Prices are soaring while the national currency is plummeting. Household goods and electricity are making themselves scarce. Economic indexes are all flashing red. But even a fierce recession can’t bring Nigeria’s eternal optimists down.
“I’m not feeling ‘relaxing’,” says Bimpe Gilbert, selling beef snacks out of her cooler on a hot Lagos sidewalk.
Times are hard, as rising prices for supplies have forced her to hike prices, too — “so I have less customers”.
“But I know everything will be better tomorrow… God, or any client can help me one day.”
Bucking three straight quarters of recession, a drop in global energy prices and a relentless rebel campaign to sabotage oil, the country’s main export, Nigerians like Bimpe see a bright future ahead.
Simply put, they are the world’s most optimistic people “when it comes to economic prosperity”, according to pollsters at Gallup International.
Pew Research Center agrees, finding that a whopping 86 percent of Nigerians “expect the economic situation to improve in the next 12 months, similar to 2015, when 92% held the same view”.
Confidence is even greater when Nigerians consider their own fortunes. Fully 93 percent of them expect their personal finances to improve over the year, notes the US research giant.
“One of the main characteristics of recessions is that people become very pessimistic and very sad”, says economist Bismark Rewane, director of the Financial Derivatives Company.
This traditional viewpoint aligns with public sentiment, say, in Greece, which has endured years of consecutive recession. According to Gallup, Greece is now the most pessimistic country in the world.
But Rewane points out Nigerians are buffered by a thirst for cash, one that is good for morale and perhaps a promising remedy for the nation at large.
“The passion for money, the passion for money-making, could help Nigeria to recover faster”, he told AFP.
Africa’s largest economy needs that passion for moneymaking now. Oil, which accounts for around 70 percent of government revenue, has tumbled from over $100 a barrel in 2014 to currently around half that on global markets.
Militants have renewed attacks on the west African country’s oil infrastructure, strangling production and damaging infrastructure. Manufacturing has also taken a big hit in the wake of the devaluation of the currency, the naira, which has made imported inputs more expensive.
The government tried to prop up the naira for months — an effort that drained foreign currency reserves and was abandoned in June.
Beyond the effects of this recession, several formidable problems are mainstays of Nigeria’s situation: severe infrastructure challenges, chronic power shortages and high unemployment.
So the sunny disposition is all the more startling. Take it from a guy aptly named Sunny.
“Everyday, the night will come. But the morning will come, always,” Sunday Uloko, nicknamed Sunny says.
Just don’t expect Sunny, who washes cars for a living, and many others to be as cheery about their government.
“You start complaining,” he says. “If I think too much of our leaders, it gives me headache! I don’t have time for that!”
Nigeria’s 180 million people, in all their great religious diversity, share an abiding commitment to their respective faiths, and that may be one of the secrets to their optimism.
“In the African region in general, for the Christians as well as for the Muslims, the idea is that God can help you, and God is taking care of his children,” Nimi Wariboko, a Nigerian professor and theologian at Boston University, explains.
“You need to be faithful and optimistic, it allows the unexpected to happen, it gives a chance to supernatural powers, and prayers can solve problems.”
But that optimism does not extend to faith in politics.
“They don’t believe that their leaders can help them. No more hope as a nation, no more hope for the institutions,” says Wariboko.
“‘My God’ will help ‘me’ and ‘my’ family — we privatised everything in Nigeria. We privatised hope and optimism”.
Nigeria is deeply divided into three major ethnic groups, but they all share the same proverb. “Igba ki lo dede” in Yoruba, “ahuhu adighi ano mgbe tere anyj”, among the Igbo, and “bayan wuya sai dadi” in Hausa. Translated, their message is: suffering is not permanent.