Prof. C.B Okolo (1994) powerfully argues that the enduring problem in Nigeria is consumerism – meaning consumer consciousness or squandermania mentality. He defined squandermania as a disposition to conceive and judge things mostly in terms of their consumable value. The consequence being that the society becomes one dominated largely by acquisitive rather than productive instincts. In his words, “consumerism or squandermania mentality thus narrows down people’s horizon by defining and determining progress, social importance, social values, power, authority etc. almost exclusively in terms of material success and achievements.”
Characteristics of consumer society, like Nigeria, include unproductive spending or wealth exhibitionism, work-attitude that emphasizes immediate gain, instant wealth, fame and material success and love for certificate education, which guarantees positions if influence and material gain in society. Hence, prestige and power are mainly construed in terms of material wealth and possessions.
That Nigeria is a consumerist society is never an exaggeration, for it is manifested in all spheres of the economy, be it politics, religion, education, etc. Indeed, this lifestyle of ostentation is a disease which no section of the Nigerian society is free from. We can’t talk of Nigeria’s problem without mentioning squandermania mentality.
Nigerian politics has become a private gamble and not a service for the nation, a theatre for competing selfish interests where the common good is often carted away as private property by individual politicians or groups. Given this squandermania mentality, a local government chairman or councilor likes to be noticed, escorted with siren echoing, feared and see people standing in awe for his presence.
In the educational sector, a lot of people read in order to obtain mere certificate, what is referred to as ‘certificate education’. Thus, they construe education in terms of its material relevance. Knowledge in the strict sense, for broadening one’s horizon, understanding and conquering one’s environment is not for them. Again, this squandermania mentality explains why most of the religious men and women are after money, and would quickly corner a gospel message from where it is directed to fat tithe and offertory giving.
It is clear that the quest for instant wealth and material acquisition is the root cause of many societal ills. All that matters for Nigerian is naira accumulation, the means not withstanding. Gain with little or no labour at all is ideal. The average Nigerian usually shuns creative labour which promises values other than material.
This goes to explain why there is so much robbery, corruption, kidnapping, prostitution, human trafficking, embezzlement and all sorts of fraudulent practices in the country – avenues by which one becomes rich overnight. The major concern of the average Nigerian is ego mbute (money-unsuffered-for).
The average Nigerian strongly believes that money is almighty and can achieve anything and everything and that it is the sole key to paradise on earth, to property, power, social importance, even national honours. Nigerian popular high life musician, Muddy Ibe had said that oji ego ji okwu (he who has money has the talk) and for Oliver de Coque, aku n’etigbu okwu (wealth puts any case to an end).
Indeed, the idea that money is the most and the only value in vogue is never hidden in the Nigerian life, and that is why a typical Nigerian would ask you: if you no getmoney, wetin you gain? As a result, today, everything has become tigbuo, zogbuo (a do or die) affair in Nigeria.
Our consumerist tendencies and squandermania mentality has been a clog in the wheel of our development as a nation. It has made us to be perpetually dependent on the industrialized nations. It discourages patronage of our native goods. It is not shocking that most of the drugs, food stuffs, scientific equipments and all sorts of manufactured and consumer good are not produced locally. This has had stultifying effects on the creative and imaginative powers of the average Nigerian.
It has also made us to be imitators instead of competitors with other nations. Since we end up imitating and reproducing, we lack originality, self transcendence, creativity and self reliance. By being dependent on other nations and imitators, instead of competing with other nations, we enslave ourselves.
Squandermania is the foundation of all our problems. As a matter of fact, it is the problem behind our problems. It is a public enemy that should be stamped out of our society. To ignore it in our attack of societal ills would be to pursue a phantom, attacking the disease without a proper diagnosis of its cause.
Ezinwanne Onwuka writes from Cross River State and may be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org.