It’s been a while since I last got on my Soapbox

The other day, I was out at a work barbecue with some colleagues and to free our hands for the spicy task at hand, we decided to place our mobile phones on a table.  By the time three mobile phones had landed on that table, I did some quick maths and was a bit shocked to note that the total cost of the phones was about N330,000 ( about $2080). I remarked on the amount of money on the table and then placed my own N3,500 ( approx $21) phone on the pile. That elicited some laughter. For the sake of full disclosure, I have two mobile phones and the one I placed on the table was the cheaper of the two – the other one cost N37,500 (approx. 227).

After the barbecue, I conducted a quick survey and found that approximately every 2 in 3 of my colleagues had that expensive N110, 000 phone. To be absolutely truthful, I would probably have bought it too as my phone had recently gone bad, but a cash squeeze meant that I had hastily settled for a cheaper phone.  

After hearing how much we spend on phones, one would be excused for thinking that we would then keep such a phone for at least 2-3years but the truth is that we tend to get rid of our toys pretty quickly in Nigeria. One of my colleagues has not one, but three android phones and replaces them routinely whenever a new model of any of his phones is released. This is regardless of whether the phone he is getting rid of is bad or not. Due to this schedule, he regularly replaces phones when he has used them for less than a year. How much would you like to bet that girls and boys in University who have never held a job have this habit? Consumerism?

This is by no means limited to phones only. I was in Victoria Island the other day when a brand new 2012 Infiniti SUV (pictured above) passed by me in traffic, quickly followed by several other equally new, equally or even more expensive cars. On another occasion, there were about 3 of these particular Infinitis tailing each other in Lagos traffic. The new Range Rover and whatever Mercedes Benz was introduced to the market in September 2011 is already on the Lagos roads. If you think that is impressive, then head over to Abuja the seat of corruption power and let your jaw drop several times over. Again, if these were driven over a long period of time then the cost to the owner over that period of time would make sense but for some folks those cars are replaced after 2 years maximum. 

Before anyone starts to ask what the big deal is, after all folks in America drive big cars and have iPhones, remember that we pay cash in Nigeria while those abroad usually pay their bills over a period of time. They also tend to respect their things more. Plus, they tend to keep their things a lot longer. (Strange to use America as an example given that it is thought to be a consumerist nation). 

Another thing I take issue with is the cost of housing. I am simply not convinced that one gets actual value for money when renting the exorbitantly priced properties available in most parts of Lagos. Apartments in Ikoyi and Victoria Island are so expensive that they no longer charge in Naira. It is expected and acceptable to be told the rent in dollars. I mean, if a Landlord is asking you to pay $70,000 to rent a luxury 3 bedroom apartment it sounds less scandalous than its Naira conversion of N11, 550,000. While that apartment is usually a lot better than the average apartment in Yaba or Egbeda, I doubt that its value is actually $70,000 especially if you live in a Neighborhood that floods periodically or has great amounts of traffic. However, how can I blame the Landlords when they are forced to buy the land at exorbitant cost? 

My theory is that it is our class aspirations and exaggerated class consciousness that have led us to down this path. An item that costs N5000 is sold for N10000 because if it is sold for cheaper a lot of us would think that it is “not authentic”. Also, if it is sold for N5,000 that means that every Thomson, Dickson and Harrison will be able to afford it and Lord forbid that we wear the same clothes as anyone else.

I am not going to go into the Brazilian/Indian hair fad…too easy. 

It would be refreshing to wake up to a world where people actually only buy what they need (and I do concede that needs differ) and took care of what they have. 

19 Comments

chiomah

Hey sweetie,
Have missed your blog. I agree we as a nation r caught up in consumerism.. When I sold clothes yrs back a friend of mine told me point blank that 5k per office was too cheap and he couldn’t patronise me! Talk about the ipad even people who don’t know how to use gadgets own one., and because they aren’t into gadgets they end up as play things for their toddlers! .my 4yr old asked me for a dora ipad the other day.Human hair hmm! Just recently I decided I wanted a weave and asked someone how much cheap authentic hair would cost..I was shocked at the prices..she claimed that her hair was cheap..@ like 60k on the average some cost even 150k… My younger sister who has natural hair but also wears weaves every now and then..just laughed when I told her and brought out some human hair which she was selling for a fraction of what normally obtains.. She told me that was the same hair I was seeing for those prices, n truly everyone dt has seen it say its high grade hair..but naija babes won’t be happy unless it costs 100k.. Nigerians sha! My friend wanted a new nokia phone n asked my boss to buy it in texas.. Guess what they said it was just available in asia n not US but I already knew one person using it in my office.. I agree with u some nigerians r truly too class concious..they want to stand out and boast about how they sow with so so and so for 40k..and only use aunty funmi..and don’t enter primark… free urself the truly reach don’t even act that way.

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Natural Girl

@ Chioma, you just took the words outta my mouth. The truly rich do not even act this way!!!!. Do i sense abit of inferiority complex???

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cosmicyoruba

Yes, it is entirely possible that Nigerians are caught up in consumerism.

I was just reading on how adoption of Structural Adjustment Programs in the 80′s lead to more Nigerians been interested in self-reliance and pursuing wealth by any means.

