The Great Meat Pie Demise

Hardly matters what anyone bloody well says, the Nigerian meat pie is in a bad way.

I grew up on fantastic meat pies. There was nothing quite like it. It didn’t particularly matter if you had them hot or cold, they were perfect. For the first couple of years we had those semi-circular mounds of folded dough with the fork imprints down the outer crust. The IBB years brought us the triangular shaped, flakier meat pies. I recall a surprise samoosa attack launched in the early to mid-90s which was beaten back after heavy fighting in Shell Housing Estate, Port Harcourt. It didn’t matter what was thrown at us—sausage, scotch egg, egg roll, danish, doughnut—we beat it back.

Meat pies were consistent. The perfect ratio of potato, beef, carrot and seasoning. Occasionally one came across an amateur creation, its distinct telltale sign the excessiveness of potato in the filling. But other than these rare cases, it was meat pie heaven. Nigeria was meat pie country.

And that was before the Great Mr Biggs Meat Pies.

You don’t really know what a meat pie is if you never had a Mr Biggs Meat Pie in its heyday. We capitalise the ‘meat pie’ in Mr Biggs Meat Pie for a reason. To say it was in a class of is own is absurd: this was a mass produced piece of food heaven. I remember there was an AGIP filling station in front of Tejuosho Market, between Ojuelegba and the railway line in Yaba. The promise of a warm pie was the only reason I could tolerate the interminable unpleasantness of a day at the market with my mother. It was more than just food, it was a cultural totem.

These days what passes for meat pie are dry, unimaginative, vulgar, insulting pieces of thick dough. That’s if you find it. In 2017 we stopped the pretense altogether. In many otherwise fine establishments the meat pie has been eradicated by an invasive species known as the sharwarma. We have lost a great many things in this country, and our meat pies may be the most tragic of all.

Blow Scatter or A Better Average

Tunde Leye wrote an interesting post yesterday which touched on a subject I’ve been thinking a lot about lately: building a life in Nigeria or trying to do so elsewhere. This is a topic as old as the hills, but maybe we can say something new about it.

Why does anybody voluntarily try to move borders? Simple: For a chance at a better life. If you think about it, there are two options for improving one’s life:

  1. We can improve our lives in the country we are in. [The blow scatter option]
  2. We can move to another country where an improved life is likelier. [The emigrate option]

It is important to note the italicised words ‘chance’ and ‘likelier.’ There are few certainties in life. Implicit in (2) is the admission that (1) is less likely or achievable. A lot of people do not like this, they insist that they will blow scatter and that Nigeria is just the place to do so. I find the option to blow scatter problematic. If most people are saying ‘I go blow scatter,’ the consequence of this is that most people are actually saying: ‘We go all blow scatter.

Unfortunately, this cannot happen. Mathematically, we cannot all blow scatter. This admission is a struggle for many of us. Why? There is a solid body of research which shows that most of us are convinced that we are above-average, even though this is statistically impossible. Most of us make up the average. The blow scatter mentality is premised on an impossible world.

Let’s look at these two options in another way. The stylised graph below shows what a distribution of income looks like in many societies. The middle of the graph does not mean ‘middle class’ in the typical sense (i.e.: people earning a certain amount of money), it is the average. We’ll come back to this.

Ideas - 3

So, what do we have?

  • On the left are people who do not have a lot of income. (Red)
  • Towards the middle are most people in society (Yellow). This group of people earn the average income.
  • You have those with higher incomes still on the right. (Blue)

By definition, the average is a measure of central tendency, or the likeliest outcome. That jargony sentence simply means that if I had to pick the random person in Nigeria today, there is a good chance that his or her income will be near Nigeria’s average income. That is, he or she will fall into the Yellow portion. It also means that if you look out twenty years, the average Nigerian is likely to be earning the average Nigerian income, whatever that is by that time (the future Yellow). This is a consequence of what the average is.

Once you accept this, things become clearer. All you are concerned about is which average is likely to be better (option two). Do you want an average which allows you to pay tax, travel, enjoy 24-hr electricity and water and cheap high-quality education for the rest of your life? (High Income) Or do you want an average where you are worried about an emergency medical operation? (Low Income)

Going back to our graph of income distribution, here is what I mean by a choice between averages:

Ideas - 3

On the one hand, we have where we are now—Nigeria. Then there is the U.S. graph to the right of it (it could be any other developed economy). Notice that overall, their average is a higher level of ‘income.’ In other words, the average American is doing better.

And this is all there is to it: Emigrating is a chance at a better average. (Please note that the average is the likely state wherever you are. I am not making the fallacious argument that leaving Nigeria is a choice between having average income overseas and having exceptional wealth in Nigeria. That is nonsensical.)

But we have another problem, don’t we. In the same way that the strategy to blow is not a strategy for all Nigerians, emigrating cannot be either. We cannot all emigrate. So are we stuck? Not quite. Looked at individually, it seems to me that a person has a better shot at a great life in a better average than trying to work themselves out of their current average (which is a very difficult thing regardless of where you are). That’s an option for Tunde’s friend (and the one he’s taken) but not for all of us.

This is a stark truth. There is no easy way out for Nigerians collectively: We cannot all hammer and we cannot all emigrate. We have to fix the country. When we speak of improving Nigeria, what that means to me is moving the Nigerian graph to the right. It does not mean moving a few people from the Red to Blue portion of the existing graph. Economic development is simply a process of helping most of society ‘emigrate’ to a better life at home. It is not creating millionaires or billionaires. Our World In Data shows how this has worked over time. It shows that the world’s graph has progressively moved to the right; that on the whole, we are all better off now compared to a hundred years ago. We’ve moved the average, and that’s what Nigeria needs, a better average.

