For a people predominantly agrarian, inherently economically independent, extremely hardworking and thoroughly educated, the ongoing strange culture of begging and scrambling for food by minors, adults, the handicapped and able-bodied adults at parties, popularly called owanbe in South-west Nigeria, cannot but be a huge embarrassment and a cause for concern.
This untoward development, which was non-existent in the days of yore, is a slight on our cherished values and a dent on our collective integrity as a people and must be stopped forthwith.
Historically, the people of South-west Nigeria are predominantly agrarian people who had more than enough and were always willing to give to the needy. Because everybody had more than enough, giving, rather than begging, was a way of life. The culture of giving is still alive, economic downturn notwithstanding.
With the advent of education, the people of Western Nigeria embraced education. Parents sent their children to school to acquire western education and get good jobs. Those who did not have the privilege stuck to their parents’ trade while those who went beyond elementary or secondary education either learnt a trade or opted for jobs in the public or private sector. Begging was not an option; it was simply abominable.
But not anymore. It is now common to see minors, the aged, the handicapped able-bodied adults swarming around guests for alms and scrambling for leftover at parties in the South-west.
Where did things go wrong? Why and when did an act considered abominable about a decade ago now almost a way of life?
The fundamental problems are national. Over-dependence on oil, neglect of agriculture by governments and individuals, recurrent inflationary trend, layoff of workers and pay cuts necessitated by parlous economy, among other factors, all conspire to widen the lack and poverty gap over the years.
Parents’ goal of sending their children to school is defeated as jobs are not available. Eating three square meals, which was a given in the past, has now become a luxury. Even the few that are employed can hardly eat three square meals a day. So, parents and children are hungry, helpless and are seemingly left with no option but to seek indecent alternatives.
The net of unemployment widens by the day even as our tertiary institutions churn out graduates with no jobs each year. While the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics says, “Nigeria’s unemployment rate is spiraling upwards, growing at 16 per cent per year,” United Nations says one in four Nigerians is unemployed.
But the South-west has tagged along for too long. As the source and bastion of education and civilization in Nigeria, the region has no business being held down by challenges. The time has come for the region to creatively set the pace in all the areas of the nation’s sector.
The region has vast land and clement weather. It must go back to the good cocoa old days and give agriculture its deserved place. States in the region need to give more attention to agriculture, especially food production, to stem the throes of hunger and lack that pushes its citizens to beg.
State governors must increase their budgetary allocation to agriculture while adopting workable policies that will reposition agriculture and consequently the region’s economy.
There must be a strategic plan to bring back the fleeing manufacturing, textile and agro-allied industries to absorb the battalion of able-bodied youths.
According to the World Bank, youths between the ages 15 and 35 account for about 60 per cent of the nation’s population. As the region with the highest concentration of literates in the country, states in the South-west would house a large chunk of this population.
Apart from massively engaging in farming, South-west governments need to make loans available to farmers and interested school leavers to embark on large-scale or mechanized farming to feed the people.
Recently, the Ondo State Government repositioned its technical colleges with a view to making them functional to produce technical manpower. This is the way to go for all the states. But efforts should be made to strategically plan to absorb them after school and assist them with incentives to make them self-reliant.