In one sense, no-one can be comfortable in my country. We are all at the mercy of N.E.P.A, fuel crises and long traffic jams.Yet, despite this some are still more comfortable than others. My friend I was discussing with, took the viewpoint that skilled labourers such as plumbers and electricians cannot be described as comfortable in the same way you would describe the person of the same job description in the U.K. Over here, a plumber might not drive the flashiest car but he can pay his rent or mortgage, buy food, clothe his children.
I took the opposite view. In Nigeria, a plumber can also pay his rent, buy food and clothe his children, obviously not in the same style as his Western counterpart. But then how many in Nigeria, even those we would term the middle-classes, can do that? My point was that one could not look from an upper-middle class vantage and say that an average plumber cannot be comfortable.
While I was in Lagos this summer, I was shocked by the amount people were spending on lunch. 7,000 Naira for glorified Indomie and chicken. 7,000 Naira?! Some people can buy school uniforms, household things, throw in some text books and transport money as well. Therefore, for one to say that a plumber is not comfortable because he earns x-times less than you, seemed patronising. After all, if a Nigerian billionaire called my father uncomfortable, I would take offense. That the billionaire uses ten million Naira to buy a watch does not mean my father cannot be comfortable on that amount. Just because one uses 1,000 Naira to eat Kelloggs does not mean the person soaking ogi is uncomfortable with their breakfast.
For the duration of the argument, the minimum requirements for being comfortable were ability to pay rent, provide food, clothe your children and send them to school, university if need be. I knew pepper traders who had succeeded in doing the above. To argue that skilled workers could not do the same didn't make sense. My friend countered that the effort expended by the average plumber to do the above was too great for the result. She knew a plumber who worked as a watchman in the night. She knew that if he could not go to work for two days, it could make the difference between his children eating dinner and going hungry to bed.
Of course, we weren't using statistics. The discussion was based on personal experience. Yet, this last point she made struck me. I have always thought that skilled labour is a large part of the future of Nigeria. I think that everyone should have the opportunity to go to university. However, there are millions of unemployed youth between the ages of 18 and 25. Some are graduates, many are not. The graduate market as it is is saturated. Until the current industries are developed and new ones come in, what are those millions supposed to do? In my eyes, learning a trade seems a better option than armed robbery, prostitution, area boyism.
Micro-finance, where small amounts are loaned to skilled workers to start up a business, seems like an idea that could work in Nigeria. Yet, here was my friend arguing that being a skilled worker was little guarantee that you could meet our basic criteria for being comfortable without working 20 hours a day. Even with such long hours, comfort was not guaranteed. I have read of graduates who have become hawkers because of the job market in Nigeria.
I don't know who won our argument. I need statistics to decide.