls College Onitsha in the late 1970s, we paid about N40.00 as school fees covering tuition, boarding and stationery. Those were the days when value was rated above inordinate accumulation of monetary figures. Today, parents may pay over ₦1million in fees to schools that would not deliver half the value we got in our time. Since most parents do not earn in millions every month, it means that they would have to engage in many more haphazard activities (what we now call multiple streams of income) to enable them meet up with the demands of contemporary Nigeria. It is okay to diversify when one has mastered one area of enterprise and has the capital in terms of human and material resources with which to seek out new areas of foray. Money alone should not be the motivation.
Another notable aspect of today’s reality is the preponderance of imported items and fake products in the market. I once interviewed a manager of the now defunct Philips manufacturing concern at Ojota, Lagos in the early 1990s before the embers of that once imposing manufacturing concern doused to ashes. He told me that they were still kept in business by the patronage of the Nigerians who would insist on their electricity bulbs and pressing irons because they were superior to the imported ones. The machines had broken down and the products were manually assembled by the few workers who remained after a massive layoff. In spite of everything, they produced durable items. It was the premium which the manager and his co-workers placed on quality and excellence that generated the customer loyalty that sustained them. Their little earnings were also valuable enough to pay for their basic needs as the system was not as impatient for raw cash as it is today; so, they could remain focused.
Today, with a lot more cash in the pocket, families cannot meet their rudimentary needs. People now have to do ‘many things’ to survive. A teacher, for example, will have to sell clothes, run a restaurant, make hats, etc. to meet up. The trouble is, in the effort to pursue several unrelated businesses, professional effectiveness and product quality would suffer. This is one reason our locally made goods are not durable and most common services are moribund; opening up opportunities for those who will today opt for focused endeavour.
I knew a medical doctor and his wife some years back who jointly operated a private practice at their residence while also working at a teaching hospital in another town. His wife also worked there as a nurse. Additionally, they ran a snacks shop with their children. When they were about to start the shop, he confided that it was to enable them raise enough money to put their children in a private school as the standard of education in the public school they attended was discouraging. So, he and his family were overworked and undoubtedly, that would also tell on overall performance at each area of foray.
Multiple streams of income as it is preached in today’s Nigeria is simply a call to everyone who would obey, to become a ‘jack of all trade and master of none’. To heed its bid, excellence is compromised; diminishing the value of outputs. People are cutting down on the quality and length of man hours devoted to any single enterprise and so, the money earned cannot deliver satisfaction in any given sphere, be it goods or services.
Locally manufactured products are diluted for more profit and we have to import if we want good products. As a hallmark of the multiple streams of income syndrome, emergency skills acquisition programmes now abound. A single individual acquires several skills at a time and so is not focused enough to attain excellence in any particular area. Mastery costs time and focus. What is the point of making more money if there is no locally available value to spend it on?
It is the sterling standard required of products and services in Britain that lends strength to their currency; we can also place the same premium on quality here. It would uplift our economic fortunes better than a mere concentration on ‘making more money’. When businesses and services focus on specific niche areas and build them up to excellence, the quality of locally produced goods and services would improve and we can reasonably lose the appetite for imported products. This, I believe, is a more sustainable route out of a looming poverty crisis.