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.