by Feyi Fawehinmi
One of the saddest things about Nigeria’s underdevelopment is how successive governments always manage to ignore what they should do e.g. Lagos-Ibadan or Benin-Ore roads and face what they really have no business bothering with e.g. anti-gay laws. This mismatch between effort and priority creates all kinds of distortions in the economy and the people’s lives are hardly any better for it.
But the above also suggests that, if we have these extremes, surely there must be some kind of sweet spot in the middle that improves everyone’s lives i.e. a win-win situation. This is the magic spot where government gets to do something it wants to do which also happens to be the same thing the vast majority of its people want it to do.
Broadly speaking, economic recessions are caused by a collapse in demand; people lose their jobs and can no longer buy the things they used to buy which in turn means the people supplying them have to cut capacity and staff, thus feeding the vicious cycle. It’s easy to see why a lot of people always want governments to ‘do something’ to stop recessions from descending into full blown depressions.
Friends, we have a marriage recession going on in Nigeria. It has happened slowly over the years and is now in danger of becoming a disastrous depression. Something must be done. I am going to outline a ‘something’ ergo, it ought to be done.
It’s important to understand where this marriage recession is coming from. From the point of view of the women, the demand remains as strong as ever in Nigeria. However, the collapse in demand has happened in the male supply side. This is where the stimulus needs to be targeted at when the government is intervening in the marriage sector. So for example the government might decide it wants 5 million weddings in 4 years and then find a way to stimulate 5 million men accordingly.
It is unclear how exactly marriage will boost the Nigerian economy beyond being a transfer of wealth to Alagas and wedding caterers but Nigerians do want it and at the very least the government ought to try to provide marriages for people to meet the yearnings and aspirations of its citizens. There is also the unquantified psychological toll exerted especially on innocent young women by the army of busybodies in Nigeria with questions like ‘when are you going to marry?’
Now I am married myself but I will be the first to admit that I got very lucky – I married when it was relatively cheap and the marriage sector was going through something of a boom. Anyone will tell you that buying a house in the UK in 2007 was something people did in a couple of days even without having a deposit but today getting a mortgage has become almost an impossible dream for the vast majority of young people.
Here’s what the government should do to arrest this looming disaster
Joblessness – Nobody likes a jobless guy. Churches and even pagan establishments constantly warn single ladies to avoid jobless guys like a plague when it comes to marriage. Jobless guys don’t get a lot of love.
Now the obvious answer to this problem is for government to create jobs for guys so they can marry. But this is not exactly easy to do especially in an emergency. Yes it is true that government can create jobs by simply ordering construction companies to switch from using shovels to teaspoons but this type of policy might be met with fierce resistance by the companies in question. Also this will mean leaving the most important part of the job – the salary – to market forces. This can be a problem because a guy might be employed earning N200k a year and still not be able to meet the demand for marriage. Thus the job itself is not that important.
What the government needs to do is set a target marriageable salary and simply pay eligible men that amount on a monthly basis as though they were doing a real job. I propose that the maximum amount of time a man can spend on the scheme should be 3 years. So a man who is unemployed but has plans to marry within 3 years will simply apply to join the scheme provided he is at least 29 years old.
What should then be the target salary a man can earn to sustain himself and a woman? I recommend the government sets this at N5m per annum increased by inflation each year.
Now a scheme like this is bound to attract plenty of smart arses who want to try their luck at collecting free money. So a deterrent would be useful. Any man who joins the scheme and doesn’t marry within 3 years will be sent to prison without trial. Also if a man joins the scheme and gets a real job while on the scheme, then the salary will automatically act as an adjustment to bring the salary to the target N5m amount i.e. if a guy joins the scheme and then gets a job paying N3m per annum, the government funding will then reduce to N2m.
Carlessness – There is no doubt that Nigeria is infrastructurally challenged. Whereas a young man in New York or London can successfully date a woman without owning a car, this is quite difficult to pull off in Nigeria. Again, do we wait for the various trains and metro systems to start working? No, this is an emergency.
As long as we recognise that the car is an important er, driver of marriage in Nigeria, then the rest ought to be pretty straightforward. Every guy who signs up to the scheme will get a car as soon as he can supply proof that a woman has agreed to go out on a date with him.
The proof might be a text message, twitter DM, BBM chat or email. Once this is presented, the man will be presented with a Kia ‘saloon’ car and a full tank. They will also be entitled to fuel vouchers sent to them by SMS every 4 weeks which will then be presented at any NNPC petrol station.
Houselessness and Generatorlessness – The shortage of affordable housing in Nigeria is currently estimated at 17 million homes or considerably more. This is another problem that will take a long time to solve and is thus at odds with the ‘fierce urgency of now’ that is the marriage recession.
Any government intervention in the marriage sector supply side might not have the desired effect if the men being stimulated all live on the border of Lagos or other major towns and cities. The men thus need to be located in the centre of town within easy access to amenities such as cinemas, fast food joints and ice cream parlours. This will aid the clearing of the ‘reserve army of unmarried men’ to paraphrase Karl Marx.
All men on the scheme will be given a fully furnished 2 bedroom flat in choice locations in major cities of the country. As stated earlier, for the purpose of this marriage stimulus, a city will be defined as one having the above named amenities within a 30 minute drive from any point within the target area.
We commend the government’s ongoing attempts at reforming the power sector in Nigeria but while this is happening, it is important that generators are included as part of the furnishing for the flats given to the men to be stimulated.
Finally, to get all of this to work, the government will need to set up an online clearing exchange that will deepen the markets and cause them to properly function. If the stimulus package is rolled out across the country at the same time, there is bound to be a lot of information asymmetry where a lady in Lagos is blissfully unaware that her ‘spec’ is somewhere in Borno State for instance, being stimulated by the government but with no takers. So this website will contain real time information on all men currently on the scheme being stimulated. Thus a lady anywhere in Nigeria can log on to the website and enter her preferences and immediately she is presented with a choice of men from across the country. If a selection is made and they decide to take it further, the government will then facilitate the relocation for either or both parties to another location. A bonus should also be given for people who go above and beyond their geo-political zone to pick a partner.
What is clear to any observer of the Nigerian marriage sector at a macro level is that there is in fact nothing wrong with Nigerian women. The demand for marriage is palpable to the point of almost being tangible.
The Nigerian government cannot continue to fold its arms and hope that the marriage market will correct itself. It must intervene. And quickly too. There are many positive externalities to marriage in a society. Men who marry, according to research studies, tend to work harder, save more and accumulate more wealth. In other words, there is indeed a ‘marriage premium’ with wide ranging benefits for the rest of society.
Mr President, if you are looking for a legacy that will ensure your name is fondly remembered years after you have left office from Potiskum to Port Harcourt, you should seize the moment and end this marriage recession now!
P.S On the off chance that someone in government reads this and is inspired to design government policy on the back of it, the author categorically states that he bears no responsibility for such an outcome.