For 30 days, I will live on the Nigerian national minimum wage. I want to raise awareness of the falling standards of living in the country. N18,000, which is roughly USD$49.7, GBP £35, and EUR €44 equates to N600 a day. That is approximately US$1.8.
During this period, I will record my experiences and share them on social media. I’m doing this because I believe that as Nigerians, we don’t always like to tackle our social and economic issues head-on. Frankly, we have too many so it is easier to just get on with life. I hope that this challenge will bring a new way of engaging with a situation that we have been dealing with for a long time. I also hope that it will inspire people to come up with creative solutions to a very big and difficult problem.
Nigeria is a fragmented place when it comes to socio-economic means and I’m not convinced that we like to acknowledge this fact. In 2010, there was an uproar after BBC aired the Welcome to Lagos documentary. It was a three-part series that showed Lagosians living in squalid conditions. I had no idea that human beings lived that way, especially not in the Lagos I grew up in.
Many people united to protest the unjust harm that the documentary had done to our country’s image. These were people who had access to social media. I was at university in England when the documentary first aired. My initial reaction was shock at not knowing that a life like this existed.
I mean, I knew that there were poor people. That they lived under the bridge that my friends and I were chauffeured across when we were going to and from school in an air-conditioned Prado Jeep. These people only existed on the periphery of my life.
Even when I have no money of my own, I know that there are people in my life who will look after me with no qualms.
I don’t come from a wealthy family but I have lived a sheltered life. Even now, I have little interaction with people who don’t live the way I do – in a house that always has electricity, running water and has fridges and freezers stuffed with food. I haven’t had malaria in over ten years and last year, when I felt unhappy with my high-paying job that sent me to Paris and New York to learn new things, I upped and quit without making any solid plans. Even when I have no money of my own, I know that there are people in my life who will look after me with no qualms.
Most mornings, I get into my car and drive to my office in another upscale of town. It’s not a flashy car; it is actually falling apart but I know how to manage it and it gets me from point A to point B. My office has the same facilities as my former office did in London. There are two Japanese restaurants on the same street and you can also get Italian, Thai and Lebanese food less than five minutes walk. Most of my friends live the same way I do. Some, even more luxuriously.
To put N18,000 in context, it is the cost of filling my car tank one and a half times.
When a single space has been compartmentalised into smaller spaces where those inhabiting them have become immune to the plight of their neighbours because they have no real knowledge of what life on the other side is like, there is no inspiration for change.
To put N18,000 in context, it is the cost of filling my car tank one and a half times. It is the cost of 25 cups of Cafe Latte from Cafe Neo. I stop by there a few times a week and I usually buy the more expensive Caramel Machiatto. N18,000 can buy you two portions of ribs with fries and coleslaw at Carlitos, three Chicken Caesar salads at Rhapsody’s and two and a half steak sandwiches at RSVP. It used to be able to buy you a bottle of Patron at a club but not anymore! Everything is now more expensive from the basics to the luxury items.
At the outset, being able to survive on this amount already seems outrageous and downright impossible.
To prepare for the challenge I have found out the bus route from work to home and back. I have also been thinking of what to eat. I certainly won’t be eating from any of the places mentioned above. According to my initial research, the transport fare alone will cost N500 and a very sad lunch will cost at least N100. I plan to cook and eat at home so it will interesting to know what kinds of meals I can afford to make. I also have to buy my toiletries from this wage. We’ve joked around at the office that I will have to wash up with water after doing number two; but it might turn out to be true in the coming days.
I’m looking forward to experiencing issues that I cannot foresee yet. At the outset, being able to survive on this amount already seems outrageous and downright impossible. But I am willing to try. I hope I won’t be too tired or too hungry to complete the challenge.