 


I should add a few thoughts which I was not able to incorporate into the body of the essay, but which are quite important nonetheless:

  1. Notice that I left the word ‘income’ in quotes; that was deliberate. It does not mean ‘money.’ It is things such as lower costs, expanded lifestyle options, better quality of life, freedom and so on. These all enhance our wellbeing but are non-monetary in nature. For instance, being able to walk into a public library that was founded by Benjamin Franklin in the 1700s is free. But, for people like me, it is a massive increase in my ‘income’ or my wellbeing. I also like trees. Being in a green space is free, but it enhances my ‘income.’ Stress may appear costless because there is no naira or kobo charge, but eventually, we will pay through some medical issue or the other. (This idea is a staple of economics) There are other non-monetary factors which enter into this conversation. Identity is important, and this could become an issue overseas. Xenophobia and racism are never far off. What of family? It is very difficult to leave one’s loved ones and emigrate, we deny ourselves the privilege of watching them (and they us) grow old. there is no money one could attach to that pain. In other words, there are many things which cannot be modelled in a spreadsheet which increase or decrease our wellbeing. A lot of us miss this when thinking about these decisions.
  2. To point out that most people will be in the average is not a predication for your life. In fact, I am hoping that I manage to escape the average myself. However, the disconcerting truth is that we must run as hard as we can to likely end up average. But what is life if not the ability to relish its complexities and contradictions?
  3. I am writing (and you may be reading) as someone who has had the advantage of privilege. The middle and below is an ugly place in Nigeria, most of our countrymen and countrywomen live a life of unimaginable hardship. Our concerns here are the privilege of the rich. This is not to criminalise wealth or to victimise the poor. It is an acknowledgement of the unfortunate status quo. The vast multitude of our people are more worried about a warm meal, a comfy bed, making it through this rainy season. If you have escaped this (by your effort or Fate’s design) be grateful, you have better problems.
  4. Apologies to the statisticians and/or economists who may object to some of the liberties I’ve taken. I deliberately tried to strip away most of technicalities associated with the curves and averages.
  5. @inpoco and @andyRoidO were generous with their time and helped me to bring this essay to life. I thank them. Obviously any errors or problems are mine alone.

 

Leadership

One of the great fallacies in Nigeria is the notion that leadership starts and ends with political leadership, and that “our leaders” are the entire cause of the problem with Nigeria. This is a fine piece of nonsense. Leadership is a broad concept. The church is a constituency with leaders, so are the mosques, the traditional healers, the business establishment, academia, students, and so on. Every segment of our population has a hierarchy of some sort, and with that, it also has a leadership class. Our lazy habit of blaming all and sundry on our leaders, and especially our leaders in “government” (by which we usually mean the federal government, not, say, the judiciary, or the 36 imbeciles who lead the states) is a classic cop out. It is a way to make us feel better about ourselves. The fact of the matter is that wherever you are, as a member of our society, you have the opportunity to demonstrate the leadership you wish we had. And watching these alternate leaders in society is a study in the true challenges of leading the county. Too often we see the exact reflection of everything that we loudly complain about. The example of estate associations stands out. It is a real indictment that even in the entirely private, resident-controlled estate associations, whose job it is to ensure the comfort, security and general wellbeing of the residents of the estate they belong to, the record shows that, as a rule, these associations fail to discharge that responsibility honestly and diligently. The stories of mismanagement, simple theft and tribalism are legion. Perhaps even, the existence of these organisations is a statement set in bold of the critical challenge of achieving basic goals in this country. I am still flabbergasted by the daily reality of neighbours, whose children play together, stealing diesel money from the estate pot. The insults we hurl at “government” make us feel better about ourselves. We trot out the standard complaint that “we are not ready” all the time. Yet, in our small pockets, we fail miserably. Surely there is no greater demonstration of the national challenge than these micro failures. It is an uncomfortable truth, but Nigeria is made up of Nigerians, not anyone else. What we see is what we are. And we are, far more often than we wish to admit, not the change we wish to see in our world.

Insurgencies & The Real Housewives of Atlanta

Ever wondered how it is that ISIS or some other group can literally raise an army of thousands of young people all willing to inflict violence?

That always had me thinking. And I think I’ve got a good reason why. I am pretty sure the theories can get quite heavy with these things, but here is one word which I think captures the situation well:  Joblessness. (It is a Nigerian word that doesn’t quite mean “unemployed” but it is close enough.) Like, it is mad simple: If you don’t wake up early everyday, get into whatever mode of transportation you use and go to some place where you have to concentrate on something productive for 8 hours, you are basically fair game for some ideologue to turn you into an extremist. Trust me on this, after walking this beat for almost a decade now, I can categorically state (as we are wont to say in Nigeria) that when you get home from work, all you want to do is eat and watch The Real Housewives of Atlanta.

But when you are jobless, all sorts of crazy ideas pop into your head. I often wonder about this when I think of the low-key insurgencies in various stages of upsurge which seem to have appeared all over Nigeria in the past couple of years. Boko Haram, IPOB, Niger Delta activists, violent cults, Sunni militias, and so on. The jobless youth are the tinder for all of these movements. The simple point is that if your country is not providing people something to do, there is a far higher chance that they will get to doing something, and it won’t be anything productive. I am not one for predictions and I try not to be cynical or pessimistic by default, but we have to start to consider whether the chickens are coming home to roost.

In short, at the heart of these insurgencies may simply be a lack of opportunities for young people to be gainfully employed and to watch The Real Housewives of Atlanta.