Friday, October 20, 2017

The Reality Of Poverty In Nigeria

By Dan Amor
Against the backdrop of the declaration of Tuesday October 16, 2017, as 'World Poverty Day', we may well take a critical look at a damning document entitled, "Report Card on World Social Progress". Released currently in the United States of America by the International Society for Life Quality Studies, the report has identified the best countries in which to live in the world. These include Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria and Belgium , in that order. The report which is signed by the group's international president, Prof. Richard Estes, who has studied human development for over 45 years, has equally stated the bottom 10 poorest nations in the world. They include Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, Angola, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Guinea, Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The report was compiled based on data provided by governments to the United Nations and measures the ability of nations to meet the basic needs of their residents in terms of health, education, security, human rights, political participation, population growth, improved women's status, cultural diversity and freedom from social chaos.
*Buhari and Obasanjo
According the report, the overall picture for social progress in the world is grim with 21 African and Asian countries nearing social collapse due to concentrated poverty, weak political institutions, repeated economic failure, disease and cultural dislocation. But the report missed out corruption which is the bane of the Nigerian society and the major cause of poverty in the country. Of course, Nigeria, since 1998, has been described by the Berlin-based anti-corruption organisation ,Transparency International, as one of the five most corrupt countries in the world. Unfortunately, President Muhammadu Buhari, who claims to be fighting corruption, did not even bother any hoot to address the nation on the pervasive and scandalous maze of mass poverty in Nigeria. Yet, the irony of the Nigerian condition is that Buhari was a cabinet member of the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo (1976-1979) which actually handed over the legacy of poverty to the Alhaji Shehu Shagari regime (1979-1983). The Obasanjo military regime it was which syndicated the first ever $15billion loan from a consortium of European banks. Millions of Nigerians were sacked from work and their sources of livelihood were sacrificed to meet International Monetary Fund (IMF) conditionalities for the granting of the loan.

It is a historical fact that Obasanjo, Buhari and Babangida are the progenitors of the poverty culture in Nigeria as Commanders-in-Chief of a rogue ruling class whose members are completely out to amass wealth at the expense of the society instead of reinforcing the social classes in a positive sense. Since the past eighteen years of a phantom democratic system under their misguided leadership, Nigerians have experienced the worst form of poverty in the history of the country. It has even become unbearable in the current Buhari administration. To say therefore that Nigerians are dying of hunger and gnashing of teeth under the watch of General Buhari is to beg the issue. After Obasanjo's military regime, the profligate civilian administration of Shehu Shagari came to establish Nigerians more firmly in the classical poverty orbit. Shagari, a lame duck civilian president, brought on board sons of Emirs and blue-blooded aristocrats whose veins human blood does not flow and whose social distance from the proverbial common man is generally contemptuous. They told Nigerians to eat from dustbins while they carted the national treasury to foreign banks in Switzerland, London and the United States of America.
But the historical factor in the creation and promotion of poverty culture in Nigeria cannot be ignored. Reparations, debt relief or outright cancellation cannot reduce poverty in Nigeria. To see poverty totally or simply as the child of these factors is to ignore the contemporary reality. In fact, the reality of today's Nigeria is that there is a deliberate determination on the part of the mundane leadership to create a poor class who are to be used as reference of real underdevelopment in order to attract loans from international finance institutions into their private pockets. It is also to establish an underclass populace that would serve as some sort of benign index of permanent jest to which an indifferent world would always react when laughing at Nigeria. Yes, people laugh at Nigeria and then Nigerian leaders themselves try to stave off this laughter by pointing to the underclass they have created as the real laughing stock. Nigeria is a fool's paradise, a jester's haven where members of the looting class even invoke divine and religious paradigms to help perpetuate the poverty syndrome. A government which encourages force of arms by herdsmen against armless or defenseless farmers and communities is deepening poverty in the society.
In Northern Nigeria, the Emirate system creates a large poor class who accept their poverty as the divine will of God. To this class of materially disadvantaged people, the Emir with his flock of cattle, several companies and fat bank accounts, is the redeemer to whom they must flock to receive material relief from hunger. This class of people is the permanent poor class, the celestial dregs who can only be changed by reincarnation. So, in effect, even if the material needs were sufficient to alleviate poverty, the system just won't succumb. It is unthinkable that Nigerians are currently passing through hell under the leadership of a supposedly progressive political party which rode to power on the platter of a "CHANGE" agenda. How we came to this sorry pass is a story for another day. Whereas the Nigerian people were managing to survive the stress of a very difficult economic condition, Buhari came to add salt to injury by unilaterally increasing the pump price of fuel from N86 to N145 per litre. This was the death knell that aggravated poverty in the country since May 2015. Buhari who was petroleum minister in the military regime of General Obasanjo (1976-1979), still doubles as president and petroleum minister more than 40 years after, as though the country is incapable of regeneration.
It is agonizing that even in the 21st century, Nigeria still has as leaders, a bunch of thieves and social pretenders who don't bother any hoot whether the poor survive or not. The last administration set up what it termed SURE-P, to reinvest proceeds from the partial removal of petroleum subsidy. Nobody was sure of SURE-P until N500billion was declared missing. Now, the money is missing in trillions. And yet we are blowing trumpet all over the world that we are fighting corruption. High-powered attempts at smoothening the social disequilibrium through institutionalized means have all but collapsed like a pack of cards in the face of rapid erosion of social power. No longer is higher education a guarantee of the good life as the take-home pay of the average honest Nigerian worker can no longer take him home.
This sense of uncertainty in the midst of sectionalised affluence expressed in leadership corruption makes poverty the birthright of majority of the Nigerian people. Stories abound of government officials who, in collaboration with seedy contractors, siphon billions of budgeted funds into their private pockets. This aegis of layered corruption, unchecked and uncensored, makes the poverty dilemma a complicated and difficult one indeed. Currently poverty is expressed in manifest deaths and epidemics across the country. Nigeria is a peculiar kind of hell. Is it not a shame that in spite of our huge annual earnings from the sale of crude oil, Value Added Tax (VAT) and other sources of national income, our country is continually grouped among war-ravaged countries as one of the poorest in the world? Someone should tell Buhari that there is abject and chronic poverty in Nigeria, which is being promoted by his government. It is what is fueling insecurity, agitations, tensions, kidnapping and killings across the country.
*Dan Amor, a public affairs analyst, writes from Abuja (danamor641@gmail.com)


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