Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Poverty And Hunger Amid Opulence

By Matthew Ozah  
I shall begin this piece on a morbid note, with other disturbing tales. A news report that went viral on the internet has it that a seven-year-old boy in Lagos was lynched for allegedly stealing garri, perhaps to quench hunger with it. Of course, the wickedness and horror that followed the public anger shows signs of the times in the country.
President Buhari's 72nd Birthday party 
Also, President Muhammadu Buhari recently raised the alarm and warned Nigerians to brace themselves for an imminent outbreak of famine in the country. In the same breath, he called on religious and traditional leaders to assist him prevail on the selfish businessmen who took advantage of the huge demand for Nigerian grains in the global market, to embark on mindless and profit sojourn exporting grains across our borders and put local market and citizens out of food. Another horrendous situation is the United Nations’ warning that 75,000 North East children risk dying of hunger if we don’t do something urgently about it.
Oddly enough, in the face of all these heartbreaking news coupled with inflation and looming economic hardship in the country, the pomposity about wealth and how it’s being exhibited by the political elite is evidence that opulence has found a new home in Nigeria. The position the political elite chose to place themselves and the masses is like a tale of two cities, on the one hand, is a view of a world dominated by an empire without a king on which the sun proverbially never set, on the other, an amorphous blob in which people have dissolved into areas of darkness and are not remembered until election period.
Nigerians will find much to intrigue, entertain and absolutely electrify while wondering and trying to figure out the mind-set and the subtle difference occasioned by the wide gaps between politicians and the masses. By their very nature, you need no interpretation to discover their deceit and everywhere they exhibit their prowess, that immediate striking influence which requires no labels will sense and expose their presence. It is, therefore, hurting that politicians are insensitive or they pretend not to have any clue about the sufferings of the masses, of whom they cajole with mouth watering promises during election campaigns. They fight for their self aggrandizement once in power.
A case in point is a recent report of N3.6 billion expended on exotic cars for members of the House of Representatives. They chose to splash money on luxury cars at a time the country’s economy is having some difficulty and when crude oil price, the major foreign exchange earner for the country is dropping on a daily basis. In defence, they rebuff any one that dares to question their misdeed, claiming that the cars are not ‘luxury’ and that it is long overdue for their oversight functions and they cannot sacrifice anything for it. Yet, they are quick to ask Nigerians to endure the economic hardship and sacrifice more for the nation. But when it affects them, they shall be first served.

In fact, what effrontery does anyone have to blame the 8th Assembly for being patient, nearly two years now without cars for its members to carry out their obligations when ministers and other lesser officials in the executive have long been allocated vehicles? Politicians believe we vote for them, to represent us with flashy cars and flamboyant life style.
The above emphasis is currently playing out with members of Anambra State House of Assembly who gave the governor, Willie Obiano, a re-election condition: “Furnish us with brand new ‘Toyota Prado’ or you meet a brick wall during election.” Indeed, the move does not in any way see them as patriotic citizens, even the call to serve the people is far from them. The demand is not only a step in the wrong direction it is so ludicrous and has categorised them as selfishly ambitious greedy bunch.

True, the conspiracy theories among politicians to enrich themselves nowadays is so obvious to notice the parallel reality between them and the masses. Just like their House of Reps counterparts, the Anambra lawmakers believe that the governor is stubborn and stingy since he does not listen to “chop I chop” advice. Hear their wonky and narrow minded arguments: “Our colleagues in other states move in jeeps but what we use here is Eccape car which is ridiculous. What is the governor doing with N1.2 billion every month as security vote? We are not going to allow him to continue like that. He has to provide us with Prado and improve our condition of service otherwise we will wait for him during the election.”
The rallying cry of the Anambra lawmaker’s campaign to be offered very expensive SUVs or ambush the governor come election time is not only sad but shameful. The selfish demand could be reference to Ola Rotimi’s rich idioms in his classical book The Gods Are Not To Blame  where he wrote: “The hen that eats corn, swallow pebbles, yet complains of having no teeth, let her ask the cow that has teeth yet eats grass”.
What an irony! However, it is awkward to admit that, that is just the way things are in politics nowadays and one have no choice than pretty swallow the bitter pills either with your eyes tightly shut or you speak out even as a lone voice to register your disagreement. However, it is very hard to erase the belief that politicians in this country once in office cease to see those who voted for them as persons who assisted one way or the other, they suddenly regard and refer them as problems.
Not many people in Nigeria, the majority of whom can hardly afford more than a meal a day. This reveals that poverty is still deeply rooted in the country. Yet, instead of focusing on how to improve the lives of the citizens, politicians prefer inequality whose malady is widening at alarming level and continues to paint the nation with shades of black.
One may not be crucified to ask the question: “Is the masses living condition improving or is the nation floundering?” Well, the answer seems to reside with the newly sworn-in Edo State governor, Godwin Obaseki, who has vowed to produce 100 millionaires in four years. Quite fascinating indeed, but come to think of it, how does producing 100 millionaires in four years help the millions of people in that state or the nation to address the issue of undernourished children, high level of child and maternal mortality and limited access to clean water and sanitation, health and education among others?

Nothing will make Nigerians happier than to see politicians carry out people- oriented responsibilities. It appears a great betrayal when politicians corner the nation’s wealth and display their affluence within nose and eye distance surrounded by poverty. Nigerians aren’t going to let this incredible arrogance continue. But if politicians want to continue down this route, however, then they had better be ready for the colossal consequences if law and order breaks down. An hungry man is an angry man, so says the legend, late Bob Marley.
*Matthew Ozah is a commentator on public issues


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