If you’re part of my generation (the 35-50 years old) or older, you’re most likely a user of the phrase “The good old days”. Sometimes, to differentiate the categories of ‘good old days’, it is common to hear the phrases “in the 70s”, “in the 80s” or in the “90s”. Looking at it critically, the real ‘good old days’ refers to the oil boom era of the 70s.
This was an era that saw oil prices sky rocket from about $2 to $12 per barrel and we did nothing to deserve this new found wealth. This significant increase in revenue led to an abundance of money in the coffers of the military administration of General Yakubu Gowon. It was even alleged that General Gowon said Nigeria had too much money but didn’t know what to do with it.
The focus of this article is not if Nigeria had too much money but to really question if this ‘good old days’ was really good for Nigeria and her people. I am sure those who had secondary school and tertiary education in the 70s and early 80s will say there are ‘great days’. But if we probe to know what percentage of Nigerians went to school during period, we may get a different viewpoint.
Let’s take a closer look at this era. What are the claims of ‘the good old days” and can we critic them?
Infrastructure development: This was the period when Nigeria built most of her key infrastructure – Airports, Roads, Universities, Unity Schools, Stadia, FESTAC village, Federal & State Housing Estates, Power Stations (like Egbin), Refineries, Dams, Rail Tracks, etc.
Critique: In my view, no other era has witnessed the infrastructural development accomplished in this era. But when viewed in the context that this was a few years after the civil war and with less than 20 years of independence, we can see these achievements in another light.
Nigeria in the 70s had very few infrastructures, even with the infrastructure built in this era. Years gone by have shown that they were insufficient because much more was needed to be done. Yet, those who enjoyed these infrastructures had a good time but they were in a significant minority.
State Owned Businesses: The government used her wealth to establish Corporations or Boards for almost everything – Water, Housing, Newspaper, Airline, Road Transport, Oil, Palm Produce, Cocoa, Cement, Manufacturing, Water Transport, Airport, Ports, Hotels, Breweries and many more. As a result, some Nigerians had access to jobs even before graduation from university and those who decided not to go to university had jobs as well.
In addition, the fringe benefits for staff of these organisations and their families made life wonderful for these Nigerians. No wonder some looked at this era as the ‘good old days’.
Critique: As we can now testify, government and business don’t mix. Despite the huge funding, these organisations did not deliver development to the majority of Nigerians. Rather they were a huge waste of our resources; they became platforms for ethnic turf wars; they became overstaffed with people given all kinds of benefits with no role to play thereby creating a generation of lazy & unproductive Nigerians; and worse off, these services and fringe benefits were enjoyed by very few Nigerians.
These privileged few crippled these organisations and they are mainly the ones who talk of ‘the good old days’.
Strong Currency & Market Affordability: The newly created naira enjoyed a comparable rate to the strongest currency – British Pounds GBP. This means, our currency was stronger than French Francs, German Deutsche Mark and even the US Dollars. As a result, privileged Nigerians could travel abroad as frequent as they wanted and it wasn’t uncommon for these group to spend weekends partying in London.
The other outcome was the massive importation of foreign goods and these included anything. Nigerians were able to buy goods and services from foreign markets and even our local industries were mostly assembly plants, with raw materials & finished parts imported into the country.
Critique: With a huge oil revenue and reserve, our currency was bound to be competitive with other currencies but this was artificial. It was not based on productivity or exports. Also, the importation culture created a mindset among Nigerians that only foreign goods were preferred choice. But more importantly, this mindset inhibited local creativity and large scale manufacturing among Nigerians. Essentially, our status as a consumer nation was firmly established during ‘the good old days’.
Allowances: A trend that developed during the ‘the good old days’ was the culture of allowance. It is the culture to pay feeding allowance to university students; provide government cars & official quarters to fresh graduates newly recruited into the civil service; give out travel allowances for numerous trips local and foreign; provide numerous overseas trips for conferences, workshops and short courses. Estacode (foreign currency allowance) was readily available and as such, Nigeria always had large contingent to any event (business, governmental, sports, culture, etc.)
Critique: These allowances provided a huge drain pipe on our commonwealth. Yes, we were being recognised as giant of Africa but at the same time, our culture of waste was being institutionalised. We also produced an entitlement culture especially among Nigerian graduates. All they needed to do was secure admission into a University and from then on, all manner of benefits was granted. No wonder this generation that benefited much, has delivered little to our development in terms of innovative ideas and courageous leadership. They were pampered to a point that standing up against the military was risking the comfort they enjoyed.
That generation (50-60) are the ones ruling Nigeria today and have failed us. You then wonder what was great about the ‘good old days’?
In summary, ‘the good old days’ provided Nigeria with money she didn’t work for and a people who were wasteful and lazy. So, two things we must do. Firstly, we must shake off the laziness and develop a culture of asking serious in-depth questions to critically analyse issues, so that we see things for what they really are. Secondly, we must see time of plenty for what is really is – preparation for time of famine. With this mindset, we will seek to be more prudent during the time of plenty, making savings and keeping an attitude of hard innovative work.
Before we see this in our national lives, we must first see it in our personal lives. We need a critical mass of Nigerians with this mindset to ensure we build strong & lasting families, communities, organisations and nation.