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JazzFest

This was an interesting article. I’m first generation immigrant and I think it amounts to thinking it is deserved or part of some status as you described. Working hard and earning the markings of a well-to-do person. I agree consumerism is a problem, I wonder if people feel like after working hard they are entitled to enjoy their money just like “other rich people” do.
I haven’t been on your blog for a while this article was a reminder of why I signed on in the first place :)

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Natural Nigerian

I am glad that the piece resonated with you.

That feeling of entitlement I think is what feeds this frenzy. I have no problem with enjoying one’s money but when we spend this money just for the sake of spending it or keeping up with the Joneses, e.g when one is buying a phone because one doesn’t want Mr. Okoro to “oppress you” regardless of the fact that one only uses the phone at 10% capacity, then we have to examine the rational behind such decisions. Or one buys a status car only because Mr Oluwole has one and one doesn’t want to be bested. Several more examples abound….

And of course we can tie all this consumerism to our problem of corruption. Why else would one man steal enough for 20000 lifetimes?

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Nimi

Interesting read. Without a doubt Nigerians are definitely caught up in consumerism. Really sad.

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sahara

Hey, I’d like to add my two cents here, not sure it fits very well with the issue today, I travelled to Namibia sometime in Feb this year, and thats when I realized just how bad it is over here,one of those things is the cost of eating out in Lagos, for R300 (Naira 6000) My friend and I could go to a decent eatery (bogobiri level) and have a fully loaded chicken salad, with desert and coffee, and I still got change to tip the waiters) my husband and I went out to eat a couple of times, and we ended up spending close to 20k. I was shocked at just how expensive a simple roast chicken and salad and a bottle of wine could cost in Lagos. It was almost as if the price made the place. Got me thinking, is the cost of production really that much higher in Lagos, or have we made things so exponentially expensive, to appreciate their value?

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Nat

Well said NN!! You need to go to the higher institutions and see just how far young Nigerians will go to get these really expensive toys. I know a young lady who went to such great lengths to get a phone that she only used 3% of what it can really do…then the real owner came and took it:)… Some of us need to start cutting our coats according to our sizes…

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Natural Nigerian

I have seen this before. It makes a strong point and invites us to take another look at how we are getting hooked in by manufacturers. Plus there is also the fact that all this consumerism is taking a toll environmentally in the production as well of disposal of our toys.

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Adeola

and they say there’s no money in Nigeria. I use to believe what North American media shows about poverty in Africa and the number of calls we get from relatives back home asking for money for a second or third phone! My dad use to laugh and go “I can barely afford the one phone i’m using here in Canada myself! Anyway, this believe all changed after going to university and meeting MANY Nigerian International students. Infact, the number of enrollment increased each year. sometimes 2-3students from one family. And I’ll go WOW! I can barely afford to pay for my 6,000CAD tuition, but somehow, your parent can afford 18,000CAD tuition fee X3! You ask some of them what their parents do and they say doctor, runs a clothing shop or a regular job. It’s the mentality in Nigeria that’s making business owners charge more than the value of the Item. check out “Blackberry Babes” one thing I know for sure is that many Nigerians are definitely “trend followers”, they don’t care about the costs and possible dangers of following the crowd

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Adeola

and they say there’s no money in Nigeria. I use to believe what North American media shows about poverty in Africa and the number of calls we get from relatives back home asking for money for a second or third phone! My dad use to laugh and go “I can barely afford the one phone i’m using here in Canada myself! Anyway, this believe all changed after going to university and meeting MANY Nigerian International students. Infact, the number of enrollment increased each year. sometimes 2-3students from one family. And I’ll go WOW! I can barely afford to pay for my 6,000CAD tuition, but somehow, your parent can afford 18,000CAD tuition fee X3! You ask some of them what their parents do and they say doctor, runs a clothing shop or a regular job. It’s the mentality in Nigeria that’s making business owners charge more than the value of the Item. check out “Blackberry Babes” one thing I know for sure is that many Nigerians are definitely “trend followers”, they don’t care about the costs and possible dangers of following the crowd
curiouskinks.blogspot.com

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lizzy orji

afta readin dis post, i laughed my guts out! i call em fools of the 1st order. after reading Rich dad,Poor dad, how successful people think n oda related books. i see why ere is poverty in nigeria despite we r richly blessed. we tend 2 spend our money on unneccessary thgs. i rarely take soda, wine, juice coz d r empty calories. i neva buy em wit my money. i took 1 dis yr bcos its free. i luv home cooking. i cook evrythg 4rm scratch. i hate restaurants coz eir food r not so healthy n d r expensive. we shld invest our money on neccessary thgs like knowledge, helping others, buying assets 4 securing our future.nigerian films has contributed 2 dis demise. i dont watch it coz its not reality. wat makes a man its not his car, house or money, its wat comes from inside. its left 4 u 2 choose 2 b lik em or 2 stand out n write ur name in d sand of time.

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OSA

BEAUTIFULLY SAD! but yet so true. permit me to reproduce this on my blog. thank you for the great insight.

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Don Kester...

CONSUMERISM is what happens when the better part of our creative abilities is beclouded by a sense of LEADERSHIP DIARRHEA…

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