The three basics
This article is intended to lull us out of our false sense of security, complacency and apathy. It is designed to move the grave and deeply disturbing issues broached to the public square for serious discourse and honest debate and, finally, it is a clarion call for courageous and urgent action. I pose the question: why are we not hearing the very public and excruciating lamentations, weeping and gnashing of teeth of the teeming masses from the floors of every official political chamber? Why is there a demonstrable dearth of bold and innovative initiatives, schemes and programmes that will address the dangerous levels of unemployment, under-employment and lack of basic jobs skills plaguing the nation?
One wonders whether the rank and file of Nigerians would not have had a more manageable life if they lived in medieval Europe under Feudalism.
This political and social system existed between the fifth and 15th centuries and was based on a strict class system centered on land ownership. The nobles were at the apex of the pyramid, whilst the serfs or peasants, who in modern parlance would be called grassroots, occupied the bottom and were leased land by the nobles in exchange for labour and service. The daily life of a serf was rigorous and entailed strenuous work from dawn to dusk. The land supplied most of their needs, including abundant food and modest apparel, whilst the forest provided wood for houses and furniture. The lifestyle was characterised by self-sufficiency and its tedium was relieved by sports, entertainment, games and religious festivals.
The serfs enjoyed many holidays. Sundays were work-free days as were eight weeks in every year. A similar form of feudalism was also prevalent in Japan, circa 12th century to 19th century, lasting longer than European feudalism. In both cases, the system was based on mutual benefit. Apart from the tangible advantages flowing from the symbiotic relationship, surely it is not a far stretch of the imagination to deduce that it dawned on the ruling classes that they were seriously out-numbered; consequently it would be in their best interest to ensure that the basic needs of the serfs were met. There was always the daunting possibility that ill-served, angry and resentful serfs would be galvanized to revolt and take to the highways and byways with pitchforks and flaming torches, all the while, harbouring ill-concealed murderous intentions towards the nobility. Indeed, the French Revolution which took place in 1789 and lasted about 10 years was a direct result of significant social disparities and economic crisis, which included a very steep rise in food prices.
Nigeria joined the United Nations International Labour Organisation in June 1960 and has ratified 40 International Labour Conventions. In June 1976, the ILO held a World Employment Conference where a Declaration of Principles and a Programme of Action was adopted.The Declaration called for strategies and national development plans and policies to “include explicitly as a priority objective the promotion of employment and the satisfaction of the basic needs of every country’s population.” Basic needs were defined as including, first, adequate food, shelter and clothing. Paradoxically, these very needs were deemed non-negotiable and essential in medieval Europe. My final question which is the ‘piece de resistance’, is whether the estimated 80 per cent of our population living below the poverty line, would opt to be serfs in medieval Europe or Japan if time travel were a possibility? I am not given to the waging of bets, however, I believe that the majority would answer in the affirmative.
This then is the tragedy and catastrophe, worthy of deep reflection.The socio-economic disparity existing today is undoubtedly the ‘’elephant in the room’’, which even if not addressed cursorily or made the subject matter of an ongoing topic of conversation , is manifestly present in its huge enormity, menacing mien and superior power. It will not go away! This chronic situation which has reached an impasse should engender a gamut of emotions including indignation, dread, angst, despair, grief, wistfulness, and hopefully inspiration, bravery, boldness and determination. We would do well to abdicate our ‘normalcy bias, willful ignorance and cognitive dissonance’.
Personally, even if I tried to bury my head in the sand and pretend that these issues are not a blight on our society at large, I received a shocking wake-up call two weeks ago as, whilst stuck in traffic at a red light on the Falomo bridge around 8p.m., I was confronted by an armed robber who tried to open my car door and upon failing, fired a weapon at me. I believe that I was spared by providence and it is not only incumbent on me, but mandatory, that I draw attention to the current crisis level situation of insecurity.
Ms Fowler is an international lawyer.